Could the Pope’s Encyclical Transform the Debate on Climate Change?

by Maria Ramos, Guest Contributor, All-len-All –

pope encyclical

The petroleum industry began in the United States back in the early 19th century.  Since then, it has extended to the farthest reaches of the globe, from pole to pole.  The last century has seen such an increase in the fossil fuel mining, that many experts are now recognizing the negative effects it is having on our planet. As more and more humans and habitats show signs of suffering, Pope Francis has gotten involved in encouraging awareness of climate change and the negative impact it is having on the Earth.

In the 1950s, Royal Dutch Shell found oil in Ogoniland, a fertile 404-square-mile region of the Niger Delta. Shell – a conglomerate of 1,700 corporations and subsidiaries – siphoned away the oil, stuffed the pockets of the Nigerian government, and left the Ogoni natives with acid rain and contaminated rivers.

Or, so say the Ogonis. Shell Oil tells a different story, and the Nigerian government yet another.

This is the sort of situation surrounding climate change. Armchair scientists and blowhard politicians may debate emission credits and penalty structures, but to millions of poor people, particularly those in the Southern hemisphere, climate change has a specific smell or a particular taste. Their world, their climate, is what has changed.  Efforts are being made here at home, and around the globe to responsibly harness cleaner energy sources, from natural gas to wind and solar power.  But, is it too little, too late?

On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis spoke up for these people. In an 80-page page encyclical, entitled “Laudato Si” and addressed not just to Catholics but to everyone, the pope called for war against consumerism, against carbon dioxide, against the machinations of greed that sacrifice Earth for spreadsheet profits.

This is the pope’s second encyclical. He and his staff labored on the message for nearly a year. In the United States, the message was accompanied by a 12-week distribution campaign, and across the globe, approximately 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, many of them in the pope’s home continent of South America, absorbed the message. Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, says the pope hopes his message will influence the forthcoming United Nations climate meeting in Paris, this December.

The encyclical endorses the scientific community that supports human-caused global warming – but it doesn’t stop there. The encyclical references everything from ocean pollution to deforestation to mountaintop mining. At the center of the pope’s argument is the belief, based on the book of Genesis, that Earth is our created home, and the Lord requires respect for his creation. “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together,” he tweeted at 9:00 a.m., June 18, 2015.

Fossil fuels and global warming received the brunt of the pope’s biting rebuke. To the two Pope Francis linked atmospheric pollutants, toxin bioaccumulation, and the throwaway culture. These problems, he argued, are felt most acutely by the poor. He wrote, “There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever.”

These are familiar themes for the so-called “superman” pope. “An economic system centered on the god of money,” he argued in a speech delivered in Latin America in October 2014, “needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.”

“The pope should back off,” responded Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. “The Catholic church is correct on the ethical principles but has been misled on the science. It follows that the policies the Vatican is promoting are incorrect.”

Beisner, along with millions of other right-wing conservatives, fears that the Pope’s arm has grown too long. Rush Limbaugh, conservative radio personality, rushed into the fray spewing “isms” with abandon. “What is this ‘unfettered capitalism?'” he demanded. “It’s just more bastardization of language to denigrate the greatest economic system yet devised that creates prosperity for the most.” Earlier, in 2013, Limbaugh described the pope’s policies as “pure Marxism.”

Most critics would not go so far. Many, like Republican presidential candidate and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a Catholic himself, would say, “I don’t get economic policies from my bishops or my cardinals or my Pope. I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”

For the Ogoni, and millions of others, there is no difference between the two. Pope Francis speaks for them, the underprivileged and “developing,” for the endangered animals and malnourished environment for which he adopted his regnal name. Sorry, Mr. Beisner: Pope Francis has no plans to back off.


maria ramos

Maria is a freelance writer currently living in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a minor in Communication. She blogs about environmentally friendly tips, technological advancements, and healthy active lifestyles. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaRamos1889