Why Pope Francis and the Church Treat Climate Change as a Moral Issue

Last month, NPR (National Public Radio) held a workshop for energy and environment reporters in Chicago. I was invited to be on a panel titled “The Environment as a Moral Question” and outline Catholic teaching on ecology and climate change. Here are some excerpts of my address:

Catholic Social Teaching

In order to frame my remarks, it’s important to first outline Catholic Social Teaching (CST). The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes Catholic Social Teaching as a body of key magisterial documents that together “propose principles for reflection; provide criteria for judgment; [and] give guidelines for action” (2423). These magisterial documents include papal encyclicals, like Laudato Si, and, according to William J. Byron, S.J. CST, generally contain ten themes: Human Dignity, Respect for Human Life, Association, Participation, Preferential Protection for the Poor and Vulnerable, Solidarity, Stewardship, Subsidiarity, Human Equality and the Common Good.

Stewardship

The CST principle of stewardship is rooted in the biblical insights that creation is intrinsically good and that humanity has a vocation to “cultivate and care for” creation on behalf of the loving Creator (Genesis 1, 2:15). While this principle uniquely informs Catholic teaching on climate change, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith points out that “the Christian faith is an integral unity, and thus it is incoherent to isolate some particular element to the detriment of the whole of Catholic doctrine.” Read More


Vatican Climate Change Conference: Catholic Public Theology Takes Center Stage

In 1979, David Hollenbach, S.J. advocated for Catholic public theology that “attempts to illuminate the urgent moral questions of our time through explicit use of the great symbols and doctrines of the Christian faith.” Since then, American Catholic public theologians have, as Gonzalo Villagrán, S.J. describes, worked to accessibly bring Catholic teaching to the public square in an effort to shape dialogue and policy. Given this understanding of Catholic public theology, today’s speech from Cardinal Peter Turkson and statement from the Pontifical Academy of Sciences/Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences (PAS/PASS) at the Vatican climate change conference offer examples of and opportunities for effective Catholic public theology around climate change.

The Latest- Not the First or the Last

At the outset, it is worth reiterating that neither Cardinal Turkson’s address nor the PAS/PASS statement is the first example of Catholic public theology on climate change. As I have noted elsewhere, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, Pope Francis, and several Catholic bishops’ conferences including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have recognized climate change as a moral issue and called on people of faith and goodwill to address this challenge. Additionally, as is well-known by now, Pope Francis is expected to release an encyclical on ecology later this summer, the moral weight of which many people—both religious and non-religious—believe can result in significant progress on climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts. As such, today’s speech from Cardinal Turkson and statement from the PAS/PASS are the latest examples of and opportunities for Catholic public theology on climate change.

Examples of Catholic Public Theology

The speech from Cardinal Turkson and statement from PAS/PASS are both excellent examples of Catholic public theology. For example, Cardinal Turkson recognizes that effective attention to climate change must be “ground[ed] in morality” and requires “a full conversion of hearts and minds, habits and lifestyles, structures and institutions.” Towards that end, he affirms that “the world’s religions play a vital role” in facilitating this conversion and highlights ways that Catholic teaching in particular can shape the minds and hearts of “political leaders, corporate leaders, civil society, and ordinary people.” Similarly, the PAS/PASS statement insists that “finding ways to develop a sustainable relationship with nature requires not only the engagement of scientists, political leaders, educators and civil societies, but will succeed only if it is based on a moral revolution that religious institutions are in a special position to promote.” In particular, the statement asserts that “the Catholic church, working with the leadership of other religions, can take a decisive role by mobilizing public opinion.”

Opportunities for Catholic Public Theology

Although the speech from Cardinal Turkson and statement from PAS/PASS are thus examples of Catholic public theology, these resources also provide an opportunity for subsequent Catholic public theology. This is especially true for Catholic millennials, who are fluent in the technology that can quickly share Catholic teaching in the public square. So what might this look like? For one, Catholic millennials could post/share/tweet Cardinal Turkson’s speech and the PAS/PASS statement on Facebook and Twitter. In addition, they could also do the same with one (or more!) of the many articles that are covering the impact that Francis’ forthcoming encyclical could have on efforts to address climate change (e.g., National Catholic Reporter, National Catholic Reporter, Washington Post, New York Times and New York Times). Finally, if folks are really feeling ambitious, they could write an op/ed or letter to the editor of their local newspaper using the guide developed by the Catholic Climate Covenant and Ignatian Solidarity Network.

