The Pope's Lesson: Now There's a Moral Price to Pay for Climate Denial

Pope Francis greets well-wishers as he leaves the Apostolic Nunciature to the United States  on September 24, 2015 in Washing
Pope Francis greets well-wishers as he leaves the Apostolic Nunciature to the United States on September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/MOLLY RILEY (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)

Pope Francisco's visit to Washington, DC, felt like a gust of fresh air. And he left us a rosary of unforgettable sentences, including my favorite one: "I am happy that America continues to be, for many, a land of 'dreams'."

For Francisco, "America" means much more than the United States. It's the continent that stretches from the Antarctic all the way down to Tierra del Fuego.

"We, the people of this continent, are not fearful of foreigners, because most of us were once foreigners," said the Pope to the Joint Session of Congress. "I say this to you as the son of immigrants, knowing that so many of you are also descended from immigrants."

In these sad times in which immigrants, especially we Latinos, have become a piñata for politicians of empty souls and plenty of ignorance, the Holy Father's words run like a tonic through my immigrant veins.

I am an immigrant times two. When I was a child, my parents moved us all from Chile, my birthplace, to Spain, my adopted country. And years later, I ended up crossing the Atlantic once more in search for my dream. Today, I am a Chilean-Hispanic-Gringo. Or as Francisco calls it, an American.

But this dream includes an extraordinary responsibility, the Pontiff tells us, rejecting the selfish attitude of "I've got mine, get lost." In several of his speeches, the Pope reminded us about the fundamental importance of the common good, of the generosity to open way for those coming after us.

"This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to 'enter into dialogue with all people about our common home'," said the Pope. "We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all".

In more than gentle words, avoiding hurting the sensitivities of the numerous deniers who populate the Congress, Francisco urged the audience to gather courage to "redirect our steps" and avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change caused by human activity.

"I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States - and this Congress - have an important role to play," said the Pope in humble tone with words of fire.

And I say fire because this is the very same Congress who in the past 15 years have become the largest obstacle to climate action, not only in the US but the entire world. Attempt after attempt to pass laws to effectively confront humanity's most serious challenge has failed thanks to the relentless lobbying of the fossil fuel industry and their hundreds of millions of dollars in congressional campaign contributions.

In his Laudato Si Encyclical, Francisco writes: "For human beings to destroy the biological diversity of God's creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth's waters, its land, its air, and its life - these are sins."

And the ones who suffer the most from these sins, as the Pope rightly denounces, are those living in developing countries and the minorities living in developed ones. In short, us Latinos.

"Climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation," stated the Pope at the White House, urging the entire world to act now without delays.

Out of the Pope's rosary of sentences, we all must remember this lesson in morality for the sake of humanity's future.

Javier Sierra is a Sierra Club columnist. Follow him on Twitter @javier_SC