Climate Change: Scientific and Spiritual Matter

By Bruce Knight

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As I said last summer, there's no doubt in my mind that climate change is real.  Recently Pope Francis released his second encyclical, Laudato Sí (Praise be to You), subtitled “On the care for our common home.” This document, essentially a letter to high-ranking Catholic clergy, details his views on the interconnectedness of all who live on Planet Earth and the obligation of mankind to care for the environment. The title refers to a well-known poem by the Pope's namesake, Francis of Asissi, called “Canticle of the Sun” or “Canticle of the Creatures” that praises God for creation and the beauty of the world. 

The segments of the letter addressing climate change have drawn the most press.  Specifically, the encyclical states, “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.”  Pope Francis decries a “throwaway culture” and calls for “swift and unified global action” to combat environmental degradation and global warming.  He also sees conservation of plant and animal species as part of human responsibility to tend the land.

Lets Talk Food

Pope Francis believes that humans have been given the Earth by God, but they are to steward it for others who will follow them.  In this regard, the encyclical notes, “Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has a duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”

I would encourage anyone who cares about environmental issues and agricultural conservation to read this document for themselves.  It is well researched and cites numerous authoritative scientific sources along with providing a spiritual underpinning for the Pope's views.  The Pope takes a wholistic view of man's charge to safeguard the earth for future generations, seeing climate change in particular as an issue that involves moral, theological, economic and social justice aspects.  I hope that more thinking people will look beyond the news coverage and the sound bites from U.S. politicians to see what the Pope has actually said.

Many who have argued that climate change has no roots in human activity have stressed the rights of individuals whereas the Pope specifically voices his concern for those who have limited choices yet are greatly impacted by the choices others make. As the encyclical states, “We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world and that being good and decent are worth it.”

I found it particularly interesting that the Cardinal Peter Turkson, the leader of the team that prepared the first draft of the encyclical, is a strong proponent of sustainability and biotechnology, including supporting genetically modified foods.  Turkson has said that such technologies could help feed the “poor and afflicted” of the world. 

It's unlikely that you will agree with every point in Laudato Sí -I don't.  But this is an important, scientifically supported document from a respected Christian leader who argues persuasively that spiritual beliefs and principles should inform every aspect of our lives, including our approach to the environment.  It deserves our consideration and reflection. 

Laudato Sí is a serious effort to call attention to a serious problem.  I believe we all need to give some thought to what we can do collectively and individually to address climate change and other environmental issues, not only for the sake of our children and grandchildren but also for the seven billion others who share our world. 

About the author: Bruce I. Knight, Principal, Strategic Conservation Solutions, was the Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 2006 to 2009. From 2002 to 2006, Knight served as Chief of Natural Resources Conservation Service. The South Dakota native worked on Capitol Hill for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Rep. Fred Grandy, Iowa, and Sen. James Abdnor, South Dakota. In addition, Knight served as vice president for public policy for the National Corn Growers Association and also worked for the National Association of Wheat Growers. A third-generation rancher and farmer and lifelong conservationist, Knight operates a diversified grain and cattle operation using no-till and rest rotation grazing systems

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