Conclusion

In his 2010 World Day of Peace Message, Pope Benedict XVI declared that “the Church has a responsibility towards creation, and she considers it her duty to exercise that responsibility in public life, in order to protect earth, water and air as gifts of God the Creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind from the danger of self-destruction” (no. 12, emphasis in original). In light of this call, Catholic millennials—indeed all Catholics—should utilize the resources from today’s Vatican climate change conference as examples of and opportunities for effective Catholic public theology on climate change ahead of Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical on ecology.


Preparing for the Storm: Anticipating and Countering the Likely Attacks on Pope Francis and His Environmental Encyclical

Over the past several weeks, Pope Francis has made explicit reference to the challenge of climate change with respect to nutrition, migration and the United Nations international treaty negotiations. Given that Francis’ ecological encyclical is expected to be published in the next several months, these remarks make it seem increasingly likely that the pope will explicitly address climate change in the document.

If this is in fact the case, many Catholics—indeed many people of faith and goodwill—have reason to be particularly excited as we move closer to 2015. On the other hand, and in light of some Catholics’ resistance to Evangelii Gaudium, it also means that the Church should prepare for criticisms of the document and/or the pope by Catholics who seem more committed to their respective political ideologies than to the fullness of Catholic Social Teaching. As such, and based on my previously published expectations of what will be in Francis’ encyclical, I offer the following list of likely objections and recommended refutations.

Objection 1: “I don’t have to listen to Pope Francis on climate change. Encyclicals do not necessarily teach infallible dogma and climate change is a matter of prudential judgment.”

Respondeo: Theologian Richard Gaillardetz, Ph.D. identifies four levels of authority in Catholic teaching, the lowest of which includes “concrete applications of Church teaching, prudential admonitions and Church discipline” (p. 125). To this level, Gaillardetz says that Catholics owe “conscientious obedience” whereby Church teaching “must be taken seriously” in the prudential formation of opinions and positions (pp. 125-126). This understanding is echoed by Catholic commentator Stephen M. Barr, who says that an encyclical’s “analyses of particular political, economic, and social situations [ … ] merit respectful attention, as coming from the supreme earthly shepherd of the Church.” In other words, Catholics are called to deeply, prayerfully consider prudential papal judgments made in an encyclical—and not immediately dismiss them based on their incongruence with a priori sociopolitical/economic ideologies.

Objection 2: “Pope Francis’ attention to climate change is an unorthodox, radical break from his predecessors.”

Respondeo: Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI both accepted the reality of human-caused climate change and recognized it as a moral issue. In 1990, Pope John Paul II insisted that “the ecological crisis is a moral issue” (emphasis in original) and lamented that the “’greenhouse effect’ [had then] reached crisis proportions as a consequence of industrial growth, massive urban concentrations and vastly increased energy needs.” In 1999, John Paul bemoaned “the danger of serious damage to land and sea, and to the climate.” During his eight year pontificate, Pope Benedict XVI repeatedly called people of faith and goodwill to address human-caused climate change.

Objection 3: “The Church should stay out of issues that are not directly related to faith and morals.”

Respondeo: As noted above (response to objection 2), the Church, starting with Pope John Paul II, has explicitly recognized creation care as a matter of faith and morals. In particular, the Church explicitly and consistently recognizes climate change as a moral issue because the consequences of this challenge threaten key Catholic social commitments–especially to protect and defend human life and dignity, protect the poor and vulnerable, promote the common good, and care for creation.

Objection 4: “The Church should stay out of politics entirely–including politics debates over the environment.”

Respondeo: In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI explains, “The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere” (no. 51). This builds on the Church’s firm teaching that Christian individuals and institutions have a moral obligation to participate in public life (summarized in the U.S. bishops’ Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, nos. 9-16).

Objection 5: “It is inappropriate for Pope Francis to support an international climate treaty that would circumscribe American sovereignty.”

