The Pope’s Global Warming Warning

Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum are among the Catholic Republicans who have cited Church teachings on abortion as guiding their political positions, but now are objecting to Pope Francis issuing an encyclical on the dangers of global warming, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Pope Francis’s encyclical On Care For Our Common Home is significant as a strong and unqualified declaration of the need for humankind to change course if it is to avoid calamitous physical degradation of the only planet it has as a home.

Although the Roman Catholic pope lacks, as Stalin reminded us, any army divisions with which to exert his influence, he does have one of the most credible claims to worldwide moral authority. This week he is using that authority to tell the world that the environmental calamity of which he writes is, to quote from the encyclical, “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

Pope Francis. (Photo from Casa Rosada)

Pope Francis. (Photo from Casa Rosada)

The encyclical is in some respects an oddly heterogeneous read, which intersperses theology between sections that sound more like the products of a think tank, a nerdy advocacy group, or a philosophical discussion group. The document is sprinkled with terms such as anthropocentrism and techno-economic paradigm.

The encyclical addresses multiple aspects of the environmental damage that is despoiling our “common home,” but its single most important theme is acceptance of the mountain of scientific evidence that human activity is heating the planet, and the consequent need to change the direction of that activity.

The encyclical also is blunt and perceptive in describing the reasons for resistance to that message. “Many of those who possess more resources or economic or political power,” says Francis, “seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms.”

The document further observes, “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.”

That is a good analysis of what underlies some of the resistant reaction to the encyclical, including from some American politicians who belong to the church that Francis heads. That includes Jeb Bush, who earlier this month was the sole Republican presidential candidate invited to speak at a golf and fishing retreat hosted by the coal industry, which is one of the most prominent of the special interests opposing action on global warming.

Reacting to the papal encyclical, Bush said, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope.” Bush continued, “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

Bush did not appear to have qualms as governor of Florida about taking guidance from his church on things that get in the political realm; he often cited church teachings as a guide for public policy on matters such as abortion.

Even more prominent inconsistencies of that sort come from fellow Catholic and an avowedly Christianist politician, Rick Santorum, who said about the encyclical, “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists.”

Pope Francis, of course, far from trying to have the church make scientific pronouncements, was instead deferring to the overwhelming scientific consensus about global climate change and the reasons for it. Leaving science to the scientists is exactly what he is doing in the encyclical.

This is much more respectful of Enlightment values and the scientific method than either outright climate change denial or the usual tactic of resistant American politicians who, realizing the stupidity of such denial, still try to cast doubt on the scientific consensus with a pseudo-agnostic “I’m not a scientist” tactic.

When it comes to being guided by teachings from the Holy See (on matters other than climate change), one of Santorum’s most direct pronouncements, uttered during the 2012 presidential campaign, was a comment about John F. Kennedy’s assurance a half century earlier that if he were elected president he would not impose his Catholic faith on the nation. Kennedy’s reassuring statement about separation of church and state, said Santorum, made him “want to throw up.”

Now in response to publication of the new encyclical, Santorum says the church should focus on what it’s “really good at, which is theology and morality.” Well, there certainly is a lot of both theology and morality in the encyclical.

Francis frames global warming and other environmental degradation as a moral issue along two chief dimensions. One is rich versus poor, with the former’s economic interests and political clout impeding action to correct environmental destruction that makes the poor suffer at least as much as anyone else. The other dimension involves the current generation versus future generations.

The encyclical has a section titled “Justice Between the Generations.” It is wrong, says Francis, for the current generation, with a narrow focus on its own immediate economic interests, to ruin the planet on which future generations must live. That is a moral issue, as well as an economic issue and a political issue. Politicians must be made to confront the subject on all of those levels.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

15 comments for “The Pope’s Global Warming Warning

  1. Zachary Smith
    June 22, 2015 at 11:03

    On account of my not being a Catholic, I don’t pay much attention to the Vatican goings-on unless they’ve been called to my attention – as with this thread.

    Well, I’ve just seen another howler from the current Pope.

    Pope: ‘Powers’ did nil when Jews were taken to Auschwitz

    Saying that took a hell of a lot of nerve, especially considering the role his predecessor Pius XII played in installing Hitler and a host of other Catholic dictators in Europe.

