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Pope Francis Speaks Out on Climate Change & Inequality

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Pope Francis smiling and looking down, as he talks to several people taking pictures outside of a large beige building

A familiar voice in the debate over global climate change and social inequality resonated in the closing moments of TED’s Global Launch. His Holiness Pope Francis encouraged listeners to advocate for the environment and to take care of one another.

Certain audience members felt surprised to hear the Pope speak on behalf of stronger environmental policy and awareness of social justice issues, likely rooted in the long-held association between the Catholic Church and the Republican political party.

Environmental activism is typically not stressed in right-wing political agendas. During the Vice–Presidential debate earlier this month, Vice President Pence, a Republican, made it clear that he did not support stricter environmental policy. 

Along a similar line, religion is not often seen supporting and working in tandem with the scientific community. However, Pope Francis has demonstrated a history of speaking for environmental protection, shown in several of his previous speeches, TED talks, and various writings.

He even joined forces with Greta Thunberg, the teenage environmental activist of worldwide acclaim, to discuss their similar interests in solving the issues of climate change.

Addressing viewers via Livestream, Pope Francis articulated several key issues that he insisted needed to be solved. He challenged the economic systems of the world, attesting that businesses operate with little long-term vision, especially with regard to environmental consequences.

Further, Pope Francis denounced the aspects of the world’s economic systems that exploit the poor and foster inequality.

The Pope maintained a focus on the Earth’s wellbeing, stating that global climate change was a “scientific fact.” He stressed the immediate need for corrective action before we inflict irreparable damage to the environment, and warned that a lack of problem-solving actions could result in catastrophic consequences.

In the past, including in this recent TED talk, Pope Francis introduced the audience to a concept he refers to as “integral ecology.” Essentially, it is the idea that everyone and everything on Earth is connected. People are connected to one another via social constructs and connected to the Earth in the ways they interact and depend on it for resources.

Earth undergoing extreme changes causing half to ignite, most likely from a core meltdown

Further, social issues are connected to environmental issues, as they often impact the poor and vulnerable before the rich and powerful. His Holiness briefly reflected on how the current pandemic and social unrest have made this interdependence more apparent than ever.

The coupling of social injustice and the health crisis creates a challenging period, reflecting on few other times in history. Pope Francis, acutely aware of this, insists that individual people, as well as society as a whole, change in response to the current situation. It will not be without hard work.

“We will have to take it one step at a time; help the weak; persuade those in doubt; imagine new solutions and commit to carrying them out,” said Pope Francis.

Pope Francis explains that although the world seems bleak, there is still hope for change. Aside from complimenting the younger generations’ persistence for justice and activism, the pope also outlined 3 key aspects to focus on in order to combat global climate change and inequality.

The first key to initiate positive change is to restructure education around the importance of the “environment and humanity’s impact on it.” The Pope reiterated several times that “Environmental needs are linked to human needs,” to make sure the audience understood. Ideally, education should consist of scientific facts, explained from an ethical perspective.

Secondly, Pope Francis placed great emphasis on water and nutrition as essential and universal human rights. This is a prime case where social inequality meets the consequences of global climate change, as the poorest areas of the world often struggle to find clean water and proper food. Pope Francis encouraged the use of non-destructive farming methods to ensure the production of enough food without sacrificing the long-term sustainability of the Earth.

The third suggestion, which should come as a surprise to no one, is to replace fossil fuels with clean energy sources. The pope clarified that this change does not need to occur right now. Fossil fuels can be replaced gradually, but this transition to clean energy needs to begin immediately. There is simply not enough time to ignore the signs of global climate change. 

“In fact, the Earth must be worked and nursed, cultivated and protected. We cannot continue to squeeze it like an orange,” said Pope Francis.

Pope Francis concluded his Livestream on a note of optimism. He envisioned a more creative economy, one that considers the impact on the environment and the dignity of its workers. This envisioned future can become a reality if people cease their indifference and commit to creating a better, more inclusive world. A future where society takes care of the Earth, not just for our own sakes, but for the generations to come. 

Pope Francis attests that taking care of the Earth is a “human right,” and existing in an integral ecology means realizing that our actions have consequences in the future. 

“The future is built today, and it is not built-in isolation, but rather in community and harmony,” said Pope Francis. 

The fight to save the planet needs to start now. Everyone must take part in order to have success.