Though much of Pope Francis’ encyclical on global warming leaked to the media before its release, the official unveiling of the document adds weight and depth to a powerful case from the Roman Catholic leader. From the Associated Press report:
In a sweeping manifesto aimed at spurring action in U.N. climate negotiations, domestic politics and everyday life, Francis explains the science of global warming, which he blames on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that he says harms the poor most. Citing Scripture and past popes’ and bishops’ appeals, he urges people of all faiths and no faith to undergo an awakening to save God’s creation for future generations.It’s an indictment of big business and climate doubters alike.
“It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress,” he writes. “Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress.”
The religious leader added that there is no doubt “most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.”
Francis went on to say the climate crisis “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
As for the argument, embraced by some Christian conservatives, that the planet was created for us to use as we please, the pope said some Christians have misinterpreted Scripture and “must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”
The political pushback from American conservatives is growing more intense.
Earlier this week, it was Rush Limbaugh condemning the pope for his activism on climate change, and yesterday, a Fox News host suggested Francis is becoming “dangerous.”
Among Republican presidential candidates, meanwhile, the responses have also been quite hostile, most notably from Roman Catholic candidates. Rick Santorum got the ball rolling two weeks ago, and Jeb Bush echoed the criticisms this week.
In fact, campaigning in Iowa yesterday, the Florida Republican argued, “I don’t go to Mass for economic policy or for things in politics. I’ve got enough people helping me along the way with that.”
It seems difficult for Bush to even imagine the climate crisis as a moral issue. For him, global warming is “political,” and therefore outside his church’s purview.
But even if we put aside the fact that Bush used to take a very different approach – during the Terri Schiavo mess, then then-governor was perfectly happy to involve the pope in a political debate – it’s a curious approach to the discussion. Bush, Santorum, and a variety of other GOP critics of the pope aren’t saying Francis is wrong about climate change; they’re saying he should sit silently on the sidelines.
We don’t often see this posture. Prominent leaders from the faith community disagree with Republicans all the time – on health care, immigration, poverty, and capital punishment, among other things – but GOP politicians rarely respond, “Stay out of this; it’s none of your business.”
But with the pope investing considerable energy in combatting the climate crisis, U.S. conservatives are effectively declaring that his perspective has no place in the debate.
Fortunately, Francis doesn’t seem to care.