Are we missing the real message of the Pope's climate encyclical?

Are we missing the real message of the Pope's climate encyclical?

In the words of Father Joseph de Guibert, a French Jesuit Priest, "Every spirituality is like a bridge…. It gets you from one place to another, sometimes over perilous ground.”

As a secular Jew and business professor, I never expected to be quoting a 19th century priest, especially in regards to sustainability leadership in multinational corporations. However, this summer we have witnessed the unexpected. 

Through his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis has now positioned himself not only as the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, but as the undisputed leader of the global environmental movement.

While a growing mountain of media coverage speculates on the political and cultural implications of the Pope’s message, what may be the most profound is the psychological, even mythological potential for this moment in history to lead to a new grand narrative for sustainability throughout the world.

Let me explain. What makes the core message of the encyclical different from all climate science and social advocacy that has come before, is that Francis describes a deeper way of thinking about sustainability… and about ourselves as sustainability leaders and change agents. 

He calls this new way of thinking an “integral ecology,” which in essence is the capacity to see the full depth of relationships between ourselves as human beings, the multinational companies we operate, and the Earth's ecosystems we depend on for life.

As Andy Hoffman points out in the recent thoughtful conversation in GreenBiz, the encyclical not only elevates the moral dimensions of climate, it invites us as sustainability change agents to consider that the deeper resistance to change is not about carbon, but about worldviews.

Pope Francis invites us to adopt what is known as an ecological worldview, where each of us — including all CEOs — have within us the capacity to perceive our dependence with earth’s ecosystems, and emotionally comprehend the full reality of the ecological crisis.

By calling for a new economic ecology that is based on a “broader vision of reality,” Pope Francis beckons senior executives to see their companies through an ecological lens.  When he tells CEOs that nature can no longer be regarded as something separate from themselves, or a mere setting in which their company operates, he is saying that it is literally the way they think that needs to change.

This is the core psychological message and the heart of the Encyclical.  Pope Francis urges us as human beings, as politicians, and as business leaders throughout the world to find this capacity in ourselves and take collective action in Paris and beyond. If we listen closely, he is calling us to spread a new grand story for sustainability for our home on earth.