This Laudato Si’ Week, ANDY HAMILTON SJ writes that in a world where so many people face economic hardship and are anxious about such basic needs as food and shelter it is easy to forget the larger issues that will determine the lives of our children and their descendants.
Chief among these is climate change, whose warnings come everywhere through the unprecedented melting of glaciers and thousand-year floods, as well as fires and floods in Australia. We know that even if we curb emissions, such disasters for those affected will occur more often and threaten housing, water and food supplies in the future.
For that reason, it is helpful to return to one of the most significant contributions to alerting people to the reality of climate change. Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’, written seven years ago, brought together the best available science, the best theology, the best reflection on economic ideologies, and the broadest view of the relationships involved in human flourishing. It held all these things together in a deep spiritual and practical vision. And it did all this while speaking a language that all of us ordinary people – Christians, atheists, scientists and politicians – could understand.
A central contribution of Laudato Si’ to the way we see and treat our environment was its reference to integral ecology and its association with integral justice. It tied our treatment of the world, of which we are part, to our treatment of human beings. Previously many saw them as separate, thinking that we may exploit the environment as we wish while responding to other human beings with respect. Pope Francis drew attention to the way in which exploitation of the environment is related to the exploitation of human beings, so that the slums within which in unjust societies the poor are compelled to live are intimately related to the destruction of the natural world and to the polluting of waterways and the air. Respect for the natural world and for each human being go together. We are connected to our world in a network of relationships that are interlocking, so that we cannot respect people without respecting our environment.
At Jesuit Social Services this insight into the intimate connection between social justice and ecological justice has been connected to our experience with people who are disadvantaged. It inspired the establishment of the Jesuit Social Services Centre for Just Places, which works with communities affected by climate change as one of its focus areas. Jesuit Social Services’ Dropping off the Edge report shows that many indicators of disadvantage are clustered in relatively few geographical areas. The 2021 iteration measured environmental indicators for the first time, finding that many of the most disadvantaged communities experience higher rates of climate-related challenges.
Extreme temperatures increase the costs of heating and cooling, cause respiratory and other illnesses, impede travel to schools and workplaces, health and other services. In addition, the voices of people in these areas are rarely heard, their faces are rarely noticed, and the services that should be available to them are fragmented.
The Centre for Just Places recognises that the people in these communities have vital knowledge and expertise on how climate change is impacting them, and what’s needed to build resilience.