Climate, life and responsibility

The headlines Friday morning seemed to say it all: President Donald Trump had announced that the United States is pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. On the side of one of the national papers was a story about Apple and altered reality. Down at the bottom was an article about studying Klingon. Similarly, on "Good Morning America," I learned everything there must be to know about ethics and celebrity coverage, via the Jennifer Garner-Ben Affleck divorce. It all seemed to point to one overarching theme: distraction.

Add some other "d" words: disconnect; disarray; danger; depression; despair. And maybe we're beginning to see why Americans voted for Trump as something different.

So, about Paris. Whether you enthusiastically agree with his move or ardently oppose it, consider this: Don't allow the president's decision to let you off easy.

Just about a week ago, the president and the first lady visited Pope Francis at the Vatican. Among the gifts exchanged: The pontiff gave the Trumps a copy of "Laudato, Si," his letter on creation. It's widely described as dealing with climate change, which in many ways, misses the point entirely. In that letter, the pope urges us to see all of creation as worthy of good stewardship. The oceans and the skies, yes, but the human body and soul, too.

In "Laudato Si," Pope Francis cites the pope emeritus, Benedict. "He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since 'the book of nature is one and indivisible,' and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that 'the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence.' Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behavior. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless."

Francis continued: "Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed 'where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.'"

He also writes about his namesake, Saint Francis: "I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God's creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace."

In the way Pope Francis lays it out, all of creation is an invitation to see how "God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness."

The point is: The Paris opt-out is not just about a climate treaty. As has been noted before, even environmental activists on the left had their problems with this accord. The outrage in response to Trump's decision may once again expose our perennial problem: seeing the federal government and nebulous international forces as the source of our salvation. The decisions you and I make today have a power that is much greater than we realize.

Whatever your view of Trump's move, it could provide an opportunity to consider how we can begin again, not wedded to political agendas, but with an insistence on using our freedom to its greatest potential. The climate treaty wasn't ever going to make us look around and see everything as a gift calling us to better stewardship. If the president reads the encyclical, he might see something that could do that, however. A nation of people who claim to care about some of the most fundamental things would do well to lead the way, free of distraction and despair.

Email Kathryn Jean Lopez at

© 2017, Universal

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