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June 27, 2015

Laudato Si Makes Waves Throughout Society
    by Robert Kropp

Sustainable investors and climate deniers alike weigh in with responses and reactions to Pope Francis's landmark encyclical on climate change. Second in a two-part series. -- Even before the official publication of Laudat o Si, the encyclical on climate change by Pope Francis, climate deniers were maintaining that a religious leader should confine himself to religious matters. At a recent conference for climate deniers, Sen. Inhofe of Oklahoma remarked, “The pope ought to stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours.” Also, out of the ever-growing crowd of undistinguished Republican candidates for President, former Senator Rick Santorum opined, “I think there are more pressing problems confronting the earth than climate change.”

“We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists,” Santorum said. Not to mention, he noted as well, politicians, whose positions on climate change often happen to coincide with generous funding from the fossil fuel industry. None of which is at all surprising, considering how explicitly the Pope noted in his encyclical the connection between climate action, poverty, and morality; as tirelessly as Republicans in Congress have worked to defend the interests of their patrons in the fossil fuel industry, they have focused as much on dismantling what remains of the social safety net for this nation's poorest citizens.

As the Pope wrote, “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms.”

On the other hand, faith-based sustainable investors such as the members of the
Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) were quick to welcome the Pope's influential input on important issues that have received far too little attention from politicians. “ICCR members call upon the world’s most powerful corporations to address their impacts on the environment and communities, particularly the world’s most vulnerable communities, in an effort to build a more just and sustainable world,” the organization stated in response to the encyclical. “The social teachings of the diverse faith traditions of our members, including Catholic Social Teaching, have served as the foundation and inspiration for ICCR’s work to integrate environmental, social and governance measures into evaluations of corporate performance.”

In its publication
Invested in Change, ICCR describes the engagement efforts of faith-based investors in addressing climate change, and asserts that the mandate to factor climate change “extends beyond the responsible investment community to encompass all investors.”

“The environmental crisis facing our planet transcends politics, economics and science; it is, at bottom, a moral and ethical crisis,” Rev. Seamus Finn of ICCR said. “In issuing Laudato Si, the Holy Father is reminding us of our duty to restore our right relationship with the earth, which is one of harmony and respect for God’s creation.”

The environmental activist organization is not a religious group, although its founder Bill McKibben has always been forthright about his own spiritual foundation. (In his 2005 book, The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation, McKibben asks, “How can one believe deeply in God and yet be so cavalier about God's creation?”) In a blog posted on the website of the New York Review of Books, McKibben responded directly to the message of the Pope's encyclical.

“He’s brought the full weight of the spiritual order to bear on the global threat posed by climate change, and in so doing joined its power with the scientific order,” McKibben wrote. “Science by itself has proven empirically impotent to force action on this greatest of crises; now, at last, someone with authority is explaining precisely why it matters that we’re overheating the planet.”

“But the heart of the encyclical is less an account of environmental or social destruction than a remarkable attack on the way our world runs: on the 'rapidification' of modern life, on the way that economic growth and technology trump all other concerns, on a culture that can waste billions of people,” McKibben continued. “Our way of life literally doesn’t work.”

It's likely that elected representatives of climate denial and candidates invested in business as usual are hooping that the “'rapidification' of modern life” referred to by McKibben will quickly distract global citizens from the Pope's message. However, it appears that Pope Francis intends to persist in keeping the issue foremost, as he has convened a conference on the environment.

One of the leaders of the conference will be the author and activist Naomi Klein, whose book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate acknowledges that the only effective global response to climate change requires the dismantling of the neoliberal gospel of deregulation and privatization.

“A lot of people have patted the pope on the head, but said he’s wrong on the economics,” Klein said. I think he’s right on the economics.”

It's no wonder, then, that those who benefit in the short term from business as usual are sniping at the message of Laudato Si. It asserts beyond question that the aforementioned neoliberal gospel is an increasingly destructive force for the earth and its inhabitants. What might replace global capitalism, and whether humanity possesses the resolve to make the revolutionary changes that are needed, remian to be seen.

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