Students, faculty, and staff packed the University of Portland Bookstore on Wednesday, November 4th, 2015 for the Integrative Conversations event hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences, the McNerney-Hanson Endowed Chair in Ethics and the Catholic Studies Program. Dr. Michael Andrews (Dean, Philosphy), Dr. Gary Malecha (Political Science), Dr. William Barnes (Economics), Dr. Tina Astorga (Theology), and Dr. Steve Kolmes (Environmental Studies) gathered in the newly renovated bookstore to discuss the implications of climate change on the environment, society, and the entire world. Their discussion was guided by Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment. Dean Andrews was acting MC for the night, and began the event by comparing the integration of disciplines present at the event to the integration of the College of Arts and Sciences curriculum. Through hearing from different disciplines, the speakers gave the audience a chance to understand climate change through multiple different lenses.
Though climate change is often viewed as an environmental issue, the discussion proved that its effects reach much further. The topics discussed included environmental impact, political implications, gender issues, economics, power disparities, theology, ethics, anthropology, and many more.
Dr. Malecha spoke to the political agenda present in the Encyclical and how it is an encompassing document that offends every political party in the United States. He also mentioned how this document covers more than just climate change—but rather the character of the world and how we act towards it. Dr. Malecha argued that the Encyclical more than anything is a political document and wonders how we can all discuss the matters of climate change when we are all speaking different languages and are unable to hear views that dissent from our own.
Dr. Barnes viewed the Encyclical as document that engages social questions and he used economic theory to touch on these social questions. One of his major points was that future generations are not only going to carry a bigger burden of trying to deal with and find solutions for climate change, but they are also going to bear a greater economic burden in doing so. Dr. Barnes viewed this document as a call to action and based his discussion mostly around societal and economic implications that the ever-changing climate has on the world.
Dr. Astorga discussed how the Encyclical is more than just a political statement, but rather it brings social justice issues into question. She talked mostly about the disadvantages that this global crisis has on the poor and underprivileged nations. Dr. Atorga is from the Philippines, and discussed her views of American culture and consumerism from the view of experiencing them all for the first time, and comparing them to what she experienced growing up in the Philippines. She also talked about how the larger nations are in a way outsourcing the climate crisis to other nations by moving factories and thus waste to underprivileged nations. Her overarching question of the night was how should human kind relate to the earth and how should we see ourselves in relation to the earth. She argues that the Encyclical, more than anything is a religious document.
Dr. Kolmes discussed how humans act as if we made the Earth and treat it as so, when the Earth is a gift that is given to everyone. Although Portland is a small place in the scheme of the world, it is a good place to start implementing environmentally conscious ideas according to Dr. Kolmes. He talked about how there is always a discussion about protecting the Earth for our grandchildren, but claimed that this is not an issue that the college aged generation should be concerned as much about, but it is rather his generation that should be focusing on working on solutions now because the new generation of people in college are his grandchildren—and the older generation is failing them by waiting for them to make the changes.
A 45-minute student / faculty Q&A session raised several important points, including that not everyone sees the world the same way and so we must be able to understand and to be open to perspectives that are different from our own. This is one of the goals of UP’s humanties-based, liberal arts University Core Curriculum, namely, that until we learn to have integrated conversations about these issues, we will just be shouting past one another rather than having productive conversations with each other.
This event was the second Integrative Conversations event hosted at the University of Portland by the McNerney-Hanson Endowed Chair in Ethics, The Catholic Studies Program, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the Collaborative for Reason, Ethics, and Faith (REF). Based on the tremendous success of both events, additional “Integrative Conversations” topics and events will be planned. Also, Dean Andrews will be hosting a series of follow-up discussions concerning Pope Francis’ Encyclical, “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home,” with faculty and students from the College and the professional schools as an ongoing activity of the McNerney-Hanson “Ethics Across the Curriculum” initiative. To read the Encyclical and to learn more about this ongoing conversation, visit this link.
–Written by Joanna Monaco, Class of 2017