The first few weeks of the papacy of Pope Francis have been notable for a number of reasons, not just for Roman Catholics but in the eyes of the wider world. From refusing to indulge in the grand Vatican apartment that each Pope has lived in since 1903 to his calls for a more humble approach in order to rebuild the reputation of the Church, there have been many differences in terms of what most people are used to seeing from the Pope.
Understandably, we have yet to learn little of Francis’ views on many things; we don’t know what he deems to be the points at the top of his agenda. One of the things that his predecessor, Benedict XVI, was perhaps not noted for was his approach to the environment.
However, many things he did, such as ordering the installation of solar panels around Vatican City, led some to anoint him as the first ‘Green Pontiff.’
The wider question, then, is whether the role of Pope, albeit a religious rather than political one, should be an important position in terms of dealing with global environmental issues.
The new Pope took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, who is known to some as the ‘patron saint of ecology,’ which could come to be an important point in future, although the media have talked of St. Francis’ affinity for the poor more than anything else in looking for similarities.
A Strong Voice
It is difficult to argue that Francis should not take on a role as an environmental leader. We are living in a world where we are approaching a climate ‘tipping point’ that could lead to disaster, and Francis’ office makes him one of the most influential people on the planet.
Irrespective of what various governments’ religious views might be, engaging with the Pope on such issues is unquestionably going to help deal with environmental problems.
The only barriers for this are likely to be the need for Francis to deal with other issues as a more pressing priority, and the fact that any environmental discussion could lead to a completely new can of worms opening in terms of the “science vs. religion” debate that always seems to be on the periphery.
No one is likely to call on Francis to deliver sermons talking about the need to be more eco-friendly, but his continued messages around austere living, as well as the example he sets himself, are going to be important.
As he starts to meet with political leaders around the world, it will be interesting to see what remarks he makes immediately following such audiences.
If the current and future Popes were to be obvious environmental champions while staying away from politics, it could have a huge influence on the way people look at the world. Even if only 10% of the world’s 1.2billion Catholics resolved to make a difference, there would be profound improvements to the global environment, and that is without factoring in the impact of everyone else.
Robert is an online content writer with an interest in environmental issues from around the world, and how they can be solved. As well as analysing the role of politics and religion in environmental matters, Robert also studies how cable structures and other methods of ‘green building’ can have a lasting impact on the world in which we live.