Earth Day: The Climate is a Common Good

22 April 2022

People walking in water carrying bags with a sunset in front of them and trees on either side.

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” Pope Francis said in Laudato Si, his second encyclical. With the subtitle ‘On care for our common home,’ his 2015 letter addressed the entire Catholic community calling attention to the ways we interact with earth and how those interactions are causing the environmental issues we see today. On this Earth Day, his words remind and guide us in our responsibility to care for our home, a home that some are already being forced from. 

“Future generations will never forgive us if we miss the opportunity to protect our common home,” Pope Francis said to a group of religious leaders in October 2021. Researchers and a November 2021 study indicate that we have just 11 years left to limit our greenhouse emissions before the most extensive damage is irreversible. The Paris Agreement of 2015 set a goal of keeping the warming of the earth at or below 2 degrees Celsius, though the ideal temperature increase to avoid such irreversible damages is 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

“The earth must be taken care of, cultivated and protected…taking care of the earth is a human right.,” Pope Francis said in a message for the TEDx Countdown on climate change. In the same message, he explained how our care for creation must also “be attentive to its impact on the poor, on local populations, and on those who work in the sector of energy production.”  

We cannot ignore the ways climate change has already forced people from their homes and local communities. Natural and environmental disasters such as floods and fires have destroyed homes and livelihoods around the world. In 2020 alone, over 30 million people were displaced due to these disasters and climate change. 

There is a link between climate change and the development of instability and violence fueled by poverty, hunger, and a lack of access to natural resources, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In fact, the UNHCR estimates that about “90 per cent of refugees come from countries that are the most vulnerable and least ready to adapt to the impacts of climate change.”   

Pope Francis has also called attention to the populations most effected by the warming of our planet. He stated in a document titled Pastoral Orientations on Climate Displaced People, that “climate change happens everywhere, but the greatest pain is felt by those who have contributed least to it.”  

It is our responsibility to work towards mitigating the pain caused by our neglect of the natural world. 

 “The deteriorating climate is very often the result of poor choices and destructive activity, of selfishness, and neglect,” he wrote in the preface of Pastoral Orientations on Climate Displaced People. 

A report from September 2021 indicates that 216 million could be displaced by 2050. Now, more than ever, we must heed Pope Francis’ calls to care for not only the earth but also for our brothers and sisters experiencing displacement.  

The document explains that standing with those displaced due to climate change is “at the heart of being a credible and witnessing church, a caring and inclusive ecclesial community.”  

This Earth Day, we urge you to support JRS’ mission to help all refugees – including those who have been forced to abandon their homes as a result of climate change. You can learn more about what JRS is doing, as well as how you can support us, here.