Pope Francis and the Environment: Yale Examines Historic Climate Encyclical

Yale experts say Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment could transform the global climate debate for Catholics and non-Catholics alike. Watch the video below.

Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles and events posted prior to July 1, 2020 refer to the School's name at that time.

On June 18, Pope Francis issued his eagerly awaited encyclical on the environment, a 192-page document that calls global action on climate change and environmental degradation a moral imperative for all humans. 
In the encyclical — the first in the Church’s history to confront the environment — the pope assailed the consumerism and wastefulness of modern life, linking stewardship of the natural world with justice for “the poorest and most vulnerable people” and calling for a transformation of economic systems and political policies in order to avert environmental catastrophe.
At Yale, experts say the document has the potential to transform the global discussion on climate change for Catholics and non-Catholics alike by projecting the planetary crisis into moral and religious terms at a critical moment in global climate negotiations. (The release was timed to attract global attention in advance of UN climate talks in Paris later this year and the pope’s upcoming addresses to the UN and the U.S. Congress.)

What is an Encyclical?

Frequently Asked Questions: The Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale answers some common questions about papal encyclicals and the impacts of previous encyclicals in history. 

Critically, the message calls for an “integral ecology” that brings together concern for people and the planet, said Mary Evelyn Tucker, a senior lecturer and research scholar at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and the Yale Divinity School.
“The pope is saying to the world that climate change brings moral change,” said Tucker, co-director of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology. “The health of both people and the planet will require a transformation toward care for creation and concern for future generations.”
Earlier this year, Tucker and a range of Yale experts from across several disciplines discussed the potential global impacts of the historic encyclical. The event was held April 8 at Yale’s Linsly Chittenden Hall.
Watch the event | Read the transcript

During the discussion, F&ES Dean Peter Crane said the encyclical will provide an important reminder that it is the world’s most vulnerable who shoulder the greatest environmental burdens — and who stand to be most adversely affected by climate change.

And after years of bitter stalemate in the global climate negotiations, he said, the pope’s call to action offers a new urgency in the lead up to the Paris talks. “The encyclical will be an end run around the paralysis,” he said. “It will certainly create a new dynamic.”
Also speaking at the panel were John Grim, co-director of the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology; Margaret Farley, emeritus professor at Yale Divinity School; Dekila Chungyalpa, 2014 Dorothy S. McCluskey Visiting Fellow in Conservation at F&ES; and Douglas Kysar, professor at Yale Law School. Yale Divinity School Dean Gregory E. Sterling gave concluding remarks.
A strong message from the pope will resonate with religious leaders across the world, and empower those already working on environmental issues, added Chungyalpa, founder and former director of WWF’s Sacred Earth program.

“It is a moment of convergence,” she said. “It’s not just one religious leader that is picking up on it and has been hammering at the door talking about climate change. We’re seeing a chorus of voices coming from around the world.”
Kysar said climate change might be the most pressing and “wicked” environmental challenge facing humankind.
“But it may also be our best opportunity to address underlying economic, political and cultural diseases that give climate change its appearance of inevitability,” he said. “The encyclical will help to diagnose and minister to those underlying pathologies. So that if we do indeed heal the planet, we may also have a humanity of inheriting it.”
– Kevin Dennehy    kevin.dennehy@yale.edu    203 436-4842
John Grim is a Senior Lecturer and Research Scholar at Yale University, where he has appointments in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies as well as the Divinity School and the Department of Religious Studies. He teaches courses in Native American and Indigenous religions and ecology and, along with Mary Evelyn Tucker, has initiated a series of hybrid courses in world religions and ecology. He has undertaken fieldwork with the Crow/Apsaalooke people  of Montana and Salish people of Washington State. With Mary Evelyn Tucker, he has directed a 10-conference series and a  book project at Harvard on “World Religions and Ecology.” He is co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale.
Peter Crane is Carl W. Knobloch, Jr. Dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. His work focuses on the diversity of plant life, including its origin and fossil history, current status, and conservation and use. From 1992 to 1999 he was director of the Field Museum in Chicago. In that role, he established the Office of Environmental and Conservation Programs and the Center for Cultural Understanding and Change, which today make up the Division of Environment, Culture, and Conservation (ECCo). From 1999 to 2006 he was director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, one of the largest and most influential botanical gardens in the world. In 2004, he was knighted in the U.K. for services to horticulture and conservation. He was recently awarded the International Prize for Biology administered by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) for his work on the evolutionary history of plants.

