Pope Francis Calls for Climate Action

The pope visited Washington, D.C., last month with a message on the importance of caring for our “common home” by reducing the impacts of climate change.

U.S. Papal Visit
Pope Francis celebrates the concluding mass in Philadelphia during his visit to the United States in September, 2015. (U.S. Papal Visit Flickr/Jeffrey Bruno)

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It was still dark when I left home for the Moral Action on Climate Justice rally last month. With my hands around my coffee cup and a climate change poster under my arm, I walked along streams of people who were making their way to Capitol Hill to claim their spot on the lawn. Colors radiated across the sky by the time I got to the rally. Streaks of purple and orange washed over the silhouette of the city like a Monet painting. It felt as if the day was already preparing itself for the arrival of Pope Francis.

I volunteered to hold a giant banner that was three times my size. It felt like an important job. I have to admit, though, there were several times throughout the day I thought the wind would blow me away and cause the banner to fall on a crowd of people. Thankfully, I, and the crowd, were spared. 

By 8 a.m., the rally was filled with people holding signs that read things like “Protect Our Common Home” or “Climate Change Does Not Care which Party You Vote For.” The size of the crowd put a smile on my face.

It was a party by nine.

Many organizations showed up to speak about environmental justice and climate change. Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen delivered a speech about unity, saying, “Today, we gather outside the Capitol…. Here on the National Mall, we are united, united in our moral commitment to action and to justice.”

The pope’s message to Congress was simple. He urged Congress to take action for our common home and “redirect our steps… to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” He stressed that climate change is a matter that needs to be addressed now, and reassured Congress that he is convinced it is capable of making a difference. He ended his visit by addressing the crowd with a prayer for the children and a request for prayers for his own well-being.

The day was very important to me for a number of reasons. As a Catholic, Pope Francis possesses many of the beliefs I’ve held throughout my life, which has been that all life is sacred. It is our duty as citizens of the global community to care for the earth and to serve those who cannot help themselves. Second, I felt privileged to stand with so many people who had come together for the shared passion of environmental justice.

The pope’s message reaffirmed that climate change is real and human activity is only expediting it. The consequences of rapid change are more than a problem for future generations. The rally demonstrated that communities all across the country are still significantly affected by environmental injustices and action needs to be taken now. 

With the success of the rally and the message from Pope Francis to bolster us, we have an opportunity to act on climate change, in particular, by supporting the Clean Power Plan. These safeguards, finalized by President Obama and the EPA, would considerably reduce carbon emissions between now and 2030 from its largest source – coal-fired power plants. However, the plan continues to be attacked by the fossil fuel industry and their allies, such as Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), who advocates eliminating federal pollution controls and encouraging dirty coal factories to emit more carbon.

Although these attacks from polluters continue, there is something you can do to help: Tell your senators to reject the attacks on the Clean Power Plan.

Our earth gained a moral victory with the pope and the rally of like-minded individuals. If we continue to raise our voices in support of climate solutions, a sustainable planet will become our reality.

Misha interned with the Policy and Legislation team in Washington, D.C., during the fall of 2015.

Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., office works at the federal level to prevent air and water pollution, combat climate change, and protect natural areas. We also work with communities in the Mid-Atlantic region and elsewhere to address severe local environmental health problems, including exposures to dangerous air contaminants in toxic hot spots, sewage backups and overflows, chemical disasters, and contamination of drinking water. The D.C. office has been in operation since 1978.