A papal statement on climate change could lead to greener Britain

This article appears in the Francis: The Environment Encyclical feature series. View the full series.

A third of British Catholics say they would consider “greening” their lifestyles should Pope Francis make an official statement on climate change.

The pledge came from a recent poll of 1,000 Catholics in England and Wales conducted by YouGov and CAFOD, the official aid agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. The 33 percent who said they would opt for greener choices, such as recycling or driving less, would account for more than 1 million Catholics in Britain. 

The survey also showed a concern for climate change having adverse effects on social justice:

  • 72 percent of those polled said that they are worried about the world’s poorest people being negatively affected by global warming.
  • More than three quarters (76 percent) said that, as Catholics, they feel a moral obligation to protect the poor.
  • Eight out of ten surveyed said they feel it is a moral duty to care for God’s creation, and that by Francis emphasizing the need for environmental mindfulness, it will be harder for people to isolate the issue of climate change from faithfully caring for creation.

“While the data shows us that almost two thirds of Catholics  have engaged with the climate debate already, what’s most telling about these results is how many Catholics link the impact climate change is having on vulnerable people with their faith, which calls us to protect the poorest in society,” said Neil Thorns, CAFOD advocacy director, in a statement.


Related: "Preaching to the choir? Ahead of encyclical, global warming worries Catholics more than other Christians"

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More than half also said that because of Francis’ comments, they’ve given more thought to the issues facing modern society, with 18 percent saying they have already made active changes to their lifestyles as a result of his teachings.

And there’s optimism that this coming encyclical, expected in June or July, will have a profound, widespread effect: 70 percent of the Catholics surveyed said they believe the Catholic community will observe Francis’ message.

In the United Kingdom, U.S. and elsewhere, efforts at greening parishes have been ongoing for some time.

Fr. Peter Daly, pastor of St. John Vianney parish in Prince Frederick, Md., recently revisited the parish’s past decade of green initiatives, such as upgrading its recycling program, performing environmental audits and instituting “green liturgies” on a semiannual basis.

Other faith communities, including several Catholic parishes, have sought to become better environmental stewards by achieving GreenFaith sanctuary status through the interfaith group GreenFaith. In 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through its Energy Star program created a workbook addressing ways religious groups could reduce energy usage in their worship and meeting spaces.

Francis -- who hopes to make the environment a key issue during his papacy -- will address world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly in New York in September, as they meet to develop new goals regarding climate change and its impact on global poverty.

[Soli Salgado is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is ssalgado@ncronline.org.]

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