Goodbye “Hope” Francis

…Mountains have heights and they are plentiful, vast, beautiful, graceful, bright and fragrant. These mountains are what my Beloved is to me. Lonely valleys are quiet, pleasant, cool, shady and flowing with fresh water; in the variety of their groves and in the sweet song of the birds, they afford abundant recreation and delight to the senses, and in their solitude. (St. John of the Cross 1541-1561)

I rarely talk religion unless it’s in the form of worshipping untracked Chugach powder. But with the visit by Pope Francis to the U.S. concluded and the recent publication of his encyclical “Laudato Si” about the global warming crisis, religion has been on my mind. I’ve listened to his public speeches this week, and took an hour or so to read the entire encyclical. My interest in his writing and statements on this matter go deeply into my past.

Below, and above with the opening Prayer for Non-Christians, I’ve extracted a few sections of the encyclical I think are relevant to skiing, particularly here in Valdez where carbon dependent recreation seems to have no bounds and there is no acknowledgment of the harm being done to the environment by these activities. It seems heretical throughout Alaska to suggest that we have a moral responsibility to leave our grandchildren an earth that is habitable. The Pope pleads with the world to act urgently, now.

“Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”

Raised in a classic Catholic family of eight in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I was marched through the deep Baltimore Catechism teachings of private schools until I graduated from Bishop Kelley High School, an institution where the motto was “Education, Community Service and Fitness”. Even though my Catholicism faded, I have tried to stay true to that mission, along with the ethics I learned in Boy Scouts where I developed my passion for the outdoors.

The message from Pope Francis, which he directs at both his flock and at non-believers, has interested me. As a Jesuit, he was named Pope and then made global warming a moral issue. In a way, this shouldn’t be a surprise. The Vatican hosts one of the finest scientific libraries and collections and is home to brilliant scholars. They have studied the earth sciences for hundreds of years, cataloging new discoveries from the heavens to the earth. Much like global warming, they needed some science to prove the earth was not flat and not at the center of our universe. That was hundreds of years ago. Today, smart people from all denominations work in Vatican City, exercising unbridled curiosity to unravel difficult questions. This exploration into scientific areas is restricted by some fundamentalist Christian sects, but is encouraged by the Catholic Church as demonstrated by the Church’s acceptance of the Evolution Theory.

“In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, “ecological” neighbourhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquility.”

When I received the Sacrament of Confirmation in junior high, I chose St. Francis as my patron saint. My grandfather, as was the tradition, gave me a necklace with a medallion picture of St. Francis. Around his figure were inscribed the words “Earth, Sea and Sky”. St. Francis was the “Patron Saint of the Environment” well before the modern environmental movement began. As I have learned more about this Pope, I came to recognize similarities between him and me, including the tidbit that both of us have two-year degrees in a science (his being in chemistry and mine in fisheries). I also came to see, as Pope Francis began to speak – and write—about the environment that I am not alone in my concerns. I felt bolstered when my past activism was reaffirmed as the Pope spoke to world leaders at the United Nations in September, and will be again in Paris, where the war against global warming and reducing carbon emissions will be hammered out.

“Worldwide, the ecological movement has made significant advances, thanks also to the efforts of many organizations of civil society. It is impossible here to mention them all, or to review the history of their contributions. But thanks to their efforts, environmental questions have increasingly found a place on public agendas and encouraged more far-sighted approaches.”

So what does the Pope have to say about skiing? On the surface, it may not seem like much. But, his message attacking consumerism and his plea to act now to minimize our carbon footprint in a big way, not just a little, come very close to home and are relevant in today’s Chugach. He is challenging us to step out of our comfort zone to save the planet.

“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay”

This is not a challenge to be a Luddite or return to caves and graze on grass while the planet heals. It’s a challenge to think twice about how we recreate and how we move across the earth. If we emit carbon pollution in the pursuit of snow when practical alternatives are available, then we are littering the atmosphere.

“We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy.”

The Pope is calling for the 80 million Catholics around the world to become environmentalists with a passion or to be scolded by God. That will become a powerful force for change. For many people, such a threat is not needed for action.