Below is a book review on The Pope's: 'Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality.' The review is meant for a broad critical audience and promotes climate change awareness. I anticipate that it will be most useful in the hands of individuals between the ages of 16 - 35. The hope is that they will then share the book with their parents.
Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality
On Care for Our Common Home
When venturing into new subject matter - whether for general inquiry or serious study - it can be fruitful to study a title not considered a seminal text of the category at hand. My book recommendation this month, The Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality by Pope Francis accomplishes this and situates itself within the genre of climate change and the environment. Established standouts within this field include: The Future of Life, Edward O. Wilson; The End of Nature, and Deep Economy, Bill McKibben; This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein.
'The Encyclical on Climate Change & Inequality' plays its role well – as an accessible introduction for all who are looking to explore what is too often presented as a contentious issue. Free from the overwhelming abundance of statistical citations and devoid of the dense vernacular seen in the titles listed above, Pope Francis has crafted a treatise worth your time. With focused attention, the average reader can come away from the work possessing a few of the finer points which are so often absent from the narrative distributed down to us from policy wonks, politicians, celebrity scientists and corporate media alike. His critique of markets and his call for revolution is sure to surprise a mass segment of his audience, yet his positions are well reasoned and should be carefully examined.
Francis’ letter implores the less affected, targeting those in the developed West, to “ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave behind,” while reminding us all that the environment “is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.” His call to direct action via mass organizing is rightly targeted at both the personal and the collective.
The Pope expresses that individual action is necessary, yet this encyclical does not attempt to sell the reader on that all too common anecdote, which purports that individual action, typically through an emphasis on individual footprint reduction, will allow human society to persist in a recognizable manner. Far too often citizens are inundated with the notion that – if, as individuals we make better consumer choices – there will be some spontaneous chain reaction that will produce longstanding improvements to our current declining global environmental conditions. No, it seems becoming vegan, bringing your reusable bags to the grocery, sorting your recycling, trash and compost and biking to work are not near enough. Francis reminds us that these deeds done alone are not sufficient.
Rather – these individual actions can serve as the foundation from which engaged citizens can begin to practice and develop a personal moral imperative that holds them accountable to themselves and to society as a whole. From sustaining an individual practice we can begin to recognize that as a collective we are tasked with “leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations” and that such a task cannot be accomplished through individual harm reduction alone. We soon find that the development of this type of personal practice encourages us to seek out like-minded individuals, and this drive to unite together will be an instrumental factor in organizing and movement creation.
Francis, perhaps like no Pope before him, issues a direct call for an “urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution.” Here we must reinforce the notion that individual practice is vital – however, we should recognize that it is only the necessary jump-start that must propel us to additional collective political involvement on a mass scale. To drive this point home further, The Pope proclaims:
"Public pressure has to be exerted in order to bring about decisive political action. Society, through non-governmental organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls."
If we are to persist as a species we must begin to participate in the formation of collective action campaigns, which will seek to democratize decision-making surrounding resource extraction and allocation, production objectives and the way in which our global markets are organized.
Focusing our efforts on participation in grassroots collective initiatives, the basis of which is formed from personal practice, is crucial to advancing climate change awareness and propelling human society towards further democratic ends. If we are to be successful, mass collective movements must be our vehicle towards such a future.