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Prudence, Poverty, the Common Good, and Solidarity

church insideCatholic teaching on climate change embraces the principles of prudence, poverty, the common good, and solidarity. These four principles form the foundation of our work.

1. Prudence

Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.” —Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace Message, December 2007

The Coalition accepts overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change. There is nearly unanimous agreement that human actions are creating a warming planet. As stewards of all Creation, we must identify wise, careful actions that will reverse this climate change and avoid its potentially dangerous impact on all life-especially human life.

State and local Catholic leaders can play a central role in bringing together scientists, theologians, business and labor leaders, government officials, human service providers and other stakeholders to shape a wise and careful approach consistent with our principles. With such leadership, the Catholic community will answer God’s call to be faithful stewards.

“Prudence is intelligence applied to our actions …a thoughtful, deliberate, and reasoned basis for taking or avoiding action to achieve a moral good.” — U.S. Bishops

2. Poverty

The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.” Caritas in Veritate, No. 48

Natural disasters take the greatest toll on poor people. Inadequate transportation, lack of insurance, poor housing and little if any cash reserves put them on the edge of the precipice. To survive severe storms, prolonged droughts, extended heat waves and other climate-related events, these vulnerable sisters and brothers must receive assistance–both public and private.

The Coalition seeks to find constructive ways to approach climate change from the bottom up. We strive to bring the voice of the poor to the public debate about climate change and ensure that resources are available to the most vulnerable.

“… any successful strategy must also reflect the genuine participation and concerns of those most affected and least able to bear the burdens …[this] is a moral and political necessity …” — U.S. Bishops

3. The Common Good

The ecological problem must be dealt with not only because of the chilling prospects of environmental degradation on the horizon; the real motivation must be the quest for authentic world-wide solidarity inspired by the values of charity, justice and the common good.2010 World Day of Peace Message

Climate change provides an opportunity to act with courage and creativity as individuals, people of faith, and as a nation. As a wealthy nation and the top contributor to greenhouse gases, we in the United States must help to shape responses that serve not only our own interests but those the of the entire human family. The Coalition assists the Catholic community in linking personal stewardship and care for Creation with our moral responsibilities to practice solidarity.

“Responses to global climate change should reflect our interdependence and common responsibility for the future of our planet. Individual nations must measure their own self-interest against the greater common good and contribute equitably to global solutions.” — U.S. Bishops

4. Solidarity

Our present crises – be they economic, food-related, environmental or social – are ultimately also moral crises, and all of them are interrelated. They require us to rethink the path which we are travelling together. Specifically, they call for a lifestyle marked by sobriety and solidarity, with new rules and forms of engagement, one which focuses confidently and courageously on strategies that actually work, while decisively rejecting those that have failed. –Pope Benedict XVI, 2010 World Day of Peace Message

The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls us to live in solidarity with all peoples: “In the sanctorum communio, ‘None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.’ fn.487 ‘If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it’ fn. 488 (No. 953).

In the context of climate change, the Catholic social teaching principle of solidarity perhaps best embodies our Christian commitment to both Creation and humankind, and particularly to poor people who suffer the most from environmental degradation and climate change.  As Pope Benedict XVI has said, Environmental degradation makes the life of the poor especially unbearable (August 27, 2006).

In light climate change and its adverse consequences on both Creation and the poor, our faith tradition reminds us that solidarity is the solution to their plight;

Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples. International solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace depends in part upon this (Catechism, No. 1941).

The ecological crisis shows the urgency of a solidarity which embraces time and space… A greater sense of intergenerational solidarity is urgently needed. Future generations cannot be saddled with the cost of our use of common environmental resources (2010 World Day of Peace Message).

In that spirit of praise and thanksgiving to God for the wonders of creation, we Catholic bishops call for a civil dialogue and prudent and constructive action to protect God’s precious gift of the earth’s atmosphere with a sense of genuine solidarity and justice for all God’s children. (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good, 2001)

A one-page Primer on Catholic Teaching and Climate Change is an authentically Catholic approach to this important moral issue. This Primer highlights the key themes and the moral measure of successful outcomes: ones that encompass both the care of God’s gift of Creation and of poor and vulnerable populations.

Climate Change informed by the 7 Principles of Catholic Social Teaching
How can climate change be understood in light of the 7 Key Themes of Catholic Social Teaching?  In light of this, the Coalition has created this resource that offers quotes from the Vatican and the U.S. bishops demonstrating how climate change involves and engages the seven key themes: Human Life and Dignity; Community, Family and Participation; Rights and Responsibilities, Option for the Poor; Right to Work; Solidarity; as well as Care for Creation.  Find the resource here.