Notre Dame Responds to Laudato Si’
Last summer, when Pope Francis published Laudato Si’ (“On Care for Our Common Home”), his encyclical letter on the environment, he said that because of the urgency of his subject, “faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.”
He certainly was heard at Notre Dame, whose president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., wrote in the Chicago Tribune that “the pope’s encyclical will be successful if it helps all of us—whatever our religious convictions—to progress toward a ‘responsible collective answer’ to one of the great challenges of our age. That may require that we refrain from the knee-jerk response of our political camp. It may require that we pause, reflect, and—at least in the case of some of us—pray. For the immediate question may not be whether or not we agree with the letter. It may be ‘what kind of people we have to become’ to hear what the pope is trying to tell us.”
Other Notre Dame faculty members discussing the new encyclical in the media and elsewhere included Rachel Novick, a special professional faculty member in the Department of Biological Sciences and director of the minor in sustainability. “I think not only the content of the encyclical but also the manner in which it is written are calling us to community and to conversation,” she said. “It is natural for people to assume that doing something should take priority over mere talking, but in fact, our strength is in dialogue and in our capacity to build community. None of us can recycle our way out of the environmental challenges that face civilization, and if we try to go it alone, we are likely to succumb to nihilism and despair. Having a conversation about the care of our common home may not sound like much of a challenge, but it has actually become one in recent years here in the U.S. Think about how often you’ve heard sincere conversations about climate change or biodiversity loss around the dinner table, at work, or after church.”
In subsequent events, Novick and others at Notre Dame have had ample opportunities both to hear and to take part in such conversations.
During the fall semester, the Center for Social Concerns and the Minor in Sustainability sponsored an enthusiastically received series of biweekly luncheon discussions in the Geddes Hall Coffee House examining different topics arising from Laudato Si’.
Students, faculty, and others attending these wide- ranging discussions heard from Notre Dame scholars and other speakers about the implications of the encyclical for current global business practices affecting qualities of life; Catholic teaching on the “option for the poor” and the relationships among integral, human, and natural ecology; the mistreatment of the earth as an ecological sin; and the effects of climate deterioration on human and civil rights.
Late in September, the Mendoza College of Business convened a gathering of prominent researchers, business leaders, investors, and environmentalists to explore the changing role and potential impact of investing in regard to climate change.
In his announcement of the gathering, Roger D. Huang, Martin J. Gillen Dean of the Mendoza College of Business, clearly had Laudato Si’ in mind. “We cannot escape the fact that climate change is shaping our way of life even now,” he said. “But it’s critical that we not merely accept a doom-and- gloom outlook. Instead, we need to bring our best minds together to envision the opportunities offered through impact investing—benefiting the environment while earning investors equitable returns—which is what this conference accomplishes.”
The conference, “Climate Investing: Transition to a Low- Carbon World,” brought together speakers and panelists from numerous and varied energy, investment, nonprofit, and academic organizations, including Mark Campanale, founder and executive director of the Carbon Tracker Initiative; John Fullerton, founder and president of the Capital Institute; William Hederman, deputy director for Systems Integration and senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Energy Secretary; and Carolyn Woo, former dean of Mendoza and now president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.
“It is natural for people to assume that doing something should take priority over mere talking, but in fact, our strength is in dialogue and in our capacity to build community. None of us can recycle our way out of the environmental challenges that face civilization, and if we try to go it alone, we are likely to succumb to nihilism and despair. Having a conversation about the care of our common home may not sound like much of a challenge, but it has actually become one in recent years here in the U.S. Think about how often you’ve heard sincere conversations about climate change or biodiversity loss around the dinner table, at work, or after church.”
— Rachel Novick
“This conference is occurring at a most opportune moment,” said Leo Burke, the director of Integral Leadership at Mendoza. “In June, the Vatican published Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, which speaks to the moral issues involved. In December, the nations of the world will gather in Paris to address the issue of binding agreements on carbon emissions. We’re at the very beginning of a major shift in the global energy system. This has significant implications for every sector of society, including business. As we listen carefully to each other, I have no doubt that a more coherent mutual understanding will emerge. And such an understanding will be very helpful for guiding investment decisions.”
Notre Dame’s celebration of Laudato Si’ continued in April with another conference sponsored by the Mendoza College to explore the implications of the encyclical for the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, the environmental and developmental initiatives unanimously approved by world leaders last September.
The conference, “A Global Compact for Sustainable Development: Advancing Care for Our Common Home,” included keynote addresses by Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former CEO and chairman of Shell Oil and Gas Companies and current chair of the U.N. Global Compact Foundation, and Archbishop Bernardito Auza, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations.
“We all want to leave the world better than we found it,” said Rev. Oliver Williams, C.S.C., the director of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Religious Values in Business. “This conference helped us as businesses, organizations, and as individuals shape a world better for ourselves and our families, as well as for the least advantaged.”