    And in view of how Pius XII didn’t say a single thing against the Holocaust himself!

    The Allies had to defeat one of the best armies which had ever existed to halt the Nazi murders. That took a while.

    Has Pope Francis been overdosing on ‘stupid’ pills?

  2. Zachary Smith
    June 21, 2015 at 22:25

    Pope venerates Shroud of Turin

    In my opinion the Pope is shooting himself in the foot with this. The Vatican has known that the Shroud is a clever forgery for many centuries. Quite recently a gaggle of scientists carbon-dated a piece of the thing. Same answer – seven centuries.

    Credibility is a fragile thing. “Venerating” a fraud demonstrates the Roman Church doesn’t really trust those fancy-dancy chemists. So a climate science denier can logically ask why Climate Change scientists are any different.

  3. Islnder
    June 21, 2015 at 00:22

    The Popes encyclical contains 44,000 words the word climate appears 18 times only. The word Human is mentioned the most followed by the word God.

    The Pope also says in the encyclical “We have had enough of ­immorality and the mockery of ethics, goodness, faith and honesty … There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself,”

    He is a very very clever Pope.

    Miranda Devine an Australian blogger puts it this way, “So now that the Pope has the ears of the world, he’s relentlessly hammering us with ­unabashed Catholic teaching, sugar-coated with populist ­environmentalism”.

  4. Lisa
    June 19, 2015 at 21:08

    Sorry I’m not buying it. We in GLBTI movements are smarter about watching the Catholic (and other) churches, we watch them like a hawk and know how to parse their messages. We have seen PR campaigns like this over and over again about so many issues, with no tangible results ever, appearing. The only ones they stick by, by actual actions on the ground, are things like their anti-women, anti-GLBTI, etc lines.

    But, parsing what he said, there were two main messages, one to the ‘rubes’ about environment, etc, the other to the ‘insiders’ about women and transgender people. You have to ask the simple question, why, in such a waited for major environmental statement is there an anti-trans message slipped in? Why not do the main message, completely focussed on that, then at another time bang on about LGBTI and women as usual?

    Because he was (again) setting the priorities to the ‘insiders’. Basicially ‘ignore all that PR puffery for the rubes, this is what we really care about’.

    He knows full well that the Catholic elites in (eg) the US, ever more conservative*, will do nothing about envirnmental issues (except a bit of PR now and then). They are too linked into the main US conservative elites and power system for that. But he is giving them permission to go after transgender people full on and keep the abortion fight going. Bruised after the marriage equality fight which they have just about lost, they are setting the new battleground.

    Pretty much the same logic in other countries, especially western ones, as well.

    Lets be realistic here, when, ever, has the Catholic church establishment not sided with reactonary power elites…anywhere?

    If he was just another average politician people would be far more skeptical about all this.
    Fortunately, after all our conflicts, we in the LGBTI community are that skeptical…..

    The clearest example of how they really think and act is their reaction to the Australian Royal Commission into child abuse. While Catholics were not the only perpetrators by any means (think other churches, Salvation Army and so on), they have been at the forefront of denial and defending themselves (and fighting against compensation to the many victims), right all the way up to the top.

    So forget the PR nonsense, how do they really act?

    Buried in the document: “but one passage in the 184-page document seems to say that transgender peope should their God-given bodies and not manipulate them at will.”
    “‘Whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation.’
    ‘Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology.’
    The pope then echoed comments he made earlier this week about the ‘complimentary’ differences between men and women.””

    After all in Feb this year:
    “Pope Francis compares trans people to nuclear weapons
    Head of the Catholic Church claims those who transition are opposing ‘God’s order of creation”.

    *For some interesting US background have a read of this:
    “How The Nonreligious ‘Nones’ Are Driving LGBT Equality in the U.S.
    A deep look inside a recent Pew Research survey hints at a link between antigay attitudes and declining religiosity. ”

    • Zachary Smith
      June 20, 2015 at 00:23

      You have to ask the simple question, why, in such a waited for major environmental statement is there an anti-trans message slipped in? Why not do the main message, completely focussed on that, then at another time bang on about LGBTI and women as usual?

      That’s a good question, and I don’t have an answer. Perhaps it’s as simple as the guy being as busy as a one-legged man trying to stamp out a brush fire, and leaving the composition to flunkies. The thing IS a bit of a monster in terms of size.

