Partisan applause as Pope Francis urges the US to fight climate change

Greg Nash

Pope Francis on Thursday urged lawmakers to help fight climate change, citing his historic June encyclical that focused on protecting the Earth.

Addressing Congress for the first time, Francis said the United States has a responsibility to take steps to slow global warming.
 
“In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity,” Francis said.
 
“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.”

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Democratic lawmakers gave Francis a long, loud round of applause during his comments about the environment, joined only by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). It was one of the few applause lines that did not get wide, bipartisan participation.

Francis avoided using terminology like climate change and global warming in his congressional speech, instead sounding the alarm bell on the general problems of “environmental deterioration.”

The wording was far softer than his speech at the White House a day earlier, in which he explicitly named climate change as an urgent problem that demands quick action.
 
Francis was speaking to a mostly-Republican audience, given the GOP majorities in the House and Senate. Many Republicans are skeptical of the science behind climate change, and they have argued the United States should not take steps on global warming that could harm the economy.
 
At least one Republican lawmaker was said to be boycotting the pope’s address, in large part because of his views on climate change.
 
Perhaps because of the audience, Francis dedicated just a small portion of his speech to the issue, which likely left environmentalists and Democrats hoping for more.
 
In the days before the address, they had hoped the pontiff would devote a lot of time to the issue and forcefully call on Congress to take stronger actions to cut greenhouse gas and help poor countries cope with the effects of a warming planet.
 
Francis did call for people to use technology to protect the environment, and to move toward a “healthier, more human, more social, more integral” system.
 
“In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead,” Francis said.
 
Francis has been using his moral authority throughout this year to advocate for a strong United Nations agreement on climate change, which world leaders hope to finalize this December in Paris.
 
The pope spoke at greater length about climate change Wednesday on the White House lawn, specifically praising President Obama’s regulation limiting earth-warming carbon dioxide emissions and seeking assistance for global action on climate.
 
“Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution,” he said.
 
“Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to our future generations.”

— This story was last updated at 11:12 a.m.