WASHINGTON — As fires sweep across California and floods flash across the desert southwest, the first pope outspoken on the issue of climate change will be visiting the United States.
“With these kinds of things happening, the consciousness of people around the U.S. is really quite keen,” says the Rev. Canon Sally Bingham. “I don’t think the pope planned to have catastrophic weather conditions come at the same time he did. But, we’re having catastrophic weather conditions all the time anyway.”
Pope Francis released an encyclical in June calling on the faithful to recognize the links between ecological destruction and poverty. The document spotlights climate change, and notes that the consumption of rich nations has proportionate negative implications on the world’s poorest nations.
The encyclical has inspired environmentalist like Rev. Bingham to flock to the National Mall in support of the pope the same day he delivers an address to a joint session of Congress.
“His message is to all people, and it’s a message about individual moral responsibility to care for creation,” Bingham says this issue is bigger than politics. “Even though he’s speaking to Congress, which is a political setting, he’s talking to those folks as individual people with moral responsibility, and hoping to touch their hearts and make them change the behavior that we have had in the past, which exploits poor people.”
Crowd estimates for the Rally for Moral Action on Climate Justice range from 200-400 thousand people. Bingham will be one of the speakers, but on Wednesday she will also greet Pope Francis as he arrives on the White House lawn. Which means there’s a chance for words to be exchanged.
“I think I would simply say ‘thank you.’ We are very, very grateful for his message and coming to America and talking to politicians as individual people,” Bingham says.
Reverand Bingham is a board member of the Environmental Defense Fund and the founder of Interfaith Power and Light. It’s a group working with 18,000 congregations in 40 states to address climate change through energy efficiency initiatives and educational programs. She says that the pope’s message shouldn’t be hindered by denominational and religious barriers.
“All religions are called to have love, justice and peace as priority issues,” Bingham says. “And every religion has that. And this is a justice issue, when you think that the poor people who are suffering worst and first over climate change. Those are the people that God asked religious people to love, support and serve. Not destroy their livelihood and stability.”