Catholic College and University Leaders Sign Letter in Support of the Clean Power Plan

Faculty, staff, and presidents of Catholic institutions of higher education were among the 125 Catholic leaders who have signed a letter of support for the Clean Power Plan, promoted by the Catholic Climate Covenant. The Clean Power Plan is an effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce the carbon pollution of existing power plants by 30 percent by 2030. It is the nation’s most ambitious effort to reduce climate-changing greenhouse gas pollution. The letter stresses the Church teaching on the care for creation that is deeply connected to the protection of human life and dignity, especially of the poor and vulnerable. Pope Francis, in Laudato Si’, advocates for the reduction of carbon dioxide and other polluting gases emissions through environmental policy.

Currently, the Clean Power Plan is being challenged by nearly two-dozen states. No matter the legal fate of the policy, signers urge Congress to replace the plan with new policies that reduce carbon emissions in an equal or more ambitious way, joining with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The bishops promote policy action on reducing carbon emissions in response to Pope Francis’ call in Laudato Si’.

The letter was delivered on February 16 to the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, as well as President Trump, top Congressional leaders, and state governors. Read the full letter here.

Celebrating the Fiftieth World Day of Peace

On the Fiftieth World Day of Peace, January 1, 2017, Pope Francis’ message to the world promotes nonviolence as a style of politics for peace. In his message, he spoke of nonviolence as being a difficult response, but the only appropriate one to violent conflicts.

He issued a call for nonviolence to all people saying, “It is a challenge to build up society, communities and businesses by acting as peacemakers. It is to show mercy by refusing to discard people, harm the environment, or seek to win at any cost. To do so requires ‘the willingness to face conflict head on, to resolve it and to make it a link in the chain of a new process’. To act in this way means to choose solidarity as a way of making history and building friendship in society. Active nonviolence is a way of showing that unity is truly more powerful and more fruitful than conflict. Everything in the world is inter-connected. Certainly differences can cause frictions. But let us face them constructively and non-violently, so that ‘tensions and oppositions can achieve a diversified and life-giving unity,’ preserving ‘what is valid and useful on both sides’.”

Francis ended with a reminder that “Everyone can be an artisan of peace.” On this World Day of Peace, let us consider how to be creators of peace in our communities.

Stewards of Creation on Campus: Catholic Colleges Address Climate Change

In the year since Pope Francis released his encyclical on care for the environment, Laudato Si’, many Catholics have taken seriously the message to be better stewards of the earth.  Pope Francis encourages a connection between environmental concerns and issues of justice, noting that the issue of climate change involves hearing “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (Laudato Si’, no. 49). Catholic colleges are addressing this dual call in many ways, incorporating the theme of environmental justice into classes, study abroad opportunities, and campus events.

Earlier this year, the University of St. Thomas (UST), began a three-part program incorporating environmental justice into a freshman symposium class, local service-learning efforts, and study abroad program in Costa Rica.  The projects were funded by the Global Solidarity Grant program, a collaboration between Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and Catholic Relief Services, which awards grants to colleges and universities as a way of increasing awareness of global injustice and expanding student involvement in a faith that does justice. In the UST freshman symposium, Sister Damien Marie Savino, chair of the Environmental Studies program at UST, recently gave a guest lecture and led a discussion on Catholic Social Teaching, climate change, and sustainability efforts on campus and in the local community.

In addition to classroom learning and discussion, students served at Plant-It-Forward, a local community farm-share that partners with refugees to provide fresh local produce to the Houston area. Additionally, the UST sustainability committee hosted a sustainability dinner for the students in the seminar with a farm-to-table meal, along with a discussion on how to improve sustainability efforts on campus.

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UST students in Costa Rica

The final part of the expansive program was a service trip to Costa Rica where students worked with a small coffee-producing community. While serving in Costa Rica, students connected their knowledge of climate change from the seminar and experience in the local community to a global perspective. The students were moved by the relationships built across cultures that helped them shape their understanding of care for creation. They also reported that their lives were changed by meeting the people in Costa Rica and experiencing a culture that is so intertwined with the environment. One first-year student, Elena Dang, said she learned that “a huge difference in lifestyles between the USA and Costa Rica is the respect for Mother Nature. Children walk the streets, people sit outside, many restaurants have outside seating. There’s a sense of respect and veneration for nature because of how it provides so much for everyone.”

UST plans to continue this program so that service learning will flourish as a foundation of a UST education.

