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ROME — If proof were needed that politics really does make odd bedfellows, the sight of progressive Canadian activist Naomi Klein on a Vatican platform with the pope’s personal spokesman on Wednesday, joining forces in the push for stronger environmental protection, probably provides it.
“This is an alliance on a specific issue, not a merger,” said Klein, who defines herself as a secular Jewish feminist. “No one is being asked to agree on everything, nor do we agree on everything related to climate change,” she said. Despite that, she said, the secular left and the Catholic Church can still do business based on Laudato Si’, Francis’ encyclical letter on the environment released in June.
The Canadian activist admitted to surprise at being invited to speak at the Vatican, saying it illustrates a “growing understanding” about environmental concerns that has forged surprising and unlikely partnerships, with people otherwise at loggerheads willing to overcome long-standing differences to work together to “save ourselves.” “We understand that the stakes are so high, time is so short and the task is so large that we cannot afford to allow those differences to divide us,” Klein said on Wednesday.
Klein’s comments came as she participated in the presentation of an upcoming “high-level” conference she will be co-chairing with Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Although originally set to participate in Wednesday’s press conference, Turkson was absent since he was en-route from New York, where he addressed a United Nations conference on climate change Tuesday.
Known for her fierce criticism of 21st century capitalism, Klein said that in a world where profit is consistently put before people and the planet, climate protection is intrinsically a moral and ethical issue. She also quoted Francis’ recently unveiled encyclical, the first such papal document dedicated to the environment, saying that there’s a new ecological movement based on the “courageous truth” expressed in the pope’s words. “Our current economic system is both fueling the climate crisis and actively preventing us from taking the necessary actions to avert it,” she said.
The upcoming Vatican summit is called “People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course,” and will take place in Rome July 2-3. It will also feature Mary Robinson, a former Irish president and current a UN Special Envoy for Climate Change, as well as Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State.
The conference is organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the same department that prepared a draft of the encyclical, along with “Catholic International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity,” an alliance of 17 Catholic agencies working together for global justice.
The meeting will bring together both Church leaders and scientists, a strategy the Vatican’s already employed with the encyclical. When Laudato Si’ was unveiled in Rome last month, a scientist who studies climate change–and who is also an atheist–was present, demonstrating the Holy See’s commitment to forming a broad coalition in the fight to protect the planet.
The goal of the conference is to use Laudato Si’ to influence key political gatherings over the course of the year, such as three major UN conferences, including one in December in Paris aimed at reaching a global deal to fight climate change.
Klein asked the “so-called leaders preparing their pledges” for Paris to read the actual encyclical from Pope Francis, not just summaries. “The whole thing,” she insisted. In a text read in his name, Turkson called for leaders at those meetings to be bold. The biggest obstacle to the “imperative to change course,” Turkson said, is not economic, scientific or even technological, but rather “within our minds and hearts.”
By Inés San Martín
Vatican correspondent July 1, 2015