Catholic Social Teaching has been called “The Church’s Best Kept Secret,” and until recently, even the most fervent Catholics were not familiar with the church’s reflection on its mission n the world today. But with the release of Pope Francis’ latest encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, this best kept secret has been brought to light. While he is not the first pope to write on the theme of care for creation, I believe that this encyclical is the needed call to action that will indeed shape “the future of our planet.”
Our common home
The key message of this encyclical is that we have not taken good care of our common home, our sister, Mother Earth, as St. Francis called her in The Canticle of the Creatures. “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” The Holy Father emphasized the need for us “to come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us,” i.e., be true stewards of all creation.
One of the most pressing problems of our common home is climate change. Pope Francis calls it “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.” I agree with his assessment that if we fail to address this issue, “this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”
Here in the Philippines, we have seen the impact of climate change. While we are used to typhoons and floods, over the past five years or so, we have experienced greater extremes in weather. The torrential downpours and the super typhoons on one hand and the prolonged dry spells and extreme heat on the other have resulted in destroyed crops, massive storm damage and huge economic losses. Thousands of lives have been lost and key ecosystems have been damaged due to these extreme climate events.
Another consequence of climate change, rising sea levels, will also severely affect our country. An analysis made by the University of the Philippines Los Baños Climate Change Program listed 10 provinces that would be inundated if water levels rise by one meter. Not only will hundreds of thousands be displaced, it will also impact our fresh water supply and destroy historical landmarks.
The role of business
While it is true that business activities have greatly contributed to climate change, the Holy Father still believes that “business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving our world.” Thus, if more businesses truly live out their social responsibility, they can help mitigate the catastrophic consequences of climate change. He even identified a business opportunity: increase access to clean and renewable energy worldwide.
This encyclical’s mandate for business is clear: be sustainable. Pope Francis emphasized “efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economic benefits in the medium term.” He goes on to say “more diversified and innovative forms of production which impact less on the environment can prove very profitable.”
What kind of world do we want to leave to our children?
Dr. Carolyn Woo, chief executive and oresident, Catholic Relief Services and former dean, Mendoza College of Business, University of Notre Dame recently presented her thoughts on this encyclical on Vatican Radio. I would like to share part of her reflections:
The framing question asked by Pope Francis in his encyclical is a simple one: “what kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up”? This question surely resonates with everyone in the world. It resonates with me as a mother. And it resonates with me as one who draws on business as a partner to eliminate poverty and as an educator of business practitioners. It is from the perspective of business that I speak today.
The questions Pope Francis poses to the readers, “What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts?” are not different from the mission and vision statements that businesses formulate to define their purpose and to gain legitimacy from society, commitment from employees and support by customers. At the end of the day, business is a human enterprise and must strive for true human development and the common good. In the years ahead, the challenges will be large. How can we develop the technologies so that we can move to a zero-carbon economy? How can we boost living standards of the developing world in a sustainable way and give all people the ability to live the lives God intended them to live? How can we make sure all have access to nutrition, energy, healthcare and education? These are huge challenges, but we must face up to them. The answer lies with all working together—governments, international institutions, businesses, NGOSs and religions. It lies in forthright and honest debate and dialogue. But it begins in the call to ecological conversation outlined so clearly in this great encyclical.
“What kind of world do we want to leave to our children?” If we stay focused on that question, we are on the right path.
The author is the Chair of the Management and Organization Department of the Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business. She teaches Lasallian Business Leadership with Corporate Social Responsibility and Ethics in the MBA program. She can be reached at email@example.com
The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of De La Salle University, its faculty, and its administrators.