Will the election of a new pope lead to stronger action on climate change? The recently elected pope, Pope Francis, interestingly took his name from the famous St. Francis of Assisi. St Francis is famous for being the patron saint of the environment and animals, and for his rather unconventional life. Born into wealth, he eventually renounced all of his wealth, giving much away, and living a life of willful poverty, to the displeasure of nearly everyone he knew. He disregarded many of the rules of his time, including those pertaining to preaching, he never even owned a license, which was required at the time. He was well-known for his environmental beliefs and his “love of animals”. He’s said to have stated that “nature itself was the mirror of God.”
It’s an interesting choice for a name, hopefully it means that the pope may make a significant attempt to address the environmental destruction of modern times, and continuing greenhouse gas emissions. But as Huffington Post asks, “will the man formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina live up to the ideals of his 13th-century Italian namesake?”
St. Francis was said to have been greatly influenced by a sermon that he heard on Matthew 10:9, “in which Christ tells his followers they should go forth and proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was upon them, that they should take no money with them, nor even a walking stick or shoes for the road.”
That’s quite a lot to give away for many modern people. How many people who identify as Christians would be willing to live a life like that?
While the two most recent popes, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II, both preached environmental messages, their lifestyles and those of their followers generally continued along the same path as those of most other modern Western peoples. Complex lives, based on complex infrastructure and resource exploitation, at the expense of most other life on the planet, and poor people. Does the talk matter with no personal action taken? In fairness to the Vatican they have made recent efforts to move away from fossil fuel dependency and become carbon-neutral, taking actions such as installing solar panels on the Vatican.
I think this juxtaposition between strong statements and lack of significant action is a result of a reality that has been becoming more clear in recent years. Even to many of those who identify as being “Christian” or “Jewish” or “Muslim”, the primary religion of many people in the modern world is simply “progress”, technology, and modern culture — sports/entertainments/etc.
Will anybody be willing to give up a lifestyle that they value simply because of statements made by someone who is the head of their stated religion, but who may not truly represent their deep beliefs?
How many people are even willing to be aware that their lifestyle comes at the expense of a great many other forms of life on the planet? And on people living in poorer parts of the world?
It would be hard to imagine that any statements or actions taken by the Vatican would have a significant effect on the lifestyles of many people or on government policies. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that people are very likely to continue on the path that they have been on for quite awhile, short of disasters occurring that are large enough to spur real action.
In fairness to the new pope though, it is known that he’s lived a life of relative simplicity; taking the bus everyday, living in a normal apartment rather than a traditional archbishop’s palace, and cooking his own meals. 🙂
Image Credits: Commons