Advocates See Encyclical as Opportunity

Pope Benedict XVI’s message about environmental protection, found in his new encyclical, Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate), has applications both in daily life and in the political arena, according to Catholic environmentalists. In particular, the pope’s words anticipate an international meeting on climate change issues in Denmark in December, said Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change. “There needs to be more robust international agreements on economic life, particularly the ability to have sustainable economic life for all people,” Misleh said. “In that context, whatever happens with the climate negotiations, the Vatican and bishops around the world will be looking to see that it is a fair agreement—that it does protect creation, reducing greenhouse gases and such, but [that] people who are most impacted by climate change get enough support to overcome what’s coming.”

Climate change experts have linked the global increase in turbulent weather systems to global warming. An increase in violent weather activity disproportionately affects the poor. “The reason we’re concerned about this is because in Haiti, Cuba, Central America, the rate of disaster—hurricanes, weather-related disasters and the severity of those disasters—has increased, and we as a church are faced with picking up the pieces of those disasters,” said William O’Keefe of Catholic Relief Services. “In Africa, rainfall patterns are already having an impact on how small-scale traditional African farmers are making their livelihood and they are coming to us and saying, ‘What we are doing is not working. Help us.’”

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Legislation. C.R.S. conducted a review of its global programming a year ago, according to O’Keefe, and consequently committed $60 million for adaptation programs to mitigate the effects of climate change on communities. “This is already in response to what our folks on the ground are saying,” he said. “Whenever our field people say, ‘There is a problem that is affecting us here,’ we are forced to ask the question: What can we do with the policy environment?”
The U.S. House of Representatives has already passed a bill on climate issues, and the U.S. Senate is expected to consider legislation when it reconvenes in September. The current bill calls for an initial outlay of about $1 billion in “international adaptation” funds to help poorer nations cope with climate change. “It starts small and it doesn’t ramp up very fast,” Misleh said. “What the bishops are calling for is at least $3.5 billion and ramping up quickly to $7 billion within a few years of the bill’s enactment.”

“The people who did the least to cause this are going to suffer the most, both here at home and in other countries where they contribute the least to greenhouse gas pollution,” said Walt Grazer of the National Religious Partnership on the Environment. He credited Pope Benedict for putting it “right out there that the nations of the world have to rise above their legitimate but more narrow self-interest. We’re going to have to look at our lifestyle.... What do I need? What don’t I need?”

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