During his September 23rd address at the White House, Pope Francis emphasized the importance of addressing climate change and caring for our "common home".
"Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home”, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies ... [W]e wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home."In a September 24th speech before a joint meeting of Congress, Pope Francis noted that safeguarding the environment serves the common good. The Pope called on listeners to avert the worst effects of environmental harm, adding, "I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play."
During his September 25th address at the United Nations, Pope Francis listed the natural world as one of the "victims of power badly exercised" by humans. He spoke optimistically about the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, as well as the upcoming Paris Conference on Climatic Change.
During his United Nations speech, Pope Francis reminded his audience that human life if intimately connected to the environment, and thus humans must respect the natural world.
"First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity."Pope Francis argued that all living beings possess intrinsic value, having been created by a loving deity.
"Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.)."
Many Americans were receptive to Pope Francis' calls for environmental consciousness. On September 24th, as the Pope spoke before Congress, the Moral Action on Climate Justice Rally was under way at the National Mall. According to Religion News Service, speakers from Pax Christi International, Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists addressed the crowd, while Eric Paslay and Moby provided musical entertainment. At the climax of the rally, attendees watched Pope Francis' speech to Congress live on jumbotrons.
Unfortunately, some right-wing figures refused to take Pope Francis' environmental message seriously. Despite ample evidence demonstrating the role of human activity in climate change, and despite the moral imperative to preserve the environment, several right-wing voices criticized the Pope for discussing climate change.
Even before the papal visit to the U.S., one political figure made his displeasure known. In a September 17th commentary piece at Town Hall, Congressman Paul Gosar took offense at the environmental content of Pope Francis' upcoming speeches, livid over their supposed "socialist talking points" and "false science".
"Media reports indicate His Holiness instead intends to focus the brunt of his speech on climate change--a climate that has been changing since first created in Genesis. More troubling is the fact that this climate change talk has adopted all of the socialist talking points, wrapped false science and ideology into “climate justice” and is being presented to guilt people into leftist policies. If the Pope stuck to standard Christian theology, I would be the first in line. If the Pope spoke out with moral authority against violent Islam, I would be there cheering him on. If the Pope urged the Western nations to rescue persecuted Christians in the Middle East, I would back him wholeheartedly. But when the Pope chooses to act and talk like a leftist politician, then he can expect to be treated like one ...
The earth’s climate has been changing since God created it, with or without man. On that, we should all agree. In Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment (written with the consultation of that great seminary the EPA and its embattled head Gina McCarthy), he condemned anyone skeptical of the link between human activity and climate change and adopted the false science being propagated by the Left. If the Pope wants to devote his life to fighting climate change then he can do so in his personal time. But to promote questionable science as Catholic dogma is ridiculous."
The Heartland Institute dismissed Pope Francis' environmental concerns in a series of statements posted on September 23rd. For example, external relations vice president James Taylor was disappointed that the Pope promoted "poorly supported global warming theories".
"We all share Pope Francis’s desire for responsible environmental stewardship. Unfortunately, Pope Francis appears to believe poorly supported global warming theories that have been strongly and repeatedly contradicted by real-world observations. His decision to spend so much time and effort venturing outside the realm of religion and into the realm of science and public policy is unlikely to advance his Christian mission."
After Pope Francis' speech at the White House on September 23rd, Fox Business commentator Stuart Varney was incredulous. Varney suggested that environmental issues belong in the realm of politics, ignoring the fact that climate change is also a pressing moral, economic, and public health-related issue. (Hat tip to Raw Story.)
"I was shocked at how much time the Pope spent on climate change, and how he walked right into the politics of climate change ... We have just sat through the president of the United States greeting Pope Francis to the White House, and the Pope then launched into a fifteen minute speech in which it was largely about climate change, and how we've all got to get on board with efforts to combat climate change. I think he stepped right into policy."
Some conservatives were not so much hostile to the Pope's environmentalism as lukewarm. Jeb Bush greeted Pope Francis' visit with enthusiasm, but his feelings toward the Pope's environmentalist message were chilly. Vanity Fair reports that during a presser on September 24th, Bush spoke warmly of the Pope but reminded journalists that Pope Francis is "not a scientist" with regard to climate issues. (According to the National Catholic Reporter, the Pope does have scientific training, having earned a título in chemistry from the Escuela Técnica Industrial in his native Argentina.)
"The Pope is not wrong. The Pope is a religious leader that I admire greatly, and I'm excited that he's coming for the first time to our country to have a dialogue with us. I think it's extraordinary.Whether right-wing figures want to admit it or not, environmental harm is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Pollution threatens the public health and economic viability of countless communities, while climate change threatens to drastically reshape the planet. As a religious leader, Pope Francis has a moral imperative to discuss environmental issues, and thus his words on climate change were appropriate and important. While I disagree with Pope Francis on many issues, I respect his environmental awareness.
Carbon emissions have dropped by 10 percent in the last decade. The United States has played a pretty constructive role if you're talking about climate change being an issue. And the way you create a focus on protecting the natural environment and the creatures that are divinely inspired, which is the Pope's view -- he's not a scientist; he's a religious leader -- is to create economic growth, to generate revenues to be able to help people."
Too many right-wingers live in an ideological bubble that neither facts nor moral imperatives can penetrate. Neither the science corroborating claims of climate change nor the concrete dangers of pollution will persuade them to rethink their assumptions. Accepting climate change would force them to acknowledge that unregulated industry is not without negative environmental consequences, that unbridled consumption and waste are not sustainable, and that God is not going to rescue humanity from the planet it has sullied. Pope Francis reminded them of uncomfortable facts, and they would do well to listen.
To read additional commentary, visit the following links.
Politico: Trump: Pope is wrong on climate change
Think Progress: Catholic Presidential Candidate Marco Rubio Explains Why He Won’t Listen To Pope Francis
Huffington Post: Conservatives Dismiss Pope On Climate Change, Warn Of Immigrant 'Anarchy'