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From the Holy Father to Every Father: Our Kids Need Us To Act on Climate Change

Image from the People's Climate March in New York City in September 2014. (Photo: Rae Louise Breaux)

On Thursday, Pope Francis issued a letter addressed to “all people of goodwill” on human-caused climate change and other threats to our “common home.” The Papal Encyclical made clear the moral imperative to take action on climate to protect the most vulnerable, including our children, grandchildren and future generations.

The announcement by the “Holy Father” was made just three days before Father’s Day, and also the day after my daughter Rosie turned nine. If I ever had a holy moment, it was when I first looked Rosie in the eyes. The feeling of overwhelming love and awe that filled me in those first moments is one that every parent can relate to.

Whether Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Agnostic or Atheist, we all love our children in equal measure. Whatever our differences, the love for our children is a stronger unifying force than all that divides us. As Dads, we often express the love we have for our kids by providing for them, and protecting them from harm. And there is no harm facing all of our children more menacing than climate change.

Scientists (and now the Pope) have made it clear that burning fossil fuels is trapping heat in the atmosphere, causing global temperatures to rise. This in turn is causing glaciers to melt, oceans to rise, and droughts, fires, floods and storms to occur with increasing frequency and intensity. It’s going to get a whole lot worse for our kids and grandkids if we don’t take bold action now.


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Just as previous generations of dads fought to end slavery or stop fascism, this generation of dads is called to do our part to preserve a livable planet for our children. Unlike previous wars that pitted father against father, and son against son, the war against climate pollution can unite the world in common moral purpose without violence and bloodshed.

All that’s required is the courage to take on the polluting power of fossil fuel interests, and the forces of denial and delay that stand in the way of solutions that our children need. Politicians who block climate action should be rejected by parents as quickly as if they had eliminated funding for schools. Both are attacks on our children’s future.

The solutions are straightforward and achievable, and come down to replacing dirty energy sources with clean ones. In the encyclical, Pope Francis says “there is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced... substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”

The International Energy Agency (IEA) just issued a new report that shows how the world can keep heat trapping gas emissions at levels scientists say are necessary to avoid runaway, catastrophic climate change by pursuing five key policies: Ramp up renewables, cut coal, invest heavily in energy efficiency, stop fossil fuel subsidies and cap methane emissions. A related study in the journal Nature concluded that the most extreme coal, oil and gas reserves, such as those in the Canadian Tar Sands and Arctic Circle, must be left undeveloped.

We don’t have any time to lose. In order to keep global temperature rise from reaching levels that cause devastating impacts leading to massive extinctions, the transition from clean to dirty energy must happen immediately. Scientists say that emissions must peak in the next few years, and then start a steady decline, even as the global population grows. That’s why the global climate talks in Paris later this year have such enormous consequences, and why the Pope’s call to action is so important and timely.

Speaking to everyone who cares about the future well-being of today’s children, Pope Francis said that “leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. This issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn….intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.”

The poet Drew Dellinger put it this way, “My great-great-grandchildren won’t let me sleep: what did you do while the earth was unraveling?” We fathers, with an instinct to protect our children from harm, need to make fighting public enemy #1 -- climate change -- part of our job description. The group I work with, Climate Parents, is made up of fathers and grandfathers, working alongside mothers and grandmothers, for the climate and clean energy solutions our kids and grandkids are counting on us to create. Fellow dads, our kids need us on the field. With the Pope on our side, let’s roll.

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John Friedrich

John Friedrich lives in South Lake Tahoe, CA. He is a member of Climate Parents, an organization working to confront climate change for the sake of all children.


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