President Francois Hollande’s Spiritual Environmentalism
Climate change is a historic, global event threatening our safety, our food, our health, and our children. But the seriousness of the event often gets lost in decimal-point warming trends and sea-level rise predictions. Thankfully, this is something French President François Hollande has noticed and is beginning to remedy by tying activism to morality and religion.
A recent Economist article described Mr. Hollande’s spiritual environmental activism:
When the French president toured typhoon-stricken areas of the Philippines in February, he brought along Patriarch Bartholomew, the “first among equals” in the Orthodox Christian world and a veteran campaigner for the planet. Then in July, Mr Hollande hosted an eye-catching “summit of conscience” that involved faith leaders of many stripes; they ranged from the Orthodox Patriarch to Sufi Muslim sages; from Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana (speaking for the pope) to indigenous people from fragile parts of Latin America. The co-organisers included R20, an environmental and green-energy movement started by Arnold Schwarzenegger, the former governor of California, and Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a British-based NGO launched by Prince Philip.
Given his close involvement with religious leaders and groups, it is surprising that Hollande is not religious himself. Although Hollande was brought up Catholic, he firmly renounced his faith and is an avowed atheist. In 2002, he told a journalist, “I have reached a point where what is clear to me is the conviction that God doesn’t exist, rather than the contrary.”
The relationship between the French president and the Holy See has been tense since he took office and promptly legalized gay marriage and worked to strengthen the separation between church and state in France. But Hollande has supported Pope Francis’s pronouncements on climate change, including his ground-breaking environmental encyclical, and is amplifying the Catholic leader’s moral call to care for Creation.
A few days after the bloody terrorist attacks in Paris, President Hollande sent an appeal to every head of state attending the United Nations’s 21st Conference of Parties (COP21), including President Barack Obama. The appeal was simple: answer “Why Do I Care?” about the climate. All leaders were encouraged to address the question from their “individual personal consciences.”
“In our contemporary world it is very rare that we are asked to talk about what lies at the heart of our actions,” the appeal says. “Instead we hide behind statistics, data, policy, statements etc, few of which actually touch other people’s hearts and minds.”
As leaders around the world gather in Paris for COP21, Hollande’s firm committment to addressing climate change and his messaging of the issue is of utmost importance. Not only is he hosting the conference, he’s also a member of the European Union, one of the world’s biggest carbon polluters. Framing environmental activism as a spiritual or a moral duty will hopefully inspire more leaders to action.
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