By James J. Bacik
Voting prudently in the 2020 election requires attention to various specific issues, including abortion, immigration, economic justice, racism and climate change. In casting our ballot, we all have to follow our own properly informed conscience, which is the immediate proximate norm for moral decisions. As Catholics, we are obliged to take into account the authoritative teaching of the Church in making our moral choices. The pope and bishops cannot displace our conscience, but they can help inform it in accord with biblical teaching and the Christian tradition.
As we consider the crucial issue of climate change, we can find guidance in Catholic Social Teaching, especially Laudato Si, the 2015 encyclical of Pope Francis on the environment. The pope notes that our industrial system and our “throwaway culture” have polluted our earth, making our common home look more like an “immense pile of filth.” Francis accepts the “solid scientific consensus” that we are “witnessing a disturbing warming of the climate system,” accompanied by a “rise in the sea level” and “extreme weather events.” Furthermore, he accepts the specific consensus point that most global warming is due to the “great concentrations of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity,” specifically by the “intensive use of fossil fuels” to generate electric power for “the worldwide energy system” (n23). Climate change is “a global problem,” representing “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day,” with especially dire consequences for developing countries and poor people around the world. There is an “urgent need” to develop policies that “drastically reduce” carbon emissions.
In chapter two, Pope Francis presents a “Gospel of Creation” based on the biblical injunction that we humans are called to “till and keep the garden of the world” (Gen2:15) and to care for creation, which is a “caress of God,” a “precious book” showing forth “the inexhaustible riches of God.” We need a “bold cultural revolution” and “quick and decisive action” to replace the technological paradigm that seeks to dominate the earth with a “responsible stewardship” that cares for our common home so we can hand on to the next generation a habitable planet.
Since we are all members of “a universal family,” a “sublime communion,” we need to “think of one world with a common plan.” In this regard, Francis supported the 2016 Paris Agreement to enact policies to keep global warming at an acceptable level. Furthermore, he encouraged nation states to develop policies to protect the environment and develop sustainable sources of energy.
In making his case, Francis explicitly acknowledges that the Church “does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.” On the other hand, the pope is convinced that the Church’s spiritual perspectives and moral principles can promote inclusive dialogue and collaboration on the best policies to deal with our environmental crisis.
Laudato Si includes broad principles that have universal appeal, Gospel teachings directed to Christian believers and specific recommendations open to discussion. People of good will can disagree with some of its specific assumptions and conclusions. It remains, however, a rich resource for all of us as we try to inform our conscience on climate change, considered by many as one of the most pressing and consequential issues at stake in this election.
What point in Laudato Si is most helpful for me in forming my conscience on climate change?