Read This: "Laudato Si'"
So when Bill McKibben calls something "one of the most influential documents of recent times" — you read it, right? "Laudato Si'" is the second encyclical from Pope Francis, and it focuses on climate change, uncontrolled capitalism, and intersectional environmental justice.
The first chapter of the 2015 work is tremendous - there is probably some sort of Internet meme that could be created where sections are reprinted and people have to guess the author. Bernie Sanders? Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? Rachel Carson? Odds are, people aren't going to pick The Pope right away as the author of these sentiments:
"We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves."
Outside of the hellraising (sorry, it's true) first chapter, the encyclical is great, but it's not perfect. There are concerning sections about abortion and prescribed gender roles that made me bristle; I'm not a Catholic, so I view the entire encyclical as a compelling dialogue instead of an order. The 1.3 billion Catholics out there may view it differently, and the language that seeks to take away a woman's bodily autonomy are profoundly alarming as a result.
But it's that same huge audience and impact that make the rest of it so important. It's been six years since it was published, but I would very much like to know that President Joe Biden thinks of the work, and how it has influenced his environmental policy. And Notre Dame says the Catholic Church is the largest non-governmental landowner in the world, with 177 million acres. If those caretakers use those lands — and treat the people on those lands — the way Pope Francis describes in the encyclical, it would be a tremendous shift towards sanity and kindness.
Let's hope for that, and for a similar kind of revolutionary concern to apply towards the needs of women.