Margaret Farley is Gilbert L. Stark Professor Emerita of Christian Ethics at Yale Divinity School. She is the author or co-editor of eight books, and has published more than 200 articles and chapters of books on topics of ethical methodology, medical ethics, sexual ethics, social ethics, historical theological ethics, ethics and spirituality, justice and HIV/AIDS. She is the recipient of 13 honorary degrees and a variety of fellowships and awards. She was a founding member of Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Bioethics Committee; and she served for eight years as Co-director of the Yale University Interdisciplinary Bioethics Center. She was Director of Yale Divinity School’s Women’s Initiative: Gender, Faith, and Responses to HIV/AIDS in Africa. She is past president of both the Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America.

Mary Evelyn Tucker teaches in a joint MA program between the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Yale Divinity School. She is co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale. Along with John Grim, she has organized a series of 10 conferenceson World Religions and Ecology at Harvard. They are also series editors for the volumes from the conferences from Harvard University Press. She is co-author, with John Grim, of Ecology and Religion (Island Press, 2014). She served on the International Earth Charter Drafting Committeeand was a member of the Earth Charter International Council. In 2011 Tucker completed the Journey of the Universe with Brian Swimme, which includes a book from Yale University Press, an Emmy award winning film on PBS and Netflix, and an educational series of 20 interviews.

Dekila Chungyalpa is the Dorothy S. McCluskey Visiting Fellow in Conservation at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She founded and directed the Sacred Earth Program at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which develops partnerships with faith leaders and institutions in order to protect biodiversity, natural resources, and environmental services. Prior to creating the Sacred Earth program, Dekila spent six years leading WWF’s efforts in the Mekong region on large-scale strategies for hydropower and climate change and five years designing and managing community-based conservation projects with WWF’s Eastern Himalayas program.

Doug Kysar is the Joseph M. Field ’55 Professor of Law at Yale Law School. His teaching and research areas include torts, environmental law, and risk regulation. He has published articles on a wide array of environmental law and tort law topics, and is co-author of a leading casebook, The Torts Process, with James A. Henderson, Jr., Richard N. Pearson & John A. Siliciano. His book, Regulating from Nowhere: Environmental Law and the Search for Objectivity (YUP 2010), seeks to reinvigorate environmental law and policy by offering novel theoretical insights on cost-benefit analysis, the precautionary principle, and sustainable development.

Teresa Berger is Professor of Liturgical Studies at the Yale Divinity School and Thomas E. Golden Jr. Professor of Catholic Theology. Her scholarly interests lie at the intersection of liturgical studies and constructive theology with gender theory, specifically gender history. Her book, Gender Differences and the Making of Liturgical History, was published in the Ashgate series Liturgy, Worship and Society in 2011. An active Roman Catholic, she has produced (with MysticWaters Media) a CD-ROM, “Ocean Psalms: Meditations, Stories, Prayers, Songs and Blessings from the Sea” (2008), and she contributes to the liturgy blog “Pray Tell.” In 2003 she received the distinguished Herbert Haag Prize for Freedom in the Church.
Gregory E. Sterling is the Reverend Henry L. Slack Dean of Yale Divinity School and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament. Dean Sterling is a New Testament scholar with a specialty in Hellenistic Judaism. He assumed the deanship in 2012 after more than two decades at the University of Notre Dame, where he served in several capacities at the College of Arts and Letters before becoming the first dean of the independent Graduate School. Dean Sterling is the author of several books and more than 55 scholarly articles and essays. A Churches of Christ minister, Dean Sterling has held numerous leadership positions in the Society of Biblical Literature, the Studiorum Novi Societas, and the Catholic Biblical Association.