In his address to Boston College, Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, a Ghanaian cardinal and president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, called for the reevaluation of behavior affecting climate change, on both a personal and institutional level. Turkson’s talk, a part of the University’s Our Common Home environmental conference, comes at a time of ongoing global dialogue on environmental issues, following the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si.
For the University, Our Common Home evidences student interest surrounding issues of climate change and environmental justice. BC’s Robsham Theater bustled with activity in the minutes before Turkson was scheduled to speak. Community members searched for seats as Rev. James Keenan, S.J., director of the BC Jesuit Institute and Canisius professor in the theology department, ascended the stage.
Keenan began the lecture by introducing a 10-person musical ensemble to perform an original piece authored by two Campus Ministry faculty. The lyrics to Laudato Si, Praise Be!, written by Robert VerEecke and composed by Paul Melley, were inspired by the text of the Laudato Si encyclical on climate change.
Then David Quigley, University provost and dean of Faculties, spoke about the importance of the Church in catalyzing political change before introducing the Turkson, the main speaker, to the stage.
Turkson first talked about the process of creating the encyclical, a project conceived by Pope Francis in March 2014. He clarified the Pope’s views on climate change, specifically that the environment and humanity, as components of creation, are interconnected and cannot be separated.
The encyclical, by Turkson’s interpretation, affirmed the scientific reality of accelerating climate change but also faith in the power of humans to change their behavior and care more responsibly for the earth, which requires sustainable development. The Pope most significantly criticizes the current culture of consumerism and misplaced faith in technological development to resolve issues of sustainability without any other change, Turkson said.
“He brings the basic message of Jesus—love one another as I have loved you—into the heart of one of the world’s greatest challenges,” Turkson said.
To illustrate his point about sharing common resources, Turkson used the example of the Boston Common, which was a grounds for families to allow their cows to graze. Richer families could buy more cows and use more than their share of the grazing room, which led to overconsumption. The practices threatened the ecosystem until a shared agreement limited the land shares equally, he said.
“The environmental degradation was not due to necessity but to excess,” Turkson said. “Overgrazing … happened because of materialism, and because of greed, and because of consumerism, and perhaps also because of vanity.”
Through the encyclical, the Pope and he demand a shift in this culture through the practice of reflective, conscious, ethical decision-making and attentiveness to the outcomes of our least conscious actions.
Turkson hopes that the material of the encyclical will help future policy-making. He especially focused on the annual Conference of Parties talk in Paris this December, where around 50,000 delegates in various official and unofficial capacities will convene to discuss international action for sustainability.
Reflecting on previous climate change conferences, he hopes that Laudato Si can reduce the non-agreement often associated with the controversial topic, and help to catalyze active change.
He expressed the hope that the encyclical articulated inspiring ethics for leaders to incorporate into their decision-making, and that everyone could use to govern their daily decisions. He articulated the vision that inspired parties, not simply the pope, will express their own views and contribute to the dialogue of sustainability at both a policy-making and everyday level.
“The Earth was given to us as a home by God, in the image of the garden,” he read, referencing Genesis, and asking the audience to reflect on its duty as environmental caretaker and as a force to uplift those most affected by climate change.
Our actions, he said, dictate not only the present, but also the future.
“What kind of world do we wish to bequeath to those who come after us?” he said.
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