Why the pope’s climate message should matter to Americans

Reading time: 6 minutes
24 September 2015

Following recent announcements by international faith groups including Muslim and Catholic leaders on climate, Deborah Fikes, the World Evangelical Alliance’s (WEA) spokesperson to the UN, comments on Pope Francis’ landmark visit to the US this week, where he is addressing policymakers about climate action. The WEA represents over 650 million members of Evangelical churches across 129 countries. Deborah Fikes is also a member of the International Leadership Council of The Climate Group, the organizers of Climate Week NYC. 

Pope Francis’ visit to New York City today marks a very significant moment for America. Most especially for the Christian community and for all those alarmed by the climate crisis.

His arrival is not just noteworthy because this is the first time the 78-year-old has stepped foot on American soil, but because with the global climate talks taking place in Paris a little more than nine weeks from now, the pope addressed Congress in Washington yesterday with a similar message to his encyclical: “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

Released in June, this encyclical was—for the first time ever—about the environment. It was a message to the world, as is his pilgrimage to the Big Apple, during Climate Week NYC, the world’s foremost climate leadership summit. And though the climate-conscious pope may seem very on-trend with his messaging, his plea on behalf of the earth is as old as the gospel.

Its impetus is as plain and simple as loving our neighbors and living our lives in a way that impacts the greater good.

In Francis’ encyclical, he wrote of “the urgent challenge to protect our common home [and] to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development.” If we do not act now, the pontiff warned, “This century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

The pope’s warnings come not a moment to soon. This year is set to be the hottest in history. Our climate has changed, and these changes will be felt by all of us. Unpredictable agricultural patterns will lead to rising food bills for hardworking American families. Flooding will mean insurance losses to American businesses. And unstable resources will mean deploying our troops to patrol dangerous places.

But if none of this moves us: how will we explain to our children that we didn’t act when we had the chance to do so?

The Evangelical Christian’s Call for Climate Action

In recent years, evangelical action on climate has continued to grow, and the intersection of faith and climate has become more clearly defined and more widely understood. See the creation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, as well as increasing recognition of the need for action from the National Association of Evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention.

This is just the beginning; more and more evangelicals are reminding politicians that protecting creation is central to Biblical values, and asserting that climate change is a moral issue for a moral nation.

But as well as the incentive to safeguard their own families and communities, American Christians must also see the opportunity to look out for their neighbors. The pope’s encyclical is motivating because it addresses the science and economics of climate action, but what really resonated with me was how it talks of our moral imperative to protect others. Climate change simply cannot be solved unless our hearts are engaged.

Like many global issues, climate change affects the poor and vulnerable first. This week the pope will visit people that are so often ignored in the United States—the homeless, as well as refugees and immigrants. But leaders from around the world must help vulnerable people adapt to climate change outside of this country, too. For example, how about supporting initiatives to connect off-grid rural communities in India to clean energy, so they can cease the use of dangerous kerosene fuel which kills over 4 million people a year?

From Catholics at mass in emerging economies like Brazil to the churches of Poland, leaders will sit up and take notice when they see the world’s Christians demanding climate action, following the Pope’s intervention this week. His visit has the power to shape the global political dynamic on climate action.

By writing this encyclical and talking about climate change in the United States, Pope Francis is setting a new norm. He is challenging people of faith to do more. No matter our political or religious leaning though, we all need to do more. We have the most critical issue in human history to address. Together.

By Deborah Fikes, World Evangelical Alliance’s spokesperson to the United Nations.


#CWNYC 2015

Climate Week NYC is a key event in the international calendar that brings together leading governments, investors, businesses, innovators and opinion formers. The Climate Group launched Climate Week NYC in 2009, and has acted as the secretariat since its inception.

Host to more than 100 affiliate events from September 21-28, Climate Week NYC 2015 is the collaborative space for climate events in support of the UN Summit to adopt the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Climate Week NYC 2015 is supported by BT Group, Siemens, Procter & Gamble, Nike, SkyPower, SolarCity, CBRE Group, and Bank of the West - BNP Paribas; and the We Mean Business coalition members: BSR, The B Team, CDP, Ceres, The Climate Group, The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group and WBCSD.

ClimateWeekNYC.org | @ClimateWeekNYC | #CWNYC

Article originally posted on The Hill.

Image by Alfredo Borba


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