The third theme of Catholic Social Teaching to consider is that of “rights and responsibilities.” These rights and responsibilities are the practical way to implement the first two themes of the dignity of the human person and the call to community. Everyone has a right to life, food, housing, education, a job, and to worship God freely. When people lack any of these things it is our responsibility to not only help them but to address any kind of systematic reality that prevents them from having sustainable access to these rights and what they provide.
In other words, human dignity can only be maintained where human rights are respected and people take on the responsibility to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights.
In Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical “Laudato Si” (On Care for Our Common Home) he addressed humanity’s exploitation of nature for profit and the effects on the earth, our common home. He unequivocally states that the world is in a state of environmental crisis. The Pope focuses on the “intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet” and “the conviction that everything in the world is connected.”
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power
The recently released documentary by former Vice President Al Gore An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power is the 2017 follow-up to his 2006 Oscar-award winning film An Inconvenient Truth. Both films are based on the fact that climate change is real and that human activity, such as the unsustainable burning of fossil fuels, is creating the greenhouse effect, which causes the rise of temperatures of the world’s oceans. The warmer oceans melt polar ice, causing water levels to rise, which causes more frequent and stronger storms that destroy lives and property – with the most devastating effects for the world’s poor.
There is great synchronicity between these films and Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si” In fact, Gore, upon reading the 2015 encyclical said, “I was blown away by the clarity and forcefulness of the Pope’s message and I cannot overstate the degree of respect I have for him as a leader in the world today.” Gore does, in fact, quote Pope Francis in this new film: “The gravest effects of attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest.”
While An Inconvenient Truth was a presentation that introduced the world to the devastating reality of climate change and what it would mean for the future of the earth, some of which now has been gravely confirmed, this new film spends a lot of time updating us on the crisis and on Gore’s personal work and crusade to engage people in slowing climate change by working for alternative forms of fuel and caring for the earth.
It is at the end, after Gore has played a key role in bringing 174 countries and the European Union to sign the April 2016 Paris Agreement, that he is at his best, passionately telling the world that climate change is not an opinion or a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual problem that must be faced – together.
An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power reminds us that every person has rights and responsibilities for one another and for the earth, our common home. It is the only home we have. Charity is not enough when it comes to care for the earth and changing the way we live. Action for social justice is needed to change the structures and policies that ultimately threaten the lives of the poorest of the poor, the children who are growing up today, and those who will come after us.
Pope Francis, quoting the words of his predecessor, St. John Paul II, writes about what can be found in “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” and could be said to complete it:
The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement. Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.” Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system.” Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is (Laudato Si, 5).