Peace was a primary topic when Pope Francis greeted President Donald Trump last week at the Vatican, where they exchanged ideas for making the world a better place. The president ebulliently called the meeting a great honor and at the end of their discussion promised the Pope that “I won’t forget what you said.”
Although a significant portion of the meeting was held privately, the Pope’s gifts to President Trump provide insight into their conversation. The Pope presented President Trump with copies of his writings including a copy of his encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” which calls for the protection of the environment and to “care for our common home.” As the men ended their meeting, Pope Francis urged President Trump to be an instrument of peace and Trump later exclaimed, “I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue PEACE in our world.”
While we cannot say whether the words “climate change” were mentioned during their meeting, we do know that underlying any discussion about world peace is climate change, one of the biggest disruptors of world stability.
Climate change, in fact, is a potent prescription for world unrest. The droughts, storms, fires and rising sea levels precipitated by climate change all lead to increased vulnerability, famine, poverty, migration and conflicts. The phenomenon alarmingly affects developing nations which do not have the means to combat the severe changes in weather and rising seas, but countries like the U.S. and Australia are negatively impacted as well. Overall, unmitigated climate change is predicted to reduce the income of an average person on Earth by roughly 23 percent in 2100, impacting our very livelihoods.
Pope Francis has acknowledged the direct link between our concern for the earth, justice for the poor, and peace in the world. Accordingly, he urges the world to take better care of the environment. To echo His Holy Father’s unequivocal words, “When we exploit [creation], we destroy the sign of His love. … Care for creation is care for God’s gift to us, and it means saying to God, ‘Thank you, I am the custodian of creation.’ This must be our attitude in relation to creation, to protect it, because if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us! Do not forget this.”
The Pope talks about environmental protections from a spiritual perspective — an understanding of creation as a holy and precious gift from God to be reverenced by all men and women. We should make it a priority to keep our air clean, our water as pristine as possible, and conserve the land. But whether we understand environmental stewardship as a God-given moral responsibility or from an economic or strategic military viewpoint, the fact is environmental instability is inextricably linked to economic instability and increased discord throughout the world. Climate change is a significant risk to both national and international security and what we do (or don’t do) about it matters.
In a wonderful compensation, from whatever vantage point we come from, the conclusion is the same: When we make clean air and water, a safe climate for future generations, and protected lands a top priority, we provide an immensely practical pathway to heighten global stability and bring about more “peace on earth.”
When President Trump received an emblem of an olive tree, the symbol of peace, from the Pope, the President replied, “We can use peace.” As he reflects on the words of Pope Francis and reads, as promised, the Pope’s encyclical, the hope is that he will see that delivering peace requires us to address the changing climate.
Our nation is one of the countries that adopted the Paris Agreement where we committed, given the grave risks, to work to limit global temperature rise. The agreement has been in effect since Nov. 4, 2016. President Trump has been wavering whether or not to back out of this agreement and is expected to reach a decision when he returns from his world tour with international leaders.
Let us hope that President Trump desires world peace in all of its implications and continues our part in the effort to slow global climate change. Let us hope that the Pope’s wisdom connecting concern for the earth and peace in the world has been received.
Cassandra Carmichael is the executive director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, an alliance of independent faith groups across a broad spectrum of religions responding to environmental challenges.
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