Conference Rationale

The aim of this conference is to materially advance the engagement of Catholic universities and the broader Catholic community with the most pressing environmental challenges of our time, primarily those related to climate change. The primary audience is faculty, students, administrators, and clergy at Catholic universities in the United States. Catholic student associations from secular universities, members of the broader Catholic community, and representatives of the U.S. conference of Catholic bishops, are also invited.

The conference is structured to encompass the multiplicity of approaches to environmental issues at Catholic institutions of higher learning, including those of theologians, scientists, sustainability practitioners, student activists, and clergy. The aim of the conference is to address the theological implications of climate change as well as the ethical implications viewed through the lens of Catholic Social Thought, with a focus on the opportunities for Catholic universities to assume a leadership role on this issue within both the academic and Catholic communities.

Catholic leaders have become increasingly vocal in recent years about the environmental implications of two central tenets of Catholicism: a God-centered and sacramental view of the universe and a passionate concern for the world’s poor. According to the first tenet, reverence for God compels reverence for and care for God’s creation; from this perspective, life on Earth is a gift and a responsibility. The destruction or diminishment of that gift does violence to our radical interconnectedness with the rest of God’s creation.

The second tenet compels us to seek justice for those who are most vulnerable. Environmental inequity has long been one aspect of the injustices perpetrated on the world’s poor, but climate change brings new threats to the world’s poor on many levels. The loss of glacial drinking water sources and the spread of vector-borne disease fall primarily on developing nations. Drought, displacement due to sea level rise, and increasingly severe heat waves and storms disproportionately affect the poor worldwide because they have less flexibility to adapt.

Across the United States and the world, many universities are taking a leadership role in addressing climate change and unsustainable resource use. In the process of reducing their own environmental footprints, they are providing a market for emerging renewable and efficiency technologies, prompting their home cities and states to strive for meaningful sustainability goals and commitments, and inculcating sustainability as a core ethical value among the next generation of leaders.

Positioned as they are at the nexus of the academic and faith communities, Catholic universities have a unique opportunity to bring these two worlds together in the service of stewardship and environmental justice. Our goals in creating this conference are to enhance understanding, activism, and cooperation among Catholic universities in the area of sustainability, to contribute a valuable faith perspective to the national and international dialogue of university-based sustainability efforts, and to provide an inspiration for the broader Catholic community.