The Pope Needs to Go Even Further on the Environment


The message of Pope Francis on the environment is welcome, but he needs to go further.

The pope showed tremendous courage and leadership on this issue. He will persuade a lot of Catholics not just to recycle but to advocate for real environmental protections at the international, national, state and local levels.

But it is much easier to take make big declarations than to make small, concrete changes when it comes to the environment. Environmental fights often take place on the very local level. I meet poor community activists who have to confront giant corporate polluters and developers. Many do not get support from the government, foundations or major environmental nonprofits.

These community members have to struggle on their own, and some have lost their lives due to pollution. Others have been murdered, including Chico Mendes, a well-known Brazilian environmental activist who was killed in 1988. He was fighting to protect the Amazon rainforest and ranchers and the government saw him as a threat.

We have many activists in the United States waging lonely battles in poor communities and advocating for environmental justice. When Pope Francis visits the United States in September to make Junipero Serra a saint, he should take the time to visit the most invisible, polluted and disempowered communities — specifically low-income black, Asian and Latino neighborhoods.

The pope should also meet with major foundations to ask them why they do not adequately fund minority-focused environmental justice efforts. And he should also request that their investments be made public. We may find some interesting links with corporate polluters. The New York Times recently reported that the Nature Conservancy makes profits from oil investments in Texas. The group has assets exceeding $6 billion.

The pope’s efforts to raise awareness about climate change are very important, but he should also advocate for poor black, Asian, and Latino communities in the United States that have been the most negatively affected by adverse environmental conditions. They need him to intercede on their behalf.

Randy Jurado Ertll, environmentalist and author of the novel The Lives and Times of El Cipitio. His web-site is

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