Panel: Pope’s warnings on climate change a moral charge

September 21, 2015 by John Schoonejongen for Gabelli School of Business.

Hunter Lovins, a well-known environmentally focused entrepreneur and advocate, has news for us: We are already in a climate crisis.

Enough talk about what might happen in the future (though that’s important, she says). There is plenty occurring right now that should make us think about how we can change what we do to avoid the devastating consequences of our “throwaway culture.”

“Every week you hear another, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that,’” she said of the wildfires and flooding that recently have plagued areas of the United States. “And it’s the world around.”

Lovins joined three other experts in sustainability for last week’s panel discussion on Pope Francis’ much-debated encyclical Laudato Si, which argues for better stewardship of Earth’s resources by all mankind.

The panel – which also included author and advocate Andrew Winston; Jo Confino, the executive editor of impact and innovation at Huffington Post; Fordham associate professor Michael Pirson, who organized the event; and moderator Msgr. Joseph Quinn, vice president for University Mission and Ministry – all said that the audience held the keys to a healthier planet.

The solutions to climate change, wealth inequality and a myopic business culture are all out there, waiting to be found, Confino said.

Despite the title of the panel discussion, “None of His Business? Pope Francis on Climate Change and the Economy,” the panel was friendly to the arguments made by the pontiff, who will visit New York City this week.

“Look, if you were planning on a huge debate tonight, I don’t think there’s going to be one,” said Winston, a champion of creating greener businesses and the author of the book The Big Pivot.

Everyone agreed that Pope Francis, who has been criticized for dipping into an arena that some believe is beyond his scope as a religious leader, has not only the right but the moral responsibility to speak up about climate change and humans’ contribution to it.

“I think if the pope tells you the end of the world might be nigh, you should probably listen,” Winston said.

In addition, Pope Francis is arguing for a simpler and less materialistic approach to life, according to Winston.

The pope is saying “the root of our environmental and social challenge is consumption, greed and the desire for more stuff and a very short-time view of the world,” Winston said.

The panel agreed that business practices, which often focus on the short term, need to change. The encyclical takes that view as well. Winston called it broadly a “sustainability manifesto,” and Lovins said that most of what was in the 40,000-word document was about business.

Businesses, several panel members agreed, must adopt more sustainable practices. Winston argued for a movement away from the use of fossil fuels, especially coal. And all said that a green mindset must begin to take root from the ground up.

“We can ‘entrepreneur’ our way out of these problems,” Lovins said.

Millennials, according to Winston, have the ability to force the changes that Pope Francis says we need. In addition to entrepreneurial efforts, he said, young people can enter the business world—and change it from within.