In another project funded by the Global Solidarity Grant program, students at Cabrini University organized a climate change simulation that focused on the effects of climate change on the poor and vulnerable, called “Tame the Change.” The simulation was led by students in a class called “Our Interdependent World,” a part of the Engagements with the Common Good core curriculum and taught by Jerome Zurek, in collaboration with the Wolfington Center, the center for community engagement and research at Cabrini, Catholic Relief Services ambassadors, the university communications department, and Cabrini Mission Corps. “Tame the Change” started as a topic study on how climate change is not only affecting the environment but also harming vulnerable people who lack the resources to safeguard themselves against the negative outcomes of environmental changes. The simulation modeled how climate change has a greater effect on the poor who rely on the land for their livelihood. In the simulation, students were put into pairs, where one was assigned to a developed country and one to a developing country, to represent the effect of daily decisions of those in developed countries on those living in developing countries.  At various stations, participants were presented with everyday choices they typically face on campus, involving food waste, plastic water bottle use, and energy use by electronics. Every choice that the person in the developed country made affected the other to indicate the interconnectedness of people across the globe. At the conclusion of the event, each of the over 200 participants were given reflection booklets based on passages from Laudato Si’ to help them reflect upon what they had learned during the event.

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Students at Cabrini University participate in “Tame the Change”

“Tame the Change” promoted solidarity with those who are strongly affected by climate change. As the class ended, students expanded the project to share it with more of the campus. To conclude the project, students built a website that enables other student groups to facilitate events similar to “Tame the Change.”

Tom Southard, the director of the Wolfington Center, noted that the event has resulted in a renewed commitment among Cabrini students and faculty members to combat climate change. Student groups are looking to facilitate more programs with an environmental focus and faculty members are shifting their research to include the sociology and science behind climate change.

Another example of encouraging students to thinking critically about care for the environment is Loyola University of Chicago’s third annual Climate Change Conference. The conference, hosted by the Institute of Environmental Sustainability, was titled “Global Climate Change: Challenges and Economic Solutions,” and focused on the effects of climate change on the global economy. During the conference, students in the Dance Theatre and University Chorale performed Earth Song, a song composed by Frank Ticheli, to highlight the connection between human actions and the environment. The performance reflected on and celebrated climate change initiatives, bringing the conversation into the realm of the arts. The students aimed to convey meaning through art, as a language that can be understood on multiple levels. Emily Miller, a first-year student in the University Chorale, commented that she hoped the performance would “appeal to the emotions of those who attend” the conference. A video of the performance is available on the conference website. This interdisciplinary approach to the issue of climate change enables Loyola University to engage students, faculty, and staff in a dialogue to effect change.

Through the classroom, student programs, and university events, Catholic universities are addressing the environmental crisis in a variety of creative projects. These colleges and universities embody Pope Francis’s call to care for our common home as stewards of creation, hearing both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

Camilla MacKenzie is an undergraduate student at The Catholic University of America and the Peace and Justice Intern at the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

Dr. Carolyn Woo Reflects on Laudato Si’ Anniversary

For Catholic Relief Services, Pope Francis’s call to ‘Care for Our Common Home’ has become ingrained in their every day work. In the anniversary month of the release of Laudato si’, President and CEO of CRS Dr. Carolyn Woo wrote a reflection on the impacts the encyclical has made around the world. She outlines the various Laudato si’-inspired acts around the world, including the increasing investment of business leaders in environmentally-sound practices, adaptation programs in Ethiopia, and the introduction of ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ across Africa and Latin America, where the effects of climate change are at their worst.

In addition to the global impacts of the encyclical, Woo shows that the response has been particularly robust in the U.S. as well. Referencing the impact of Laudato si’ in the world of higher education, she writes, “At Catholic Relief Services, our I Am Climate Change campaign has energized students on college campuses across the country, inspiring them to look at their own behaviors and speak out for others, especially by advocating with government leaders.”

Reminding us of the message of the encyclical, she concludes, “God is so generous and bountiful. He has given us a precious gift—our natural world—that will more than take care of our needs. But we must be the stewards of this gift, cherishing and nurturing it, not exploiting it selfishly.”

Read more of Dr. Woo’s reflection here!

How has your college or university been impacted by Laudato si’? Let us know! 

New Resources for Celebrating the Feast of St. Francis

The feast day of St. Francis of Assisi is celebrated on October 4. For this special occasion, Catholic Climate Covenant has created a 90 minute program guide focused on ways that we can help the environment as we try to emulate St. Francis’ care for the world that God created.  The guide and other documents can be edited to better fit your community.

The theme for this year’s St. Francis feast day will be “Dial Down the Heat: Cultivate the Common Good for our Common Home.” The focus will be on creating common ground to have constructive dialogue on climate change.  In the spirit of Pope Francis, this is an opportunity to have dialogue about the environmental impact on our poor communities.

The Catholic Climate Covenant is offering a program guide that includes:

How do your campus celebrate the Feast of St. Francis and promote constructive dialogue on sustainability and climate change?  Let us know!