      I don’t know anything about Vatican habits regarding these encyclicals – could he revisit the Climate Change issue after a decent interval?

      On the other hand, it may already say precisely what he wants it to say. The man didn’t become a Cardinal without following the current Vatican line pretty closely.

  5. Zachary Smith
    June 19, 2015 at 17:37

    I finally took a look at the encyclical, and was underwhelmed by what I found. First impression: the thing will prove useful for flushing out the idiots in the Republican primary race, and little more.

    165. We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.

    So far as I can determine with a page search, that was the ONLY reference to coal and oil. It was only the third mention of “fossil fuels”.

    No real solutions are mentioned. Wind turbines, solar cells, — nothing.

    But the theologian committee who put it together couldn’t resist this:

    120. Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties? “If personal and social sensitivity towards the acceptance of the new life is lost, then other forms of acceptance that are valuable for society also wither away”

    Folks, this is serious BS – especially when discussing an end-of-the-human-race situation. If the Vatican had never endorsed/fought a war or executed a witch/heretic, I might cut them some slack. That doesn’t happen to be the case.

    The Vatican’s ban on contraception is a non-trivial part of the world’s climate problem as well. Every single person who gets born wants (and deserves!) a decent life, and that involves adequate levels of Energy. Right now the fossil fuels are the primary source of energy. Until recently, they were the cheapest too.

  6. Intellectually conservative
    June 19, 2015 at 15:12

    There is no such thing as climate change/global warming/greenhouse effect. But there is a god.

    • Joe L.
      June 19, 2015 at 16:07

      Even if you do not believe in global warming surely you believe that the pollution created by burning or drilling for fossil fuels negates the urgency to move away from fossil fuels altogether? The smog in Beijing is a great example or even in our own metropolis’ on a hot day in the summer. And if anyone did argue against this then I would ask them what they think would happen to them if they sat directly behind their car while it was running? When that person ends up in the hospital, or dead, then I think it would hit the point home about all of the pollution that we are putting into our air (along with our water etc.).

      You know there was even a time when US politicians, and other western governments, even denied that Hiroshima suffered from any effects due to the dropping of the atomic bombs. The New York Times even ran a story entitled “No radioactivity in Hiroshima ruin”. Thankfully an Australian journalist went to Hiroshima and saw for himself. Politicians will do and say what is in their economic interests (or political interests) and especially when they are particularly cozy with the coal, oil and overall fossil fuel industry – then my Spidey Sense starts to tingle.

      You can deny climate change but surely cannot deny reasons to move away from fossil fuels.

      NPR: “China’s Air Pollution Linked To Millions Of Early Deaths” (April 2, 2013):

    • June 30, 2015 at 19:57

      Ah yes, “intellectually” conservative.

      Consider God and science mutually exclusive, and reject science and scientific consensus if it goes against anything in the Bible, the so-called and so-regarded “Word of God”, but really a book consisting of, among other things, ancient mythology and superstition, and a book approving of atrocities allegedly committed or commanded by God, and a book exhibiting human fallibility and human prejudice just like anything else ever written.

  7. Joe L.
    June 19, 2015 at 13:56

    I believe that Pope Francis, who I really like, holds a degree as a Chemical Technician ( and probably a better understanding of Science then the “politicians” whose economic interests are threatened by a statement such as this from the Pope. Good on you Pope Francis!

  8. Mark
    June 19, 2015 at 12:43

    Rick Santorum: “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists.”

    Yes, Rick has part of it right, “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science”, but Rick needs to understand that getting it wrong in the past meant the church refused to accept scientific facts. And now the church wants to embrace scientific facts and it’s Rick that’s stuck with what has historically been absolute denial enhanced by paid “scientific” propaganda on the part of the hard right industrialists that have been manipulating the conservatives for decades against their own best interests and that of the overall country concerning environmental change..

    Rick is a perfect example of the self-contradicting statements and policies the hard right pretzelizes themselves with while trying to impose whatever it is they’re trying to impose on everyone else — anti-science ignorance and endless unfettered pollution in Rick’s case — that fuels growingly severe whether patterns and a faster rate of climate change than what ever took place in past cycles.

