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December 7, 2015

The Alberta government is to be congratulated for finally taking concrete steps to reduce the amount of carbon produced in this province that contributes to climate change. Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si', has called climate change "a global problem with grave implications," an issue affecting all people, including those of religious faith.

For decades the Alberta government ignored appeals for action that would reduce the provincial's economic dependence on fossil fuels. Alberta's opportunity to become a world leader in renewable energy development has been lost; diverse forms of fossil fuel development have been allowed, even encouraged, to grow without proper environmental oversight.

Pope Francis called for major changes of lifestyle, production and consumption to curtail climate change and overcome the "ecological debt" that energy-producing regions have to areas of the globe already suffering the effects of global warming.

In that light, the Alberta government's new policy is timid, a fact admitted by Premier Rachel Notley when she said most Albertans will hardly be affected by the new carbon tax and other reforms. The new policies represent a political compromise rather than a full-scale assault on a problem whose deleterious effects escalate year after year.

Indeed, the pope criticized previous weak responses to the environmental crisis. "Human beings," he wrote, "contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen" (LS59).

Politicians inevitably find themselves in such a place - caught between offering real solutions to vexing problems and demands to maintain the status quo by those who benefit from it. The question we all must face - not just political leaders and captains of industry - is whether our own compromised efforts will be enough to prevent the destruction of peoples, the loss of life and, ultimately, support the survival of the planet.

That question cannot be answered with assurance, but we can be certain that the planet cannot forever sustain rampant consumerism. As long as we act as though economic growth ought to be unlimited and that people ought to be able to consume as much as they can pay for, Earth's future will be in jeopardy.

Without a shift in how human beings understand themselves - a move from individualism to global solidarity - politicians will never make more than token changes that fail to resolve the ecological crisis. Widespread personal conversion is needed so that we all see ourselves as having a divine mandate to care for creation.

The hostile reaction from some to the new policies indicates such conversion is far from complete, if it has even begun. The government deserves credit for pointing Alberta in the right direction. However, there is a long way to travel before the destination will come into view.