Turning the Pope’s Call for Dialogue into Action

Laudato Si, Turning the Pope’s Call for Dialogue into Action by Dr. Michel Boudrias

For individuals and organizations dedicated to research and teaching in the fields of climate change, social justice, ecology, and yes, theology and religious studies, the summer started with a bang.

Pope Francis for Boudrias articleSome may perceive it as a big bang, reminiscent of the paper written in 1931 by Belgian physicist, teacher and Catholic priest Georges Lemaître.  What was then viewed as a radical departure from scientific orthodoxy, the big bang theory was a blend of religion and science, and is accepted today by both the scientific community and the general public. 

This summer, we again had a Catholic priest, and Pope, taking on today’s contentious topic by raising the dialogue on Climate Change and demonstrating a perspective that blends religion and science. The release of Pope Francis’ Encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home” in early June wasn’t your typical papal encyclical directed to Catholic Bishops.

It is the only encyclical devoted to environmentalism and was directed to every person in the world. And it sends a powerful message to the world: our planet is suffering the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, the poor and disadvantaged around the world are disproportionally affected, and it’s time for all of us to do something about it. 

His call for dialogue, for coming together to find solutions, for all of us to take care of our common home now, and especially for future generations, was both controversial and compelling to so many different audiences. 

At my Catholic institution, the University of San Diego, the Pope’s message was one that resonated strongly with what we do and who we are.  As one of only 30 universities in the world named by The Ashoka U as a Changemaker Campus, this designation reflects a deep conviction to developing ethical and responsible leaders committed to the common good.

It starts with the fundamental essence of who we are: a liberal arts and sciences institution dedicated to a holistic undergraduate education.  Our campus is intentionally organized to create an ecosystem for students to develop innovative and entrepreneurial ideas. 

At USD, students learn key skills and values in the classroom, with social change learning objectives embedded into the curriculum, hands-on research opportunities with practical applications, and a deep engagement in community service learning all effectively extending the classroom beyond the four walls of the university.  As a result, we are at the forefront of interdisciplinary efforts in climate change education supporting Pope Francis’ Encyclical.

USD faculty in Environmental and Ocean Sciences and at USD’s School of Law Energy and Policy Initiative Center collaborated on a National Science Foundation initiative to develop innovative approaches to climate change education for a variety of audiences. 

Although developed locally in San Diego, the scope of the educational initiative is to serve as a model for the nation.  USD and its Climate Education Partners were tasked by NSF to develop a comprehensive strategic plan for climate change education under NSF’s Climate Change Education Program (CCEP) Alliance.  

Working with several other prominent universities and organizations in San Diego, USD is approaching climate change education by combining traditional climate change science analysis with a framework grounded in social and behavioral psychology. This interdisciplinary approach illustrates how environmental science, social science and a strong community outreach plan can match the key messages from Laudato Si by responding to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation on disadvantaged communities now and for future generations. 

Other projects in CCEP work with indigenous communities designing new curricula for elementary and high school students, educating zoo and aquaria audiences and bringing museum education to local communities.  

These are all ways for universities, informal education institutions, and community outreach groups to turn the Pope’s call for dialogue on the Care for Our Common Home into specific actions that address those who are most vulnerable to Climate Change and other environmental threats as outlined in Laudato Si. To learn more go to www.sandiego.edu/climate.

Michel Boudrias is Associate Professor of Environmental and Ocean Sciences at USD. He is the lead scientist for Climate Education Partners, one of only six nationally funded programs within the National Science Foundation’s Climate Change Education Program, and the only one at a Catholic university.

For more insight on Pope Francis, please visit the USD website, https://www.sandiego.edu/francis