Pope Benedict XVI photo from Shutterstock

Today Pope Benedict XVI announced plans to resign on Feb 28, citing his advanced age and health. Over his tenure he garnered the moniker “the Green Pope” by making environmentalism a moral issue. Pope Benedict XVI stressed Catholic stewardship of God’s creation, and he was also instrumental in making the Vatican a carbon neutral city during his reign. From installing solar panels on the roof of the main auditorium of the Vatican to riding in an electric Renault Popemobile, Benedict lent support to the environmental movement through his endorsements.

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With the election of a new pope on the horizon, many are looking back on the accomplishments of Benedict XVI and the legacy he is leaving behind. Known to denounce the evils of unchecked consumerism and the abuse of the planet’s resources, he made environmentalism a key topic of his doctrinal announcements. In addition to official pronouncements, Benedict called for the installation of photovoltaics on the roof of the Vatican, donated trees to a Hungarian national park to neutralize the city’s carbon emissions, and used electric vehicles for transportation. He was openly critical of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009 when leaders failed to establish any sort of binding climate regulation, and he has raised awareness of the plight of African countries and the wars that result from natural resource competition. During a Vatican conference on climate change in 2007, he highlighted “polluting the environment” as a new sin that required repentance.

Many attribute Pope Benedict XVI’s concern with the environment as an extension of valuing the quality of human life, peace, and “God’s laws of nature”. Citing Genesis, he said that taking care of the earth is also protecting what was written down in scripture. A green lifestyle also falls in line with the Catholic commitment to social justice and looking out for the poor, many of whom live in developing nations and are the first to feel the effects of climate change and natural disasters. Focusing on these modern issues is also an important way for the centuries-old institution to remain relevant.

As global warming continues to affect the world, countless numbers of Catholics will undoubtedly be looking to their new leader for spiritual guidance and support. Whether Benedict’s successor will continue his green interpretation of doctrine remains to be seen, but the example set by the Holy See is already a step in the right direction.

+ Vatican