WITH the publication of his encyclical last week, Francis' status as rock star Pope has been elevated to rock icon Pope.

The 183-page document, Laudato Si (Be Praised), On the Care of Our Common Home, will more than likely become remembered as the definitive writing of the 21st century.

I have praised Pope Francis in the pages of the Chronicle before and I will almost certainly praise him again. If there are two things I admire, they are courage and positive leadership.

The courage and leadership Francis has demonstrated in the past turns out only to have been a prelude to this encyclical.

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Drawing on the best research in economics, science and sociology, Francis identifies the two most pressing issues facing humanity: climate change and income/wealth inequality.

For anyone who has followed the research in these areas, this is no surprise.

Even avid Chronicle readers should be well aware that 98 per cent of climate scientists worldwide agree that climate change is influenced by human activity, and that wealth inequality exacerbates social problems and drags down economic growth.

While these findings are based on the best data examined by the best researchers, they have proven politically unpalatable.

The fact that Republican candidates for the United States presidency are squirming in their seats in response to the encyclical is a sign of the times.

Closer to home, we get the expected responses from National, Labour and the Greens - along with Paul Henry's patented: "I don't care."

Let's pause for a reality check: Wellington, Dunedin and our own River City have experienced historic flooding " let's call it biblical flooding, as this is a discussion about the Pope - in three separate rain events in the course of one month.

Call me Noah, because I'm building an ark.

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Was this flood event unexpected?

No. Our community should be aware that Horizons Regional Council has halved the timeline for major flood events for the Whanganui River.

In other words, what was the 100-year flood is now the 50-year flood, and what was the 200-year flood is now the 100-year flood.

Ratepayers are right to wonder why Wanganui District Council has poured millions of dollars into developing the riverfront and moving an art gallery directly into harm's way.

Claiming it did not see this coming would beggar belief, given what Horizons has advised along with over 10,000 peer-reviewed scientific articles on the topic of climate change.

Floods happen, and data from around the world indicates they are happening more frequently and with more severity. Our "Katrina moment" was never a question of if, but of when. The Pope knows this.

What amazed me was how gently and gradually it came upon us. There were no gales, thunderstorms or lightning - quiz night went on as usual on Friday at Stellar and the River Traders' Market took place Saturday morning across the street.

The devastation came to us literally drop by drop, much in the same way wealth and income inequality has gradually widened over the last 30 years, hitting epic proportions " OK, biblical proportions - in the last seven years. The Pope knows this too.

What is significant about Francis' encyclical is not its content, but the person who has delivered that message with unprecedented courage and conviction. Would it be blasphemy to say this Pope has some serious huevos?

For as long as I have lived in The River City, climate change and income inequality have been non-starter issues.

Politically, they are perceived as no-go zones, yet we have seen their impacts on our community on more than a few occasions.

Because of our unique location and economy, we suffer their effects to a greater extent than other communities.

More than anything, Francis has issued a challenge of courage and leadership. Who in our community will answer the call about the "Care of Our Common Home"?

- Nelson Lebo holds a PhD in science and sustainability education from the University of Waikato, Hamilton