The Climate Crisis is Especially Detrimental to the Poor

Many have been waiting in anticipation for Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si (Praise Be to You) released Wednesday. In the landmark text, the Catholic Church clearly states its great concern for the state of our Earth and the people on it. Upon its release, both right and left leaning groups scrambled to appropriate the Holy Father's message to serve their own agenda and turn the document into a political tool. But Pope Francis has little concern for political parties. His encyclical is a call to action for people of all faiths to stand up and save our planet from the neglect and abuse we have laid upon it.

Pope Francis sees the world through a faith lens and not a political one. During his whole pontificate thus far, he has courageously taken on challenging issues and risen above the political fray by focusing on the values relating to the issues. This encyclical is no different as he even connects two important issues together: the climate crisis and poverty.

In the encyclical, he argues that the climate crisis disproportionately impacts the poor. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and Eco-systemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry." The harsh and life-threatening impacts of the climate crisis "will probably be felt by the developing countries in coming decades."

Pope Francis makes the case that because of this environmental inequality poor countries bear the burden of rich countries' greedy abuse of our shared natural resources. This, he said, is a "social debt towards the poor... because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity."

Not everyone agrees. Some have even gone as far as calling the pope anti-business or even Marxist. Predictably, those reactions come from those who fail to see the long view or don't care to because it compromises their immediate profit. There is nothing "anti-business" about the pope's stance on the environment. There is nothing wrong with asking businesses to act more responsibly.

Too often we think of politics before our values, but our values should inform our politics. For instance, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Catholic convert, said of the encyclical, "I don't get economic policies from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope. I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm." Bush acknowledged that he could get in trouble with his parish priest for making that comment. And he should, but not for "chastising the Pope." What he should get in trouble for is for missing out on the point of religion and how it informs the values-based decisions we make each day. Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana said it best: "What is morality about if not about our conduct, our decisions, our conscious and the choices we make; and we don't make decisions in a vacuum. Morality has to do with the choices we make in certain concrete situations including economic situations and business choices. Stop making this artificial separation between moral, theological and business issues."

We can only claim "our values" to be truly ours if we are willing to do something about them. Thank you Pope Francis for taking a courageous stand and calling us all to recognize the impact of the climate crisis and the disproportionate way it effects the poorest among us.