By Rosina Pohlmann, Environmental Stewardship Leader at Saint Paul & Saint Andrew UMC, New York, NY
Pope Francis’s papal encyclical on the environment, Laudato si’ is tremendous: an unequivocal call to action on climate change, inequality, and the broken systems that perpetuates both. In an age of climate denial, oil-bought politicians and a legitimized profit-before-people status quo, the pope’s comprehensive, authoritative teaching is a breath of fresh air cutting through the smog.
But Laudato si’ isn’t just an “I told you so!” to lob at climate deniers. It is also, as author and social activist Naomi Klein sums up, "A rebuke of slow action. It very specifically says that climate denial isn't just about denying the science. It's also about denying the urgency of the science. The document is very strong in condemning delays, half-measures, and so-called market solutions.”
For those of us in the developed world, the urgency of climate change can still feel far away. Given our current distance from the crisis, screening fossil fuels from our investments can seem too forward, too disruptive, too fast. Despite compelling ethical, financial and political reasons for screening fossil fuels, there is a reticence to interrupt business-as-usual. Shareholder advocacy is perceived by some as the safer route, even though it has failed to make any meaningful impact whatsoever in the past two decades.
Screening fossil fuels from our investments is a bold step, one that can help avert disaster for creation and the world’s poor. Pope Francis says, “The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty.” Such decisions can only come out of radical love.
Radical love is exactly what Pope Francis calls for. It’s what Jesus calls for. It’s what leaders of The United Methodist Church call for as well. In “God’s Renewed Creation: A Call to Hope and Action,” the United Methodist Council of Bishops urges Christians to “practice social and environmental holiness by caring for God’s people and God’s planet and by challenging those whose policies and practices neglect the poor, exploit the weak, hasten global warming, and produce more weapons.”
By this injunction, we must challenge the industry overwhelmingly responsible for hastening climate change. Investing in fossil fuels lends credibility to the status quo. We must be willing to step away from the fossil fuel industry in order to build the social, economic and political pressure that will break the industry’s stronghold on our economy and government.
Pope Francis’s encyclical is a rebuke, but more so, it is an invitation to allow God to work through us: “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning.”
We can fix this, so why not do it? Why drag our feet when we can run joyfully? We should rejoice in the fact that through God’s grace, we have the ability to fix what is broken. We have the ability to stand up for what is right and open the door to a just future.
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. Faith is having the courage to do the right thing so that God’s will might unfold. Let us listen to the prophetic voice of the pope and our church leaders, and trust in Jesus Christ’s gift of radical love. Let’s do the right thing.