By James Buttner and Dominic Wilkins
Special to the Catholic Sun
Editor’s note: Pope Francis issued his encyclical letter “Laudato Si’ (“Praise Be”): On Care for our Common Home” in May 2015. Inspired by Laudato Si’, a group of people in the Syracuse Diocese formed the “Laudato Si’ Task Force,” dedicated to encouraging prayer, liturgy, dialogue, and actions promoting the beauty and value of God’s creation.
The following guest commentary comes from two individuals tapped by the Task Force to address the encyclical and climate change from young people’s perspectives.
James Buttner is a seminarian for the Diocese of Syracuse and currently on Pastoral Year at Holy Cross in DeWitt. Prior to seminary, he received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Colgate University.
Dominic Wilkins is a doctoral student at Syracuse University, where he studies the socio-political dimensions of nature-society relationships, specializing in Catholic engagements with climatic and environmental issues.
We were invited by members of the Diocese of Syracuse’s Laudato Si’ Task Force to discuss youth perspectives on Pope Francis’s encyclical and climate change more broadly. Given that we have each spent a lot of time over these past few months thinking about these topics, we readily accepted this invitation.
Despite our initial interest in this topic, however, we found it difficult to know where to start. Climate change and “Laudato Si’” are both broad, complex topics. As we began reflecting on conversations about climate change we’ve had with friends and family around our age, we recognized a common theme: the more people learned about the magnitude of the climate crisis and the scope of changes needed to address it, the more anxiety inducing it became. Climate change is, put bluntly, terrifying. This is something both of us have felt personally, and it’s an emotion increasingly common among our peers.
This attitude is largely due to the fact that climate change is something we as a generation cannot avoid. Its overwhelming, brutal effects are already being experienced around the world — indeed, within many oppressed communities these effects have been present for quite some time — and will affect the rest of our lives. When younger folks learn that, by 2050, temperature rise is expected to lead to water shortages and drought, make it far harder to grow food, and contribute to widespread death via heatstroke, this impacts us differently than those in other generations. What’s perhaps most distressing, however, is that the situation will get far worse.
Younger people are constantly asked to think about the trajectories our futures may take. This allows and requires us to think in timescales far longer than the next fiscal year or quarter as we try to figure out what career or vocation we are called to and how we want to live our lives. For us and our peers, 2050 is not some distant date but the middle of our lives —James will be 57 while Dominic will turn 55. It is not some far-off future generation that is likely to suffer from climate change but the young people alive today. It bears repeating, of course, that such catastrophes have already harmed far too many around the world.
Yet while climate change is quite fearsome, it is crucial that we are neither immobilized nor set climate change aside as a problem for another day. If, as we each believe, human actions will dramatically change the world to come for good or ill, we all must act with the aim of making change. This does not mean we must always be perfect or wait until we know everything — neither, frankly, is possible — but that we do what we can while striving to do better. As Pope Francis writes in “Laudato Si’,” we must “draw constantly from [our] deepest convictions about love, justice and peace” as “we set out on the long path of renewal.” The time to act on climate change is now.
We want to conclude, therefore, by suggesting a few ways that you can start responding to Pope Francis’s call. First: Talk to someone about this article. What caught your attention or surprised you? Did anything make you uncomfortable? Where do you personally get hung up when it comes to acknowledging, understanding, or addressing climate change? Second: Check out our diocesan task force, especially in light of the questions above. Consider that the Task Force is made up of people such as yourself who continue wrestling with these same questions. Finally, as Pope Francis urges, get involved. While we don’t know what precisely the future will hold, we know that we can make a better, more just world if we all act together.
For more information about the Laudato Si’ Task Force, contact Dave Babcock of St. Augustine’s Parish in Baldwinsville at firstname.lastname@example.org or (315) 263-9023.