The Pope, The Planet, and Protecting the “Right of the Environment”

Speaking at the United Nations, Pope Francis raises the bar for our moral obligations to the natural world.

image via wikimedia commons

Speaking before the United Nation’s General Assembly on Friday, Pope Francis issued a surprisingly strong call to action for the gathered global leaders, urging them to take concrete action against climate change. It is an issue, he exclaimed, which “can threaten the very existence of the human species.” Francis made a point to laud the U.N.’s 2030 Sustainable Development agenda, and offered a framework for addressing both the specifically theological, as well as universally moral, need to protect the planet: Not only should we do so for the sake of our own self preservation, but to not would, in fact, be a violation of what he deems the “right of the environment.”

This is how explained what he means:

First, it must be stated that a true "right of the environment" does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which "are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology" (Laudato Si', 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The phrase “right of the environment,” is likely to become one of the most memorable lines from Francis’ speech, if not his entire papal reign. With it, the Pope has re-framed the debate around climate change, global warming, and environmentalism, unambiguously declaring that our obligation to protect the planet is equal to our obligation to protect our fellow human beings. For Francis, the two are one and the same.

In fact, this is far from the Vatican’s first time framing environmentalism in moral terms. What seems different here is Francis’ ability to galvanize support for the issue by universalizing his message to resonate beyond the Church, and personalize it to those who might otherwise only be able to grapple with Climate Change in the abstract. As he told the General Assembly: “Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.” It’s a simple, straightforward assessment, but when spoken to a governing body infamous for efficient inefficiency, Francis’ message comes across as a refreshing burst of urgent honesty, rather than political grandstanding.

The Pope’s speech, which ran upwards of twenty thousand words, also touched upon the issues of refugee rights, and the obligation to care for the poor and less fortunate within our communities. Citing previous Popes, and various theological teachings, Francis presented a cohesive worldview in which our charge to treat one another, and our planet, with care and respect, all stem from the same divine source.

That, ultimately, may be the true strength of the Pope’s United Nations speech: In a time when we remain divided by political, national, and religious issues, he offered in this instance a uniquely universal message, urging us to see past differences in order to make this world a better, more just place for us all.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

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The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

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Photo by Li-An Lim on Unsplash

The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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