    To be fair; the democrats are right there with the republicans and neither party represents the largest percent of the American public’s best interests.

    And when you think about this conservative mentality, that both parties embraced or went along with since Ronald Reagan’s day, this idea of hanging on to what America used to be and trying to reclaim that — it is ludicrous because neither our problems nor circumstances nor our possibilities are the same as they were in the past.

    The world is onto the US because of information being spread around the internet — and the empire is not able to go around the world unnoticed, claiming to be spreading “freedom and democracy”, while all we’re really doing is trying to secure resources and what is near slave, or outright slave labor for our favored multinational corporations — so they can produce more of the goods that are fouling up the environment and fouling the chances for humans to survive this century or half-century as some are telling it.

    There’s a lot of catch 22 irony in all of this.

  9. Brad Owen
    June 19, 2015 at 10:52

    I really like this Pope, who is a great boon to Progressive impulses around the World. Climate change is undeniable. Even our World’s long geologic history shows, I think, that it has spent more time in Ice Ages, than warming spells. It also shows a warm, snow-free Antarctica in past times. As far as human-related warming is concerned, I’ve read accounts ranging from “catastrophic significance”, to “a-fart-in-a-hurricane” insignificance (I’m guessing the reality is somewhere in between, not completely trusting either group of scientists).
    I’ve also read where certain of those “Elites” intent on owning&running the World, were, “once-upon-a-time”, forthright-speaking eugenicists, who now operate under cover “environmental concern” and are basically anti-development in almost any form, because the easiest, most efficient way to kill off several billions of people is a return to technology roughly equivalent to circa 1800 A.D. or thereabouts…disease, starvation, and the vicissitudes of Nature will do the job for them, and this Oligarchy of Neofeudal Barons will find the remaining “serfs” more easily manageable. Seems a little far-fetched, but I do NOT doubt their spite&hatred for us Commoners…the feeling’s somewhat mutual. Pollution is, however, a real problem that sickens GAIA; the Living World, and is completely human-generated. It’s time for a change in our technology that cleans the environment and revives the Living World, making deserts bloom and life-in-general to thrive (and reduces the ability of ruling Elites to capture&control this new technology).

  10. Joe Tedesky
    June 19, 2015 at 08:52

    Santorum and Bush are morons. I believe that our planets nature should be part of our spiritualism. If you are to believe that God created everything, then everything should be praised and respected as God’s creation. If this nature is not to be considered spiritual then at least consider it to be a way of sustaining life. Then again, we have politicians adhering to a first strike nuclear war plan.

    BTW, I have noticed many regular everyday folk saying how they dislike all of our presidential candidates, and how they may not vote in 2016. All I can see, is a very low voter turnout, and then swearing in the new moron (moron is my word for today) in chief for the next 4 years. Oh, what to do, what to do!

    • Johneill
      June 19, 2015 at 09:17

      Every candidate running (Bernie Sanders excepted) is a moron – insofar as they either promise the gruesome, or fail to promise any substantial good, not that anybody should expect those to match actions. Those running on religion don’t acknowledge the moral imperative of global warming, and the rest are sure to continue the status quo, if not worsen it, as did Obama. If Santorum would bring his catholic faith to Washington, and ignore the pope’s moral authority (not to mention his scientific authority), it’s a sure bet no one else will heed this warning of the coming apocalypse.

    • Zachary Smith
      June 19, 2015 at 12:11

      I feel a bit like an idiot myself for ‘buying’ the story that Jeb _ _ _ _ was smarter than his brother. It’s true that George wasn’t the brightest bulb in the lamp, but he was clearly a hell of a lot more on the ball than his younger brother.

      These nominal ‘Catholic’ candidates were quite comfortable with the previous pope, despite that old guy being in charge of the Vatican office for covering up for the priestly perverts. Despite him being a knee-jerk right-winger on every issue.

      Santorum is truly a laughingstock. A freaking lawyer lecturing a man who has forgotten more science that he (frothy) ever knew.

      Still, I stick with my prediction that in the unlikely event Jeb gets the nomination, he’ll trounce Hillary. That woman’s baggage is beyond belief, and the rightwingnuts have a tradition of rallying to the flag of the candidates offered them in the general election, no matter how much worse they are than the Democratic candidate.

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