Earlier this week, Commonweal contributing editor John Gehring spoke with Dan Misleh, the executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, about climate change, Donald Trump, Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si,’ and why it’s important for people of faith to show up at The People’s Climate March this Saturday. The Covenant was founded in 2006 with support from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is supported by sixteen national partners, including Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Health Association, and Catholic Relief Services. The interview was conducted by e-mail.
John Gehring: There are plenty of secular organizations working on climate justice and environmental stewardship. What distinctive approach does a Catholic group like yours bring to advocacy and activism?
Dan Misleh: The Catholic approach holds that we are concerned about both God’s good gift of creation and the impacts of environmental degradation on people, especially those most vulnerable: the poor at home and abroad. As Pope Francis said in Laudato si,’ “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”
How we take care of creation will dictate how we care for one another and vice-versa. For Catholics, this is not just about saving the polar bear but also saving ourselves from our own destructive habits.
JG: The Trump administration seems determined to roll back any forward motion on addressing climate change with its appointments and policies. Given the obvious challenges, what are you hopeful about?
DM: There are significant and sustained waves of people and activity already pushing to reduce our environmental impact and reduce greenhouse gas pollution. The challenges presented by the current administration are obstacles, but they will not be able to stop this important progress. I am buoyed by the witness of women religious who have shown how to be good stewards of God’s gifts over the decades just as I am uplifted by the ever-increasing number young people on college campuses majoring in sustainability and pushing university leadership to reduce their carbon emissions. I am inspired by Catholic Climate Covenant’s growing list of supporters willing to engage with their fellow Catholics and advocate on behalf of the poor and vulnerable who are often forgotten in policy debates.