Respondeo: As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church explains, “The Magisterium recognizes the importance of national sovereignty, understood above all as an expression of the freedom that must govern relations between States” (no. 435, emphasis in original). However, the same paragraph goes on to insist that “national sovereignty is not, however, absolute. Nations can freely renounce the exercise of some of their rights in view of a common goal, in the awareness that they form a ‘family of nations’ where mutual trust, support and respect must prevail” (emphasis in original). When this is viewed alongside the Catholic Social Teaching principle of subsidiarity, which maintains that the common good must be protected with the lowest possible but highest necessary level of sociopolitical coordination (Compendium, nos. 185-186), the failure of national policies to mitigate climate change makes international coordination necessary.

Objection 6: “Pope Francis’ criticism of neoliberal laissez-faire capitalism is a radical break from Church teaching on the subject.”

Respondeo: In critiquing free-market, neoliberal capitalism, Francis stands on the shoulders of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI (2010 World Day of Peace Message, no. 7; Caritas in Veritate, nos. 35-36), St. John Paul II (Centesiums Annus, no. 42), and Pope Paul VI (Populorem Progressio, no. 26), who have all insisted that neoliberal laissez-faire capitalism is inconsistent with Catholic Social Teaching.

Objection 6: “Pope Francis’ critique of capitalism and structural injustice makes him a Marxist.”

Respondeo: Pope Francis has explicitly denounced this objection (which was given after the publication of Evangelii Gaudium): “There is nothing in the Exhortation that cannot be found in the social Doctrine of the Church. I wasn’t speaking from a technical point of view, what I was trying to do was to give a picture of what is going on. The only specific quote I used was the one regarding the ‘trickle-down theories’ which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and social inclusiveness in the world. The promise was that when the glass was full, it would overflow, benefiting the poor. But what happens instead, is that when the glass is full, it magically gets bigger nothing ever comes out for the poor. This was the only reference to a specific theory. I was not, I repeat, speaking from a technical point of view but according to the Church’s social doctrine. This does not mean being a Marxist.”

Objection 7: “Catholics cannot address climate change because doing so means supporting population control and compromising our commitment to protecting human life and dignity.”

Respondeo: The USCCB-endorsed Catholic Climate Covenant has published a page which demonstrates that attention to climate change is not antithetical to Catholic magisterial teaching on human life and dignity. In light of the World Health Organization statistic that climate change currently causes 150,000 annual deaths, many Catholics additionally argue that the mitigation of climate change in fact protects and promotes the Church’s commitment to human life and dignity.

Conclusion

Despite these responses to likely objections, I’m sure that there will inevitably be a contingent of Catholics who remain fundamentally opposed to Francis’ encyclical based on commitments to ideologies that collide with Catholic Social Teaching. Nevertheless, it seems prudent to anticipate the critiques that this group will likely level against the pope in order to make sure that a vocal minority does not take away from the encyclical that will likely be a groundbreaking moment for the Church—and hopefully the world.


Complicit Down Under: America’s Moral Responsibility for Australia’s Carbon Tax Repeal

On July 16, 2014, Australia lapsed into a relative state of climatic irresponsibility when it repealed the national carbon tax that had been in place since 2012. Although this may seem like an amoral intranational policy decision, traditional categories of Catholic moral theology can help demonstrate that Australia’s carbon tax repeal is actually a morally wrong action in which the U.S. is complicit. In view of this, U.S. Catholics have an even more urgent moral imperative to advocate that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan be guided by Catholic teaching.

A Brief Background

In the face of both climate change and the inability of voluntary efforts to adequately mitigate the crisis, there is widespread advocacy for an economic price to be placed on greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, there is a diverse and growing coalition that supports national carbon taxation.

In 2012, the Labor-led Australian government passed one of the world’s first national taxes on carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions. Although the policy has since been celebrated as both environmentally effective and legislatively exemplary—especially since Australia has one of the highest national CO2 emission levels per capita—the policy has been persistently maligned as economically harmful by Australia’s conservative Liberal Party and high-emitting industries.

America’s Role in Australia’s Repeal

Many of the arguments levied against Australia’s carbon tax by the Liberal Party and greenhouse gas emission-intensive industries were intranational in scope. At the same time, however, one argument used against the carbon tax was distinctively international: carbon tax opponents argued that the policy placed Australian companies at a competitive disadvantage against those in developed nations that lack similar carbon emission regulations.

