WASHINGTON, Sept. 23, 2015 – In keeping with his encyclical letter released earlier this year, Pope Francis spoke to a crowd of thousands on the White House South Lawn Wednesday morning on the urgent need to protect  “our common home” from pollution and the effects of climate change.

Speaking slowly in English, the Argentine pope said he was “encouraged” by President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan and supported the initiative’s objective of “reducing air pollution.”

“It seems clear to me… that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to our future generation,” Francis said. “When it comes to the care of our common home, we are living at a critical moment of history.  We still have time to make the change needed to bring about a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”

The pope didn’t elaborate today on what sort of changes are needed to achieve this end, but he did lay out more details in his encyclical, Laudato Si, in which he suggests “climate is a common good” and environmental degradation leads to persistent poverty and forced migration.

The world “require(s) a new and universal solidarity” around fighting climate change, improving biodiversity and addressing water quality and quantity issues, the pope wrote. “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions,” he wrote.

A global collaborative effort will require “a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them,” he told his audience today. 

“Humanity has the ability to work together in building our common home,” he continued. “As Christians… we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.”

Francis only mentioned immigration in passing when he said, as a descendent of immigrants, he was happy “to be a guest” in the U.S. – a country “largely built by such families.”

In his encyclical, he writes, “There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation.”

“They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever,” he indicated. “Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.”

Some conservatives have objected to the pope’s comments on climate change, particularly because he argues humans are responsible for global warming and that a global solution – including a reduction in fossil fuel consumption – is critical. Liberals, on the other hand, have largely been supportive of the pope’s advocacy on the issue.

Pope Francis will address a joint meeting of Congress Thursday morning before heading to New York to speak to the United Nations General Assembly Friday.


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