Climate Change and the Global Poor

by | Jun 25, 2013 | Uncategorized

Climate Change Fist by Oxfam International at Flickr
Climate Change Fist by Oxfam International at Flickr

Climate Change Fist

On Tuesday, Obama unveiled his plan to confront global climate change at Georgetown University.  Interestingly, in his pre-announcement video, he highlights the need for all American “citizens to do our part to preserve God’s creation for future generations.”

Playing the “God” card always gets people’s attention.  But what caught my attention was Obama’s own attention to the effects of climate change on the poor, especially the poor in developing countries.  I had to ask if Obama had been paying attention to what Catholic leaders have said about the environment, the essence of which was nicely framed just a week ago by Daniel J. Misleh and Daniel R. DiLeo over at America Magazine.  Their article does a great job summarizing the positions not only of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, but of various national Catholic Bishop conferences as well as an assortment of Catholic organizations.  Drawing upon Catholic Social Teaching, they show how all people of good will are obligated

to protect and defend human life and dignity and care for God’s good gift of Creation as well as recognizing that those who have contributed the least to climate change are now and will continue to face its worst consequences: the poor and vulnerable.

Coincidentally I wrote something similar here at TJP for Earth Day.  Citing Pope Francis, who calls upon all people, everywhere, to “be protectors of God’s creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment,” I tried to show how care for creation and care for one another goes hand in hand.

It’s the fact that Obama sees this very connection (e.g., when he acknowledges that those in developing countries want the same life style Americans enjoy) that gives me most hope for his new plan.  Unfortunately, the American life style has damaged the environment in a way that impacts not just Americans, but everyone, including the poor in developing countries.  In fact, it “is these same countries [that] are also more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than we are.  They don’t just have as much to lose, they probably have more to lose.”  Sound familiar?  Yeah, it does to me as well.

Caring for the environment must go beyond hugging trees and encompass a more holistic view of the world.  Creation and life go hand-in-hand.  This means we must care – and not just emotionally, but care with our actions, our choices – not just about own backyard, but also the lives of the most vulnerable, no matter how far from America they dwell.