They look increasingly like dinosaurs.
Yes. Paul Ryan and John Boehner are Catholics. It’s going to be interesting to see how high-level conservative legislators respond to the encyclical. But really, it’s on all of us to hold them accountable – to say that if you consider yourself a devout Catholic and a devout Christian, you have to acknowledge that this is a core part of our faith. That means caring for our neighbors and caring for God’s gift of creation and life. If you’re a policymaker, you have to do something about it. It’s your job. The pope is going to get a lot of media out of this, obviously, but it’s on the American people to take that and communicate it to their elected officials.
When talking to evangelicals or conservative Christians, what’s the most effective argument? Love your neighbor? Protect the poor?
The core narrative I use is stewardship – the idea that we’re charged to care for and protect the land, God’s creation, and these amazing gifts that God gave us. That includes our human communities, each other. And it includes wildlife and the larger creation. My dad, who is very evangelical and conservative, responds pretty well to that idea – he genuinely believes we should be protecting all life, including non-human life.
Environmentalists have put a heavy emphasis on wildlife, but they haven’t made the critical connection that we’re part of the environment. What we do to the environment impacts people as well. When you’re talking about climate change and environmental injustice, the poor and the vulnerable are impacted the most. Protecting the poor is a core Christian value – it’s sort of the ABCs of Christianity. [We have to bring] humans back into the conversation, stress that environmental stewardship includes human communities, and poor communities where people can’t just pick up and move when there’s pollution in the back yard.
The other underused narrative is that climate change is going to impact us all. You don’t have to be poor, you don’t have to be wildlife; it’s already impacting everybody in very intimate ways. We’re doing this because we love our lives. We’re not doing this out of fear, or because we’re being bullied into it by liberal propaganda. It’s because we love this place and want to protect it. I think that’s an important piece.
Another piece is hope. So much of the dialogue around climate change is apocalyptic and terrifying. Even if I sit with it for very long, I feel overpowered and panicked and want to shut down. It’s dire, but there are things we can do to make this transition better. There’s agency there, there’s empowerment there, there are options and choices, but we have to make them now – we have to start now.