Will Pope Francis’ visit spark a ‘moral imperative’ for conservation?

Pope Francis. 

Casa Rosada, Wikimedia Commons. 

Pope Francis’ trip to the United States at the end of September will shine a spotlight on the fight against climate change, and has the potential to compel more of the public to see climate justice as moral imperative.

The pope is expected to focus on climate during his first papal visit to the United States. On Sept. 24, Pope Francis will be the first pope ever to address the U.S. Congress.

This visit comes on the heels of the June release of the Catholic Church’s sweeping encyclical on climate—the most comprehensive statement the Catholic Church has ever made on the environment and what it’s calling a moral imperative to protect the environment. Bridging science and religion, the document could have an enormous impact on the global debate on climate change.

Tens of thousands of people from all creeds, colors and faiths are expected to rally on the National Mall to support the pope’s message and tell Congress to take bold action toward climate justice.

A moral imperative to take action on climate change

The pope’s historic encyclical, entitled ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME, advocates for swift political action as it describes climate change as one of the principal challenges facing humanity. The document makes no second guesses about how bad things have have become for the environment in the face of human-caused climate change.

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” Pope Francis said in his address.

Future generations are a key part of this message. The pope notes that young people wonder how anyone can claim they’re building a better future without considering the environmental crises that we face today. In order to ensure clean air and drinking water for future generations, we have a moral obligation to to address this problem with urgency.

Seeking a solution: public lands and renewable energy

The pope’s encyclical emphasized the notion that climate change Is a problem shared by all, and this shared problem calls for a shared solution. Our public lands can play a key role.

Just as public lands have been a part of the climate problem in the past, they can be a part of the climate solution. Currently, more than 24 percent of all greenhouse gases are emitted from energy production on public lands – an amount equal to annual emissions from over 280 million cars.

Shifting how energy is developed on our shared public lands can help address the causes and consequences of climate change. Utilizing these public resources wisely can help reduce our dependence on polluting forms of energy that contribute to climate change. This includes reducing the impact oil and gas development has on our air, land and water while responsibly transitioning to renewable energy.

“There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.” –Pope Francis

    Renewable energy development is not appropriate everywhere on public lands, however. We need intact wildlands to help combat the effects of climate change. It is important to guide needed renewable energy development into the right places to avoid damaging sensitive wildlands and wildlife habitat. As we make the shift to clean energy sources, development needs to be done in smart ways and appropriate places.

    The Wilderness Society hopes that the pope’s visit to the United States will highlight the urgency of addressing our shared climate crisis.