Given that the U.S. has the world’s largest national GDP, along with the reality that the U.S. has repeatedly failed to establish a national carbon price, it is not a stretch to say that the U.S. is complicit in the immoral repeal of Australia’s carbon tax. In order to understand more clearly how and why this is so, Catholics can utilize key concepts from the tradition of Catholic moral theology.

Morality of an Action

Traditional Catholic moral theology maintains that all moral actions, i.e., actions freely chosen, are made up of three components: the objective act as judged by conscience, the intention for acting, and circumstances that include the action’s consequences. In order for an act to be morally good, each aspect must in and of itself be good. Guided by these terms, moral theologians sometimes engage in a process called casuistry whereby the morality of an act is determined by identifying and judging the object, intention, and circumstance of an agent or action.

Although both the aforementioned moral terms and process of casuistry are traditionally applied to individuals’ actions, they can nevertheless be helpful in analogous moral reasoning (i.e., “analogical imagination,” as David Tracy might say) about nations’ actions. In particular, these moral resources can help shed light on how and why the U.S. is partially responsible and culpable for Australia’s immoral carbon tax repeal.

First, it might be argued that Australia’s carbon tax repeal had a good object; that is to say, Australians’ consciences judged the repeal to be objectively good for the country. Similarly, it might be said that Australia’s repeal was guided by a good intention—specifically, the desire to support a legislative repeal intended to promote human flourishing.

At this point, however, it becomes clear that the circumstances of the repeal—specifically the foreseeable consequences of likely climate change proliferation and subsequent human suffering—cannot be judged good. Since object, intention, and circumstance must each be good in order for an act to be good, Australia’s carbon tax repeal can be judged as not morally good, i.e., as morally wrong.

Cooperation with Evil

Given the moral wrongness of Australia’s carbon tax repeal, two additional terms from Catholic moral theology can help reveal America’s complicity in this wrong. Catholic moral theology recognizes two categories of cooperation with evil. As moral theologian James T. Bretzke, S.J., writes in his Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms, “Formal cooperation means sharing in the sinful intent of the principle agent of evil…Material cooperation is the objective aid given or tolerated to the evil caused.” Although these terms generally apply to individuals’ positive actions, they can also help assess the analogous morality of nations’ deliberate non-actions.

In light of this moral framework, America’s failure to establish a carbon price does not constitute formal cooperation—Americans (presumably) did not resist a domestic carbon price in order to encourage Australia’s carbon tax repeal. At the same time, however, the internationally-focused argument for repeal of Australia’s carbon tax, i.e., that competitor countries such as the U.S. do not have a carbon price, shows that America can be said to be materially cooperative with Australia’s carbon tax repeal.

Although Catholic theology asserts that an agent is always wrong to formally cooperate with evil, the tradition also maintains that the degree of an agent’s moral culpability in material cooperation depends on several factors. One such factor, as M. Cathleen Kaveny points out, is gravity, i.e., the seriousness of the moral offense. Given that Australia’s carbon tax repeal is likely to exacerbate climate change and may imperil international climate treaty negotiations, a case can be made that this policy decision is gravely wrong. As such, and in view of how America exercised a sort of material cooperation with this act, the U.S. bears a significant moral responsibility for its complicity in Australia’s morally wrong policy decision (along with other economically advanced countries without domestic climate change mitigation policies).

Opportunity for Repentance: Clean Power Plan Advocacy

Despite America’s collective moral culpability for Australia’s carbon tax repeal, Americans currently have an opportunity to make some amends for past shortcomings. On June 2, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed its Clean Power Plan to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants. Public comments on the Plan are now being accepted through October 16, 2014, and the Catholic Climate Covenant has published a Clean Power Plan advocacy page where people of faith and goodwill can support the Plan in keeping with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Given both America’s complicity in Australia’s carbon tax repeal and America’s own contributions to global climate change, there is thus an urgent moral imperative for U.S. Catholics to take this important advocacy step.

The author is grateful to M. Cathleen Kaveny, J.D., Ph.D., for her helpful feedback on an earlier version of this essay.


Catholics against Climate Change: Faithful Advocates for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan

Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its long-awaited draft of carbon pollution standards for existing fossil fuel power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan. Americans now have 120 days to offer public comments on the rules, and U.S. Catholics are encouraged to do so using the ethical principles articulated by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in a recent letter to the EPA.

