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Waiting for Il Papa

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 9:55 PM GMT on June 14, 2015

Waiting for Il Papa

There is no doubt that Pope Francis draws audiences across the world like few others. This coming week, on June 18, Pope Francis is expected to deliver an encyclical on the environment, addressing climate change and planetary sustainability. An encyclical is a papal letter sent to bishops of the Roman Catholic Church. The letter will be distributed to, approximately, 5000 bishops, and then it is expected to be transmitted to the 400,000 priests and then 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. This encyclical will also get an enormous amount of attention outside of the Catholic Church.

In September of 2014, I wrote a blog on the New York Climate Summit and the large public march associated with the summit. The New York Climate Summit aimed to start a crescendo to focus on the 2015 Conference of the Parties in Paris (COP-Paris). The expectations in Paris are high – from their website, “The meeting will mark a decisive stage in negotiations on the future international agreement on a post-2020 regime, and will, as agreed in Durban, adopt the major outlines of that regime. By the end of the meeting, for the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, all the nations of the world, including the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, will be bound by a universal agreement on climate.” (For those who want to know more about the Conference of the Parties, go back to this blog and follow the links back.)

Pope Francis’s encyclical is intended to influence the deliberations at COP-Paris. The Vatican has been building up to the encyclical for some time. In January of 2015 in a visit to Tacloban in the Philippines, the Pope brought attention to climate change. Tacloban took a direct hit from Typhoon Haiyan (or Yolanda), which was the strongest typhoon/hurricane ever recorded at landfall.

The emerging and evolving Papal analysis is already upsetting politicians, lobbyists, and even some religious leaders in the U.S. Several news stories have raised the discomfort that the Pope’s views on climate change will bring to House Speaker John Boehner, and many others in the Republican Leadership. Likewise there are numerous reports that the Koch Brothers and the Heartland Institute have been trying to derail the Pope’s letter. The New York Times quotes Joseph Bast of the Heartland Institute, “The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust …” Rick Santorum is getting attention on why he is better qualified to discuss climate change than the Pope. (What happened to that I’m not a scientist strategy?)

Though the historical Catholic Church has a notorious history with science, it is, today, not an organization that is inattentive to science or hiding from scientific evidence. One of the front men of the evolving encyclical is Marcelo Sánchez Soronda of the Pontifical Academy of Science, which includes the goal of “Promoting the progress of the mathematical, physical and natural sciences, and the study of related epistemological questions and issues ...” I have had colleagues who attended Pontifical Universities in The Vatican and other countries as well. Despite Mr. Santorum’s concern about the Pope’s expertise on climate change, I am quite convinced that on this subject, solid, scientific advice can be provided to the Pope.

Market Watch, a Dow Jones publication, published a long opinion piece as a sneak preview of the encyclical. (author, Paul Farrell) Farrell states that there are 8 talking points that Boehner and “169 hard-line GOP climate-science deniers” will not want to hear when Pope Francis addresses congress on September 24, 2015. The emerging anticipated headline for the encyclical is “safeguard Creation, for we are the custodians of Creation. If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.” (Discussion of Custodians of Creation, at Climate Progress.org)

It is interesting to see the interpretation of The Guardian’s piece on the encyclical analyzed by Catholic Vote. A short quote from that piece that provides a nice summary of one of the philosophical tensions we face, “God gives us nature to serve man, not man to serve nature.”

During the buildup to the Conference of the Parties in Copenhagen in 2009, there was also a lot of activity. In September of 2009, Pope Benedict said, “The Earth is indeed a precious gift of the Creator Who, in designing its intrinsic order, has given us guidelines that assist us as stewards of His creation. …” Last week (June 10, 2015), Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said, “I think the church has always been on the side of science over the years, and this is certainly one (issue – climate change) that the science is telling us some things that require us to credential action.” The Papal encyclical is part of a year of events that feels different here in 2015 than 2009. I like the way the argument is going.


Some other references:

April 28, 2015 Vatican Conference

Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity. The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development

A Green Wearing White

Pope Francis to Host Major Summit on Climate Change

Pope Francis Calls on Christians to Fight Climate Change

Pope Francis endorses climate action petition

Figure 1: A ton of carbon dioxide in Copenhagen. It’s still about the same size and we have a lot more of them in the atmosphere.

Climate Change News Climate Change Politics Climate Change

The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.