What does the Pope say?

Story by Ty Smith, The Saint Reporter
Photo courtesy of CatholicHerald

Dr. Stephen Barrows introduced the panel’s topic, Laudato Si and its connection to environmental issues. Laudato Si is Pope Francis’s latest encyclical. Barrows mentioned that the encyclical On Care for Our Common Home was not the first to focus on the environment. Papal Encyclicals have long been conscious of the environment. He also mentioned that Pope Francis put a particular emphasis on consumerism and harm to the environment. He then introduced the panelists: Todd Yarbrough, an economy professor, Jim Rasmussen, a geology professor, Dr. Stephen Davis, a theology professor, and Sister Mary Clingman, a local Dominican nun.

The panelists then made their opening remarks about Laudato Si. Yarbrough approached the encyclical from an economic perspective. He mentioned that Pope Francis came out heavily against capitalism in the encyclical and connected businesses to environmental harm. Yarbrough then said he believed that the Pope was too harsh, and that capitalism could fix poverty and be used to help the environment.

Rasmussen related the encyclical to geology. He said that most Americans did not care about the environment because it was something distant to them. The people being affected most by environmental change are people in developing countries. Davis mentioned that the encyclical was in line with what the Church has been teaching for years. Sister Mary said that the encyclical draws heavily from scriptures. She said that the encyclical emphasizes the role of humanity as stewards of the world, and that in harming the world, humans violate its dignity.

Barrows then opened the panel up to questions. The first question noted that much of the world’s poor lives in developing nations. However, in order to help poor people, the poor people must develop their industry which harms the environment. How can we help the poor, and also protect the environment? Yarbrough answered that it was a tradeoff. Capitalism needs growth, but growth means environmental harm. He said that the effect could be reduced by finding industries that harm less. Barrows then gave the example of fuel prices: lower fuel prices helped the poor but harmed the environment. Sister Mary then added it was the consumer’s responsibility to invest their money into sustainable industries, like solar power instead of coal.

The second question asked that, while people always spoke of big changes, how do we convince people to change when many believe their change will have no effect? And what do we do about those who are too selfish to change? Sister Mary said that people are selfish, and that capitalism encourages greed. If enough individual people changed their ways to be less greedy, eventually they would outnumber the selfish people. Yarbrough said that people are selfish and we could not rely on good people. Instead, we should change our policies and tax harmful products to make it cheaper to buy good products.

The third question asked how the new encyclical was being put into practice. Sister Mary said that grassroots movements were putting Pope Francis’ ideas in place. Rasmussen said that consumers are researching what they buy and buying non-harmful products. If enough people do that, they will force companies to be more environmentally friendly. The fourth question asked how the panelists thought the UN should play a part in this. Yarbrough said that we cannot combat global warming without global cooperation. Rasmussen agreed with Yarbrough.

Barrows then closed the panel, thanking everyone for participating.


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