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Professors dialogue about the Pope’s encyclical

| Monday, September 28, 2015

Before Notre Dame took on Massachussetts on Saturday, a panel composed of Notre Dame faculty convened in Jordan Hall of Science to discuss “Science, Religion and Environmental Change: How it Relates to the encyclical the Pope Has Issued.”

Panel moderator Mary Galvin, dean of the College of Science, said the discussion is particularly timely given that Pope Francis has been speaking about his encyclical, “Laudato si’” and the moral obligation to solve the issue of climate change during his visit to the United States.

“Pope Francis in a statement said ‘Climate change is a problem that can no longer be left to future generations,’” Galvin said. “‘When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment.’”

The first panelist, David Lodge, professor of biology and director of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative, began the panel by giving some historical context.

“At the intersection of science and religion, you can’t just jump into any modern document and think that it can be taken entirely at face value,” he said. “You want to think about how the scientific community … might react to such a document. The history of the interaction between Christianity and science has been, to say the least, a little fraught on occasion.”

Lodge spoke specifically of the conflicts between Galileo, Darwinism and environmentalism and the Church. He said these are three examples “on which it’s difficult to even entertain a serious, polite conversation sometimes” between the Church and the scientific community.

“And into that context steps Pope Francis,” Lodge said. “And Pope Francis and the encyclical really provide some just wonderfully refreshing surprises in this context. … Pope Francis takes science really seriously … so scientists can read this document and feel perhaps pleasantly surprised given the context I described.”

Lodge also said Francis writes in the encyclical that environmental change should be a moral concern for humans everywhere, not just those who are directly affected by it at this moment in time or those who place an intrinsic value on the lives of other creatures.

“In the encyclical Pope Francis says ‘Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common path,’” Lodge said. “God does not only love us, the Pope says, he loves all the other critters, too, and that’s the basis of the moral obligation.”

Panelist Georges Enderle, professor of international business ethics said people need to accept climate change is a problem in the world today.

“I think it is very crucial to open our eyes and face reality,” he said. “This is not just the opinion of a few people studying philosophy, but I think it’s an urgent need which is emphasized by the Pope in this encyclical.”

“Climate change is an enormously complex and urgent problem,” Enderle said. “We need new dialogue, and the Pope, in his address to the joint session and to Congress … urges us to talk together, to seek together and to have a dialogue, because only then will we have a chance to address those important issues. We need action at all levels. The rule of law in a country is a public good, which means everybody benefits from it, and a war is a public bad. Everybody is affected by it. And so, if you say … the climate issue is a public bad, we have to think about how to address it.”

The third panelist, Joyce Coffee, managing director of Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN), said she believes through his encyclical, the Pope has made the issue of climate change a human rights issue that is not just for Americans to think about in terms of how it affects first-world countries such as the United States.

“The Pope has really put the question of climate change firmly and unequivocally as a human rights question,” she said. “Those living in lower incomes in least-developed countries experience 10 times more climate impacts than those in rich countries on an annual basis. Our data also showed that it would take more than 100 years for lower income countries to reach the level of resilience that we enjoy in upper-income countries, and this disproportionate risk is something the Papal encyclical calls out.”

Coffee also spoke to ND-GAIN’s mission, saying the organization’s mission of service to justice, educating the next generation of leaders and increasing the world’s awareness about the need to adapt to climate change, lines up with Pope Francis’s call to action in his encyclical.

“We believe that if we can increase the uptick of investments that save lives and improve livelihoods in the face of global shifts, we will in fact be addressing that incredible call to action that is throughout the Papal encyclical,” Coffee said. “We will actually be seizing opportunities for these collateral benefits of climate adaptation … the Pope spoke to. … Climate adaptation lifts more out of poverty. … Climate adaptation can help decrease armed conflict, especially when that conflict is driven by droughts and food insecurity.”

Alan Hamlet, assistant professor in the department of civil environmental engineering and earth sciences, said the encyclical makes the need to address water as a part of this discussion clear.

“Almost everything that we care about, in a global context right down to our daily lives, is very connected with water,” he said. “The encyclical does an absolutely great job of laying down the connections between social, technical, economic and so forth, all of those systems. And embedded in almost all of those issues is water.”

Hamlet said the world needs to move away from looking to past water trends to predict future ones and to move past the damage report into solutions.

“There’s a great need, in the water sector, to move beyond the use of historical records for our planning,” Hamlet said. “We assume that the variability we’ve seen in the past with historical records is a crystal ball of sorts for the future. With climate change, that idea is really gone and we need to use models instead of observations. … We also need to move beyond the damage report. … It is an extensive, formidable list, but we need now to move beyond saying what is going to break to saying how we are going to try to fix it.”

Despite the panelists’ praise of Pope Francis’s encyclical for addressing many critical issues, they also voiced concerns about certain aspects, such as its specificity to which it did not address other topics that they felt should be mentioned.

During her introduction, Galvin said Notre Dame is already taking necessary steps to meet the challenge presented in the Papal encyclical.

“This is a critical time which will require all of us to act,” she said. “At Notre Dame, Fr. John Jenkins announced this week, on Monday, that Notre Dame will cease burning coal in five years and cut CO2 emissions in half by 2030.”

The panelists also spoke about the unique role Notre Dame may play as a Catholic university in carrying out the mission presented by Pope Francis in his encyclical.

“I came upon the line [in the encyclical] that said, ‘Young people demand change,’” Coffee said. “‘They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environment degradation and suffering of the excluded.’ I thought that sounds so much like the mission statement here. … I think that we have a real opportunity here to further that quest for human solidarity within the curriculum, action and work that happens at our University that impact society, to really bring more service to justice through the University’s efforts to educate the next generation of leaders.”

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About Courtney Becker

Courtney is a junior from New York City majoring in film, television and theater with a minor in journalism, and currently serving as News Editor. She is a proud resident of Pasquerilla West Hall and a die-hard Pittsburgh Steelers fan.

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