You would not be correct in labeling the Catholic Church a hotbed of progressive thought. It’s very foundation is steeped in tradition and dogma. So, you could be forgiven for thinking that most secular politicians in the United States, of all stripes, would have a better grasp of current realities and even science than an establishment conservative church.
Yet, the Vatican has just released a new papal encyclical, On Care For Our Common Home, on the environment that decries the ecological and humanitarian crisis wrought by climate change. You read this correctly — the pope seems to understand and embrace the science of climate change and the impact of humans. In addition to acceptance of scientific principle the encyclical paints our ongoing destruction of the planet and its climate as an issue of social justice. The pope is absolutely correct — the poor suffer unequally from the strife enabled and enacted by the rich.
Ironically, many of the pope’s Republican followers — let’s call them crusading climate science deniers — in the US Congress are of another mind. They’ve been quite vociferous of late, arguing that the pope would best serve his flock by sticking to communion and keeping his nose out of scientific, environmental and political debate. I used to think that most Republicans, including Catholics, derived their denial of climate science — and perhaps most science — from a strict devotion to their god. But, now that one of God’s representatives on Earth backs mainstream climate science what are the Republican believers to do?
One day after Pope Francis released this sweeping document, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, a Republican and Catholic, had this to say:
“… I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”
Par for the course. One wonders where Governor Bush, Senator Inhofe and their colleagues actually do get there economic policy, and more importantly where do they learn about science, if any at all. We’ll have to leave the issue of social justice aside for now — one battle at a time.
Dear God, you do work in such mysterious ways!
An excerpt below from the Vatican’s encyclical on the environment. Read it in full here.
The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilised in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.
These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesise nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.
The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognise the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the Earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the Earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.
Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread.
The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest. For example, the depletion of fishing reserves especially hurts small fishing communities without the means to replace those resources; water pollution particularly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled water; and rises in the sea level mainly affect impoverished coastal populations who have nowhere else to go. The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources, and in any number of other problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas. It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people.
Read more here.
Image: “The Blue Marble”, iconic photograph of the Earth taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft en route to the Moon at a distance of about 29,000 kilometres (18,000 mi). Courtesy of NASA. Public domain.