Thank you Pope Francis for talking about climate change

For climate change activists who were looking to shore up the three-legged stool of support for arguments supporting the science of climate change and hoping to shape policies to mitigate climate change impacts, it was an extremely pleasant surprise that a fourth leg was added to the climate change education and advocacy stool. Thank you Pope Francis!

Those three legs included the science community, grassroots and environmental organizational support and advocacy, and the political community and process. But now we have another powerful support beam to shore up efforts to educate, advocate and broaden support. Religion. Pope Francis has conveyed a moral, ethical, spiritual, and communal message that cleverly, but deliberately uses logic, facts, and scientific reasoning to support education, policies and actions on climate change. It has the further potential to reach a distant audience who was either indifferent or skeptical because religion has often been used by climate change deniers as an excuse as to why we “shouldn’t worry, God will take care of all.” Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment or “On Care For Our Common Home” has revealed that religion, all along, was really intertwined with scientific study and findings with respect, to the planet that sustains all of life as we know it.

The pope’s weight and gravitas on climate change is more than raising awareness to the flock, and potentially bringing around 1.2 billion Catholics, or neutralizing some of the denier’s religious arguments against recognizing climate change. Pope Francis’ statement on the conditions, and actions needed on climate change is a marriage and consummation of morality and science. And frankly it’s just plain exciting that a pope recognizes the moral crisis that faces humankind that’s tied up in politics and economics.  Of course this pope has been refreshingly turning heads since his tenure started. Pope Francis is connecting the dots of climate change through science, economics, and calling for a moral and just response, not simply proportional. Francis has put our entire economic model and ethos on trial.  His encyclical on protecting the earth has as many references to science as religion and condemns our economic activity and lack of proper urban planning as a primary source of the devastation we’re unleashing on our planet. In bringing it home to the masses, the pope reminds us that it’s the poor and working class that will bear the burden of climate change impacts. Drought in some places, flooding in others lead to dislocation, famine and war.

We’re already seeing those impacts and scenarios play themselves out in places like Syria, over 1 million Syrians have been forced to relocate due to drought impacts on crop yields, turning Syria from a commodity exporter to importer that led to huge escalations in food prices and exacerbated by negligent and harsh responses from the Bashar al-Assad government, fueling the Syrian Civil War. These conditions and realities surrounding global warming haven’t been lost on institutions like the U.S. Defense Department, which late last year issued a report stating that climate change was a “threat multiplier,” which could create civil unrest, the spread of disease, and destabilize susceptible places and regions, and poses an “immediate risk” to national security. When you have both the U.S. Defense Department and the pope agreeing on the science and impacts of global warming, you would think you have something irrefutable. 

But here we go again. The nonscientists, intent on undermining the truth and any responsible action and responses to climate change, are still on the move. Fox News minions have already declared the Pope the “most dangerous person on the planet.” And Fox’s Republican Party field of presidential candidates is only too proud and happy to carry that message into the presidential primaries. Jeb Bush said the pope should really just butt out of politics (except when church and state stand side by side on other social matters dear to Republicans) and matters of science. Bush said it’s “arrogant” to raise the scientific consensus of global warming. Bobby Jindal, another Republican presidential candidate and climate change denier who previously had warned his own party of being the “stupid party,” now seems quite prophetic about the likes of Jeb Bush, himself, and pretty much the entire Republican presidential field and party followers when it comes to climate change.

And that makes perfect sense. Pope Francis is appealing to a higher power or reason, logic, and enlightenment views to address the most pressing challenge that humans have faced in their existence. Francis’ scathing and insightful statements on our economic model and philosophy are consistent with this environmental encyclical. Unfettered capitalism, driven by greed, selfish interests, disdain for the poor, disrespect of the planet, the pillaging of natural resources benefitting the very few, coupled with the lack of heart, mind, and will to realize that we have not only the responsibility, but the means to correct this ill that, would not only preserve humanity, but ensure it thrives in an egalitarian way, will be memorialized in failure, that this current generation failed to recognize and act to save the human population.

The pope wonderfully summarizes the policy aspects of climate change and an optimistic way forward.

“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay. Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the less harmful alternative or to find short-term solutions. But the international community has still not reached adequate agreements about the responsibility for paying the costs of this energy transition. In recent decades, environmental issues have given rise to considerable public debate and have elicited a variety of committed and generous civic responses. Politics and business have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world. Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities.”

As Pope Francis inspires us to think through how humans act upon the world and themselves both justly and unjustly, he at last has brought a voice into the discussion around climate change that is merging the voices of science, religion, and politics.  He reminds us that humans have socially created and engineered religion and politics, while science ultimately rules. Maybe the pope is saying that God is nature, or the environment. Regardless, we have a powerful moral figure who brings science and enlightenment thinking into a problem that has the ability to destroy us or compel us to come together to realize our finest moment.

Photo: Pope Francis greets well wishers in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican, June 6, 2014. (Alfredo Borba/Wikipedia/CC)


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