Pope blames climate change on humans in 183-page call for action

 

Global warming is happening, human activity is causing it and more needs to be done, especially by the world’s governments and policymakers, to stop it, Pope Francis writes in his landmark encyclical on the environment, released Thursday. 

Francis’s encyclical fully accepts the science behind climate change and chides “obstructionists” throughout for looking to stymie action on global warming. Francis takes to task leaders and policymakers for not responding more quickly to the problem, writing that is it “remarkable how weak international political responses have been.”

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“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” Francis writes. “There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”

The 183-page encyclical, a formal statement of the church’s views on a subject, is heavily focused on the impact climate change will have on the poor. Francis writes that developed nations and strong economies need to take the lead in combating it. He blames fossil fuels for driving global warming and says the world needs to move away from “especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas.”

“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,” he writes.

The Vatican released Francis’s encyclical on Thursday amid growing hype and optimism among environmentalists that the popular pope will be able to influence the debate over climate change. Francis has long pushed for more work on environmental issues, but his encyclical is easily his most thorough examination of the matter so far. 

It comes at a crucial time, ahead of a winter climate conference where world leaders hope to write an accord setting new targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Francis acknowledged the talks in his encyclical, writing, “We believers cannot fail to ask God for a positive outcome to the present discussions, so that future generations will not have to suffer the effects of our ill-advised delays.”

Francis will tour the United States in September, meeting with President Obama and becoming the first pope to address Congress. Climate change will certainly be on his agenda, though Republicans — both on Capitol Hill and those running for the party’s presidential nomination — have so far indicated they’re likely to dismiss his message on the environment. 

Francis looks to justify his focus on the issue in the encyclical, writing that that the church “does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics, but I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”

Human greed, Francis writes, is the base cause of humans’ impact on the environment. It “gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about.” 

The problem extends to politics and the pressure to grow an economy by whatever means necessary.

“A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth,” Francis writes. “In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment.”

The encyclical weaves together calls to action, religious ruminations and tangents on everything from genetically modified food to family farming. He writes that the world missed an opportunity to overhaul the makeup of the economy during the financial crisis, something that should happen now in the face of climate change. 

“We need to grow in the conviction that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development,” he writes. “If we look at the larger picture, we can see that more diversified and innovative forms of production which impact less on the environment can prove very profitable.”

Francis’s focus on the plight of the poor crops up continually through the document. He warns that environmental harm will lead to droughts for farming communities in Africa, flooding in impoverished costal communities and a diminishing supply of clean drinking water.

“We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach,” he writes. “It must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

But the encyclical narrowed the focus, as well. Francis writes that individuals should look to improve their own personal impact on environment, suggesting increased recycling, carpooling or turning off unnecessary lights.

“The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone.”

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