06/25/2015 08:03 pm ET Updated Jun 25, 2016

The Moral Imperative of Environmental Stewardship

"It is clear that the environmental crisis which is confronting the world will profoundly alter the future destiny of our planet." - Indira Gandhi

Last week, in a message addressed to the world, Pope Francis took the truly historic step of defining climate change and environmental stewardship in strictly moral terms. Shifting away from the political language that can surround this issue, the Pope focused instead on a simple message: that we have just one, tiny planet, and a shared responsibility for caring for it, nurturing it, and preserving it for future generations. This means instilling in ourselves and our children a sense of ownership and concern for the wellbeing of the Earth, and understanding that environmental stewardship is, indeed, fundamentally a moral issue.

It's a truly profound and timely idea, one that helps to reframe the issues surrounding climate change and the role of humanity in both causing, and working to alleviate, the environmental damage of those changes. What happens to our planet, after all, happens to us all. No one is immune to the overwhelming forces of nature. The consequences of neglecting the earth will be shared as well, with a great deal of the environmental, financial, and health impacts falling hardest on the developing world.

Environmental stewardship has been a cornerstone element of the Girl Scout Movement for over a century. In fact, it's written into our Girl Scout Promise and Law, which, among other things, requires girls to "use resources wisely" and to "make the world a better place." From traditional activities like camping, horseback riding, canoeing, and map reading, to modern options like GPS tracking, zip lining, and greenhouse visits, Girl Scouts has a proud legacy of ensuring that girls spend time outdoors, because we truly believe that environmental stewardship is a crucial component of good citizenship and something that can best be learned through hands-on experiences in the outdoors.

The idea of global citizenship with regard to environmental stewardship was central to the Pope's message, rooted as it was in traditional teachings about caring for others and in the idea that the wellbeing of humankind depends on the wellbeing of our planet. These are truly universal ideas that should apply to everyone no matter what you believe, where you come from, who you vote for, or what flag you salute.

As Indira Gandhi says in the passage quotes above, the future of our world depends on the future health of our planet. Earth is the only home we've ever known. Passing it to posterity means preserving and caring for it in the present; and as the Pope made clear in his message, the time to act is now. At Girl Scouts, we believe environmental stewardship starts with instilling in future leaders the courage, confidence, and character to make moral decisions. Indeed, the Girl Scout Leadership Experience is about helping girls develop the skills to be leaders in their own life and in the world at large. We are proud to stand with the Pope, and with people of all faiths, to champion the moral imperative of caring for our planet.