Pope Francis's Encyclical Makes Waves from Brazil to the Philippines
With the release of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical last week, it seems the whole world was talking about climate change. Two Catholic Climate Reality Leaders share their perspectives from Brazil and the Philippines.
"We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.” —Pope Francis
Although we hail from two different continents, speak many different languages and represent two different hemispheres of this Earth, last week was momentous for both of us. That’s because before we became Climate Reality Leaders, we were Catholics, each guided by our faith to love God’s Earth and be good stewards of creation—all living creatures and the planet.
Last week, Pope Francis delivered a historic encyclical—a letter from the pope to Catholic communities around the world—about the interrelatedness of the economy, the environment, and equity entitled Laudato Si’: On Care For Our Common Home.
Pope Francis is not just writing to Catholics in his encyclical. He also hopes it will help people around the world—no matter their faith or creed—understand how the destruction and degradation of our environment is not only harming the home we all share, but also having especially devastating consequences for the poorest among us. It’s a reminder that if we want to solve climate change and poverty, we need to address both at the same time, and that by caring for our world and pursuing a more sustainable way of life, we can lift up the neediest out of poverty and ensure a peaceful, prosperous, and healthy world for future generations.
The eco (or green) encyclical, Laudato Si’, acknowledges that mankind is responsible for climate change and its devastating effects, especially on the poor. Although the encyclical is not a scientific document, it aims to engage society on the facts of climate science and create a sense of urgency for mankind to take action:
"Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited." (Pope Francis, Laudato Si': On Care For Our Common Home, no. 15)
Faith can move mountains and, combined with scientific facts, can open people's hearts and minds in a powerful way. The pope clearly sees that fighting climate change and restoring the Earth's ecosystems is a moral duty we have to our fellow humans, to future generations and to Creation itself. This is a message that we find in the sacred texts of many other religions. Caring for the Earth is caring for the common good.
As Climate Reality Leaders, we strive to live by these teachings every day and this encyclical will only help to affirm and strengthen the work we do.
Sergio, who lives in Brazil, has worked with priests and Catholic leaders in Rio de Janeiro to take action with simple initiatives in their churches, and in the Catholic University to reduce waste and energy consumption. He engages the community in discussions of climate change and sustainability to preserve God’s creation.
Brother Jaazeal lives in the Philippines and has also worked with Catholics and people of other faiths to combat climate change. He is especially active in engaging young people in the Philippines to raise consciousness of environmental destruction and solutions for a greener future through art-making.
We both are amazed at how many hearts and minds are touched when we bring science and faith together in a meaningful way. With Pope Francis's encyclical and his determination to engage the Catholic community in discussions of climate change, we now have one more powerful ally on our side.
This encyclical reaffirms longstanding Catholic teachings on stewardship and social justice, which, like so many other faith traditions, recognize and affirm the mystery, grandeur and power of God that can be found in nature.
Our work in our own communities and with people of other faiths has been building towards this moment. We hope this call to action reaches beyond the Catholic Church and into the hearts of everyone who understands the moral obligation we have to protect our resources and those most afflicted by climate change. You can start today, in fact, by taking action now:
- Sign our petition to world leaders demanding they take climate action at COP21 in Paris
- Tell your family and friends on social media you stand with Pope Francis (@Pontifex) by using the hashtag #popeforplanet, #papapeloplaneta or #papaporplaneta
We are all proud to support Pope Francis as he takes this bold step forward in calling for climate action and will redouble our efforts to engage our communities.
We invite you to do the same.
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By Dr. Kate Raynes-Goldie
Of all the plastic we've ever produced, only 9% has been recycled. So what happened to all that plastic you've put in the recycling bin over the years?