The Clean Power Plan

The Clean Power Plan is the nation’s first coordinated attempt to regulate the emission of climate-changing carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. Carbon dioxide is the most pervasive greenhouse gas, and fossil fuel power plants—which account for 38% of overall carbon emissions in America—are the largest collective domestic source of such emissions.

The Plan regulates carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act.  It establishes state-level carbon reduction targets and then empowers each state to determine how it will meet its reduction target. States will have several years within which to submit and implement carbon reduction plans, and the overall effect of the Clean Power Plan is expected to be a 30% decline in national carbon emissions from existing power plants by 2030 relative to 2005.

A Catholic Approach to Defending Creation

On behalf of the U.S. Catholic bishops and as chairman of the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski wrote to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to outline six ethical policy criteria that ought to guide any efforts to reduce carbon pollution. As such, what follows is an analysis of the Clean Energy Plan in light of the U.S. Catholic bishops’ criteria.

  1. Respect for Human Life and Dignity

The World Health Organization estimates that climate change currently causes more than 150,000 annual deaths around the world.  U.S. climate-changing carbon emissions from fossil fuel use are the second highest in the world.  When fully implemented, the Clean Power Plan can be expected to save a substantial number of human lives.  The EPA also estimates that the Plan will avoid thousands of premature deaths, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and hospital admissions that would have otherwise been caused by particle pollution from fossil fuel power plants.

  1. Prudence on Behalf of the Common Good

The USCCB describes prudence as “intelligence applied to our actions.”  NASA points out that 97% of climate scientists agree that human activities such as fossil fuel-related carbon emissions “are very likely” the cause of climate change.  Knowing this, along with the fact that few would argue that the earth’s climate is certainly a global common good, adopting the Clean Power Plan is acting prudently on behalf of the common good.

  1. Priority for the Poor and Vulnerable

The poor and vulnerable are excessively—and unjustly—harmed by climate change, as they have the fewest resources to adapt to climate impacts.  Since the Clean Power Plan will both reduce U.S. carbon emissions and increase the likelihood of a strong international climate treaty, the Plan could go a long way toward protecting poor and vulnerable people both at home and abroad from the harmful effects of climate change

  1. Social and Economic Justice

In the long run, the Clean Power Plan will secure increased social and economic justice by mitigating the climate change that disproportionately harms the poor and vulnerable. In the short term, however, regulations such as the Clean Power Plan must not add to the burdens of low-income consumers and fossil fuel industry workers. Although the overall economic cost of the EPA’s carbon pollution rules is likely to be relatively small, and despite the potential $37.4 billion savings from energy efficiency measures spurred by the proposed Plan, it must be supplemented to include positive economic provisions to ensure immediate justice for vulnerable workers and the poor.

  1. Care for Creation

Although the Clean Power Plan alone will not solve the climate crisis, it is an important initial effort that reduces U.S. carbon emissions and increases the likelihood of a substantive international climate change agreement. It is therefore both an actual and promising initiative to care for God’s good gift of Creation. At the same time, however, the Institute for Policy Studies as well as Food & Water Watch have been critical of the limited scope of the industry-specific Clean Power Plan, which they say will fail to reach the 2020 goal of reducing carbon emissions in developed countries to a targeted 25-40% below 1990 emissions levels.

  1. Participation

The Clean Power Plan is the result of 11 public listening sessions and consultation with more than 300 interest groups over the last year. Additionally, citizens now have 120 days within which to submit comments on the Plan. Finally, states have tremendous flexibility to discern the right mix of policies and plans to reduce their carbon emissions. The Plan thus represents widespread individual and collective participation.

Conclusion

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan largely satisfies the USCCB’s ethical criteria for carbon pollution regulation. Although the Plan lacks provisions that will secure immediate social and economic justice for fossil fuel industry workers and the poor, comments by Catholics and others can help add these protections to the Plan before it is finalized sometime next year.  In addition, this Plan should not absolve Congress from doing its job and crafting legislative proposals that further advance the critical need to drive down greenhouse gas pollution.  U.S. Catholics should indicate their support for these principles and this plan, while urging lawmakers to take additional steps that protect vulnerable workers and the poor from regressive economic impacts.

Updated: #5 has been updated with analysis from the Institute for Policy Studies.


