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Speaker explores Catholic stance on climate change

| Thursday, October 1, 2015

Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), spoke of the need for responsibility and action in regards to climate change during her keynote address at the Notre Dame Climate Investing Conference on Wednesday. The conference, which began on Tuesday, focused on carbon energy reduction and opportunities for investing in environmentally-friendly technology.

Woo’s lecture was largely concentrated on Pope Francis’ recent encyclical and how businesses have to react in order to align with the Vatican’s stance on climate change. She said people should feel the need to view and care for the Earth as “our common home.”

“We are expected to praise God with our own life. To return thanks and return blessings. To acknowledge what we have received from this garden,” Woo said.

Woo said the goal of her work at CRS, a non-profit organization, has been to provide for the poor and suffering throughout the world. As a result, Woo said she has seen the effect climate change has on the poor.

Woo pointed in particular to the effects of one poor rainfall season in Ethiopia, which threatened the nation’s food supply. An estimated 40 million people will face food insecurity because of this drought, she said.

The poor of the world, those who are most dependent on living off the land, will be most affected by climate change, Woo said. For this reason, she said she believes the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor to be “the same phenomenon.”

Woo also discussed the role of business in the struggle against climate change. She contested the idea that the pope is against business, instead arguing that he is opposed only to the abuses and exploitation by businesses.

“The pope is against idolatry, which is putting profits ahead of people,” Woo said.

Woo said she has seen first-hand the effect of this idolatry during her time at CRS, recalling a trip to an Ethiopian flower farm that serviced big box stores in places like the United States.

On this farm, the terrible working conditions and the lack of regulations on the air concentration caused workers to develop cancer at an extremely high rate, according to Woo. These types of “unethical predatory practices” by businesses sacrifice the health of the workers for the sake of profits, she said.

However, Woo said business and greater environmental consciousness are not mutually exclusive. Business can still be “a noble vocation” if companies can make a conscious effort to create positive environmental change, she said.

Woo pointed out the falsity of the common belief that energy use and economic growth are correlated by considering Germany’s recent economic growth without a similar increase in energy consumption. Woo said she believes this will provide an example to businesses, proving that companies can be both climate smart and business smart.

Woo said the fight for climate change activists will not always be easy and help may not come from the government or other expected sources.

“We don’t have permission to give up,” she said. “We just have to try different ways.”

Woo closed by asking people to stop writing off climate change as a problem they can do nothing about.

“There is a problem, and it is my problem,” Woo said. “And yes, there is something I can do about it.”

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