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Spring 2016 stories

Introduction to Spring 2016 explore

By David DeCosse and Theresa Ladrigan-Whelpley


By David DeCosse
Director of Campus Ethics Programs,
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics,
Santa Clara University

By Theresa Ladrigan-Whelpley
Director of Bannan Institutes,
Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education,
Santa Clara University

One year ago Pope Francis released the groundbreaking encyclical Laudato Si’ on the environment and the global challenge of climate change, spurring meaningful dialogue across scientific, technological, religious, political, and business sectors around one of the most pressing issues of our time.

What is at stake for the common good in the time of climate change? Santa Clara University (SCU) hosted a dynamic interdisciplinary conference titled “Our Future on a Shared Planet” in November 2015 engaging leaders in Silicon Valley and beyond in conversation with the environmental teachings of Pope Francis. Our current issue of explore seeks to further dialogue and action around climate and environmental justice by making available the work of this conference.

Laudato Si’ and Silicon Valley

Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, the president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, opened the conference with a keynote address that leads off our issue of explore . In it he calls attention to the ways in which the allure of technical knowhow and the promise of profits have become unmoored from ethical foundations. “Here in Silicon Valley,” the cardinal says, “in the midst of so much creative technological thinking, there is far too little critical thinking about technology.” In the face of the unprecedented challenge of climate change the task is clear: harness the ingenuity of Silicon Valley in service to the common good of a carbon-neutral civilization.

In a response to the cardinal’s address, Thane Kreiner, executive director of SCU’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, points to the need for thousands of clean energy community enterprises to assist the 1.5 billion poor now living “off the grid.” Kirk Hanson, the executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at SCU, argues for linking increased access to technology to concerns about the specifically moral nature of the common good.

Climate Science, Climate Justice

A member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan of University of California, San Diego knows the limits of science in being able to persuade people to address the problem of climate change. In his SCU talk excerpted here, he argues that Catholicism and other religions retain a moral authority and a sense of a sacred, common home in the earth that are indispensable for motivating action in the face of our current challenge. In her response to Ramanathan, Professor Iris Stewart-Frey, the chair of SCU’s Department of Environmental Studies and Sciences, welcomes how the encyclical deftly blends the scientific and the spiritual.

Public Policy for Sustainable Communities

In the summer of 2015, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo attended a Vatican meeting focused primarily on cities and climate change. In his SCU talk featured in this issue of explore , Liccardo praises Laudato Si’s emphasis on cities as hubs of innovation in the face of climate change, but criticizes the document’s ambivalent assessment of the technologies and policies needed for carbon reduction.

Laudato Si ’ has spurred meaning ful dialogue across scientific, technological, religious, political, and business sectors around one of the most pressing issues of our time.

Poncho Guevara, executive director of Sacred Heart Community Services in San Jose, California, follows the mayor, highlighting the reality that we can’t know what our common good is until we listen to the stories of the poor displaced by climate change.

The Economy of the Commons

A member of the Pontifical Academy of the Social Sciences, Stanford University professor Gretchen Daily has been a global leader in the “natural capital” movement—an effort to protect ecosystems as integral aspects of the common good. “We don’t really think about them,” she says about ecosystems in her talk at the conference— which also praises Laudato Si’s recognition of the intrinsic value of such rich repositories of life. SCU economics professor William Sundstrom responds to Daily by praising the “natural capital” movement as an innovative, practical way to address complex policy choices.

Green Market Leadership

A former partner at Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield, & Byers, the storied Silicon Valley venture capital firm, John Denniston has worked for years at the leading edge of finance and green business. In his talk at the conference, he disputes critics who argue that Laudato Si'—and Pope Francis more generally—has an insufficient understanding of capitalism. Ann Skeet, director of leadership ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at SCU, responds by noting how the “myth of shareholder primacy” has allowed corporate boards to detach themselves from broader commitments to the common good.

Dialogue across Traditions

Laudato Si’ is addressed to all people of good will. As Pope Francis urges, the way forward requires dialogue and action across all religions and cultures. The SCU conference responded to this imperative by hosting a dialogue between religious leaders from the Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian traditions, reflecting on the ways in which religious communities together can underwrite dynamic and transformative responses to the global challenge of climate change. We hope that you will be challenged and engaged in reading this issue of explore , and join us in responding to Pope Francis’ call.


David DeCosse is the director of campus ethics programs, Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and adjunct associate professor, Department of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University. He earned his doctorate in theological ethics from Boston College and is currently working on a book project entitled: Catholicism and the Equality of Freedom: An Essay in Social Ethics.

Theresa Ladrigan-Whelpley is the director of the Bannan Institutes, Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education and adjunct lecturer, Department of Religious Studies, Santa Clara University. She earned her doctorate in Christian spirituality from the Graduate Theological Union, and is currently developing a university-wide Bannan Institute on the topic: Is There A Common Good in Our Common Home? A Summons to Solidarity.


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