Triangle of Mistruths<p>The myth created around plastic recycling has been one of simplicity. We look for the familiar triangle arrows, then pop the waste in the recycling bin so it can be reused.</p><p>But the true purpose of those triangles has been misunderstood by the general public ever since their invention in the 1980s.</p><p>These triangles were actually created by the plastics industry and, according to a report provided to them in July 1993, <a href="https://www.npr.org/transcripts/912150085" target="_blank">were creating "unrealistic expectations"</a> about what could be recycled. But they decided to keep using the codes.</p><p>Which is why many people still believe that these triangular symbols (also known as a <a href="https://sustainablepackaging.org/101-resin-identification-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">resin identifier code</a> or RIC) means something is recyclable.</p><p>But according to the American Society for Testing and Materials International (ASTM) – which controls the RIC system – the numbered triangles "<a href="https://www.astm.org/Standards/D7611.htm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are not recycle codes</a>." In fact, they weren't created for the general public at all. They were made for the post-consumer plastic industry.</p><p>In other words, the symbols make it easier to sort the different types of plastics, some of which cannot be recycled – <a href="https://www.ecobin.com.au/understand-recycling-codes/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">depending on the recycling facility</a>.</p><p>"Unfortunately, just placing your plastic into the recycling bin doesn't mean it will get recycled," says Lara Camilla Pinho. She is an architect and lecturer at the UWA School of Design who is researching novel uses of plastic waste.</p><p>"The recycling system is complicated and often dictated by market demand. Not all plastic is recyclable. We cannot recycle plastic bags or straws for example."</p>
Behind the Scenes<p>So, what makes recycling plastics so difficult?</p><p>"Essentially, there are two types of plastics – thermoplastics and thermosets. While thermoplastics can be re-melted and re-molded, thermosets contain cross-linked polymers that cannot be separated meaning they cannot be recycled," says Lara.</p><p>"Even thermoplastics have a limit to the amount of times we can recycle them, as each time they are recycled they downgrade in quality."</p><p>Even when plastics are recyclable, it is <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/13/war-on-plastic-waste-faces-setback-as-cost-of-recycled-material-soars" target="_blank">often more costly</a> than simply making new plastics.</p>
Sugar, Seaweed and Mushrooms<p>If the conventional recycling system isn't working, what else can we do with all the plastic we've created?</p><p>Lara is looking for ways to add value to recycled plastics such as using it in the design and development of architectural products. She hopes to use these architectural products to help underserved communities that are disproportionately affected by plastic waste.</p><p>In addition to recycling, we also need to find ways to reduce our use of virgin petroleum-based plastics.</p><p>Bioplastic is one such product that has been getting a lot of hype over the last few years. And although they're better than petroleum-based plastics, bioplastics also come with their own <a href="https://phys.org/news/2017-12-truth-bioplastics.html" target="_blank">set of challenges</a>.</p><p>"There are already a lot of bio-based alternatives to plastic, such as bagasse – a byproduct of sugar cane processing," says Lara.</p><p><a href="https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-mycelium-revolution-is-upon-us/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mycelium</a>, a type of fungi we most often associate with mushrooms, are also providing an interesting plastic alternative.</p><p>"In the field of architecture, mycelium is starting to be used as an alternative to plastic insulation, but also as compostable packaging and bricks," says Lara.</p><p>"The bricks take around five days to make and are strong, durable, water resistant and compostable at the end of their use."</p><p><a href="https://www.arup.com/news-and-events/hyfi-reinvents-the-brick" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hy-Fi Tower</a>, created by <a href="http://www.thelivingnewyork.com/living_about.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Living</a>, is an example of a building made from these bricks.</p><p>And finally, there's seaweed.</p><p>"[Seaweed is] cheap and can reproduce itself quickly without fertilizers. In architecture, there is use for seaweed as an alternative to plastic insulation but also as cladding," says Lara.</p>
More Money, More Problems<p>While all these alternatives are great, the main cause of our plastic dilemma is not scientific or technological, but economic.</p><p>As long as it remains <a href="https://engineering.mit.edu/engage/ask-an-engineer/why-is-it-cheaper-to-make-new-plastic-bottles-than-to-recycle-old-ones/" target="_blank">cheaper to create new plastics</a> from fossil fuels rather than from bioplastics or from recycling, we're going to be stuck with plastic garbage islands floating in our oceans.</p><p>The true cost to our health and our environment has yet to be included in the equation. But once it is, maybe that is when the real shift will happen.</p>
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As concern mounts over the impacts of climate change, many experts are calling for greater use of electricity as a substitute for fossil fuels. Powered by advancements in battery technology, the number of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles on U.S. roads is increasing. And utilities are generating a growing share of their power from renewable fuels, supported by large-scale battery storage systems.