Heeding Pope Francis’ call
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Pope Francis’ recent encyclical is a game changer that brings the urgency of the climate movement to a new level. The popular Pope does not mince words: Humans have caused climate change and it is our responsibility to fix it. He frames this fight for climate justice as a moral imperative and among the most pressing social justice concerns of our time. In a global economy driven by profits and exploitation, Pope Francis urges each and every one of us to reinvest in our future, our shared well-being and our ethical integrity by turning away from fossil fuels.
Pope Francis reminds us that climate justice is at its core a social justice issue. This leaves the future of humanity, as well as some of our most compelling ethical questions, hanging in the balance. Who are we as a human race if we are destroying ourselves, and in particular our poorest and most vulnerable communities, in exchange for short-term profits? “If we destroy creation,” Pope Francis warns, “Creation will destroy us.”
Indeed, with each passing season we see extreme weather events ravage communities and magnify existing inequalities. Events like Hurricane Katrina and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines remind us that climate change wreaks havoc on the most vulnerable communities that are least able to defend against disaster.
The Pope’s take-home message is that we have a moral obligation to address the main cause of climate change, which is the burning of fossil fuel. Investments in the fossil fuel industry must cease in order to speed the transition to a renewable energy based system. Many faith organizations around the world are divesting their endowments from fossil fuels, including the World Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian Universalist Association.
Shifting investments from oil, gas and coal to sustainable substitutes in the energy sector can provide competitive returns over the market cycle, and reduce the risk of holding fossil fuel stock that is destined to lose value. Divestment is such a powerful tactic for advancing climate justice that many institutions including colleges, universities and entire municipalities are getting on board.
Institutions like Notre Dame that hold investments and endowments must heed Pope Francis’ call. Schools, municipalities and pension boards must divest from fossil fuels as we did from big tobacco and businesses invested in South African apartheid in the past.
We must act now to avert climate disaster that, as Pope Francis states, would have “grave consequences for us all.”
Class of 2012