Pope's encyclical forges unusual
allies in fight for the environment
By Elise Harris
Rome, Italy, Jul 2, 2015 / 11:48 am (CNA/EWTN News) - The Vatican recently added the voice of self-described “secular Jewish feminist” Naomi Klein to their discussion on the climate, signaling a wider collaboration in the push for environmental protection.
“A new kind of climate movement is fast emerging” – one based on the “courageous truth” proclaimed in the encyclical that “our current economic system is both fueling the climate crisis and actively preventing us from taking the necessary actions to avert it,” Klein said July 1.
She pointed out how the encyclical places attention on the world's most vulnerable regions, which have often been disregarded by international politics.
In her view, current challenges surrounding the environment provide the opportunity to tackle several issues at once, and creating a more stable climate and a fairer economy can be done “at the same time.”
“This growing understanding is why you are seeing some surprising and even unlikely alliances. Like, for instance, me at the Vatican.”
The Pope's encyclical “Laudato Si,” meaning “Praise be to You,” was published on June 18. Its name is taken from St. Francis of Assisi's medieval Italian prayer “Canticle of the Sun,” which praises God through elements of creation like Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and “our sister Mother Earth.”
In early 2014, the Vatican announced the Pope's plans to write on the theme of “human ecology” – a phrase that was previously coined by retired pontiff Benedict XVI.
While the 184-page encyclical wades into controversial topics such as climate change, it also argues that it's not possible to effectively care for the environment without first working to defend human life.
A progressive Canadian activist known for her harsh criticism of 21st century capitalism, Klein said that she herself was “surprised” to be invited to speak at the launch of a Vatican environmental summit.
Her comments came at the July 1 presentation of a two-day Vatican conference titled: “People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course.”
With concern for the climate on the rise, trade unions, indigenous, faith and environmental groups have been working more closely than ever before, she noted.
And while within these coalitions “we don't agree on everything – not by a long shot – we understand that the stakes are so high, time is so short and the task is so large that we cannot afford to allow those differences to divide us.”
Set to take place in Rome July 2-3, the summit is being organized by the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the department that prepared a first draft of Francis' encyclical, along with the “Catholic International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity,” a network of 17 Catholic development agencies working together for global justice.
The meeting's objective is to use Laudato Si to influence several major political gatherings throughout the year, including three key U.N. conferences. Among them are the Addis Ababa meeting on Finance and Development, the U.N. General Assembly to approve the new Sustainable Development Goals in September, and December's COP 21 meeting in Paris to agree on a global climate deal.
Klein is set to co-chair the conference alongside the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s president, Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana.
Originally scheduled to participate in the Wednesday news conference, Turkson was still on his way back from New York, where he addressed a U.N. conference on climate change Tuesday.
Both Church leaders and scientists will gather for the conference, which will also draw participants such as Mary Robinson, the current U.N. Special Envoy for Climate Change, and the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
The Vatican’s decision to include Klein in the climate discussion is not the first time they have chosen include a perspective considered controversial, and divergent from their own stance on issues.
At last month's Rome unveiling of Laudato Si Prof. John Schellnhuber, a scientist who studies climate change and who is also an atheist, was present. He had just been appointed to the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences the day before.
Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and a special adviser to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, is a member of the academy and an adviser on the encyclical, and is known to promote population control.
At an April 28 Rome summit on the environment, Cardinal Turkson addressed critics who find issue with the Vatican’s partnership with organizations such as the U.N. that promote population control as a means of combating climate change.
In response to the criticism, the cardinal recalled the Second Vatican Council's emphasis on inviting the Church to find “new ways” of ministering to the world.
These new methods of engagement don't mean running away from the world, he said, but rather establishing a dialogue that works toward “an effective solidarity” with others.
In comments read aloud on his behalf at the July 1 news conference, the cardinal noted that “the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.”
He said that important points made in Laudato Si await “the pledges and the will” of the global community during September’s U.N. General Assembly, as well as in other major political gatherings.
“The single biggest obstacle to the imperative to change course is not economic, scientific or even technological, but rather within our minds and hearts,” he said.
Klein in her address said that Pope Francis' September visit to the United States, during which he will address the U.N. assembly, “could not be better timed.”
She criticized those who say that the Pope should leave economics and policy to the experts, saying that many of these experts “have failed us badly” by wielding power and placing “scandalously little value” on human life.
Addressing leaders preparing their pledges for COP 21 in Paris, Klein said that to those
“getting out the lipstick and heels to dress up another lousy deal, I have this to say: Read the actual encyclical – not the summaries, the whole thing.”
“Read it and let it into your hearts,” she said, keeping in mind both “the grief at what we have already lost, and the celebration of what we can still protect and help to thrive.”