Scientists and the Vatican Agree: Climate Change is Real, Must be Addressed

One of the most familiar theological notions to millennial Catholics is likely that “the Church has always had the duty of scrutinizing the signs of the times and of interpreting them in the light of the Gospel” (Gaudium et Spes, 4). Although there are numerous examples of how the Church continues to do this, one of the most recent—and poignant—occurred earlier this month in Rome. There, the Vatican held an environmental sustainability conference that coincidentally coincided with two new climate change reports. Taken together, these events illustrate how Catholic millennials are called to discerningly respond to pressing contemporary social challenges such as climate change.

Climate Change Assessment Reports

On Tuesday, May 6, the U.S. Global Change Research Program published the Third National Climate Assessment. The report, described as “the authoritative and comprehensive report on climate change and its impacts in the United States,” details the science of climate change and the many adverse impacts that this reality is currently having on American society (for a visual overview of the report, see “National Climate Assessment: 15 arresting images of climate change now and in the pipeline.” These negative effects include, but are not limited to: more frequent severe weather events, rising sea levels, increased drought, water stresses, agricultural difficulties, higher disease incidents, and adverse economic pressures. Although the report recognizes that “there is still time to act to limit the amount of change and the extent of damaging impacts,” it stresses that “climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”

Then on Monday, May 12, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and University of California, Irvine released a new report which found that “a rapidly melting section of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet appears to be in an irreversible state of decline, with nothing to stop the glaciers in this area from melting into the sea.” Based on this, the report predicts that the melting of these glaciers alone—which is recognized as related to anthropogenic climate change—could raise global sea levels by as much as four feet in the coming centuries.

Vatican Sustainability Conference

In response to such reports about the science and consequences of anthropogenic climate change, the Church highlights the need for prudence described by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theoloigae as the cardinal virtue of “right reason applied to action.” In particular, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declares:

In facing climate change, what we already know requires a response; it cannot be easily dismissed. Significant levels of scientific consensus—even in a situation with less than full certainty, where the consequences of not acting are serious—justifies, indeed can obligate, our taking action intended to avert potential dangers. In other words, if enough evidence indicates that the present course of action could jeopardize humankind’s well-being, prudence dictates taking mitigating or preventative action.

Although Aquinas emphasizes the fundamental need for prudence in all practical reasoning about action, he stresses that prudence is “help[ed] and perfect[ed]” by counsel understood as consultation with wise persons. Given this, and in light of the Church’s use of prudence in its on-going response to climate change, it is not surprising that the Vatican recently concluded an interdisciplinary environmental sustainability conference.

Between May 2 and May 6, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences held a joint conference titled Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility. There, the Church brought together dozens of top scientists and economists to reflect on anthropogenic climate change and other pressing environmental challenges (for in-depth accounts of the conference proceedings, see the reports from Daniel J. Misleh, Executive Director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, and Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times reporter and Dot Earth columnist).

Based on this counsel, the Vatican Academies prudentially concluded in their Final Conference Statement that, among other things:

  • “Today we have changed our natural environment to such an extent that scientists are redefining the current period as the Age of the Anthropocene, that is to say an age when human action, through the use of fossil fuels, is having a decisive impact on the planet. If current trends continue, this century will witness unprecedented climate changes and ecosystem destruction that will severely impact us all.”
  • “The massive fossil fuel use at the heart of the global energy system deeply disrupts the Earth’s climate and acidifies the world’s oceans.”
  • “Energy systems can be made much more efficient and much less dependent on coal, petrol and natural gas to avoid climate change, protect the oceans, and clean the air of coal-based pollutants.”
  • “We have the innovative and technological capability to be good stewards of Creation. Humanity needs urgently to redirect our relationship with nature by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals so as to promote a sustainable pattern of economic development and social inclusion.”
  • “Today we need a relationship of mutual benefit: true values should permeate the economy and respect for Creation should promote human dignity and wellbeing.”

Conclusion

The crisis of anthropogenic climate change is one that is rapidly and starkly challenging all millennials of faith and goodwill. In response, Catholic millennials have an opportunity—and responsibility—to apply the insights of both Gaudium et Spes and Aquinas in order to discern and advocate for prudent climate change mitigation and adaptation responses that are guided by wise counsel and inspired by the Gospel. The recent Vatican conference on environmental sustainability provides one macro-level example of this process, and Catholic millennials should thus seek to emulate this example in whatever ways they are able.