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laurent5_NICOLAS MAETERLINCKAFPGetty Images)_climate protest Nicholas Maeterlinck/AFP/Getty Images

The Ides of the Climate Crisis

Societies that have been rendered socially and politically fragile by inequality will be ill-prepared to face the environmental shocks from climate change. And as ecological conditions continue to deteriorate, we should expect to witness an explosion of injustices, new and old.

PARIS – On the Ides of March (March 15), the day by which ancient Romans were expected to settle their debts, young people in 60 countries around the world will stage a school walkout to press world leaders for more urgent action on climate change. It is a tragedy that younger generations are forced to speak out against the injustice they will suffer as a result of choices made by others; yet, at the same time, it is deeply reassuring to witness their power and passion as they try to change the course of history.

Concerns about the intergenerational injustice of the climate crisis are of a piece with concerns about inequality in the here and now. Following in the footsteps of his papal namesake, Francis of Assisi (named Patron Saint of Ecology in 1979), Pope Francis observed in his May 2015 encyclical that, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”

This means that making the necessary shift to an ecologically sustainable economy cannot ignore the challenges that many people are already facing today. But just as the problems of climate change and inequality go hand in hand, so do the solutions. Adopting renewable energy, for example, can also yield massive health benefits, create jobs, and improve other indicators of social wellbeing. In fact, according to the Lancet Commission, “tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”

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