The Vatican has released its long-awaited encyclical on climate change. Entitled “Laudato Si,” or “Be Praised,” it is long and thorough, and goes far beyond a typical papal encyclical.
Instead of addressing only the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, it speaks to the entire world in a harsh critique of modern life, calling for a complete reassessment of lifestyle, politics and economics as we seek to repair our world and protect it from the dire threat of climate change.
The document puts the blame squarely on humans, and no one is spared — politicians, businesspeople, industrialists and common citizens. Francis calls on all of us to work together to change:
“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
The Pope’s bold statement puts him squarely in opposition to many leaders in the United States who deny climate change. In the interest of promoting the conversation that Francis seeks, let’s take the published comments of the Pope to create a debate with Senator Steve Daines, whose documented positions are pretty much diametrically opposed.
We’ll take the major themes in the encyclical, and match the Pope’s words against statements on the same topics made and endorsed by Daines. The difference is stark.
It’s likely one of them is right and one is wrong. When our descendants look back in a hundred years, who do you think will be vindicated?
Read and judge for yourself.
We are the cause of the degradation
Pope Francis: “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.
“These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.”
Steve Daines: “As you may know, there is considerable debate as to whether human activities significantly contribute to climate change. While some believe increased levels of CO2 from human activities in our atmosphere are a major factor in planetary warming trends, others observe that there may be other factors. Some note that increases in solar activity have contributed to our global warming trend. Still others suggest that our planet has gone through many natural heating and cooling cycles over the last thousand years.” (from a letter to a constituent. Click at right to read.)
Fossil fuel burning is the climate change culprit
Pope Francis: “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. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy.”
“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.”
Steve Daines: “Montanans understand that “Made in America” energy helps keep prices lower and reduces our dependence on foreign sources…. (O)ur federal government has blocked projects that are part of the solution, like the Keystone XL Pipeline.
“Montana is called the Treasure State for a reason, and has an abundance of natural energy resources including coal, oil, natural gas, hydro, and wind. I will fight for an all-inclusive, and market based energy policy that removes barriers to developing our natural resources in Montana and across America.”
Poverty and inequality need to be addressed
Pope Francis: “The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions.”
“We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; 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.
“As the United States bishops have said, greater attention must be given to ‘the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests. We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.”
Steve Daines: “More than 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity— more than half living in developing Asian nations. Coal-powered electricity won’t just meet a rising demand for energy in these regions. It will also help lift countless families out of poverty.
“As the world sees an increased demand for power, it’s clear that traditional energy sources generated from our federal and tribal lands, including Montana’s Powder River Basin and the Bakken oil formation, have the potential to meet this rising global energy demand.”
The urgency to act falls on all humanity
Pope Francis: “The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of others.”
“Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.”
Steve Daines: (from the constituent letter above) “While I believe we all have a moral responsibility to be good stewards of the environment, the current uncertainty surrounding climate change requires us to consider very carefully any legislation that would cost jobs and hurt families with only the promise of an extremely small impact on the reported problem. I graduated with an engineering degree from MSU. My education trained me to base decisions on sound math and science. I will not support policies that would harm America’s economy while having an insignificant or uncertain benefit to the environment.”
It is a myth that humans can dominate the earth without consequences.
Pope Francis: “We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.”
Steve Daines: Daines is one of the Congressional sponsors of the Capitol Ministries 2015 publication Coming to Terms with the Religion of Environmentalism, which states, “The Psalmist reinforces the idea that man has been created in the image of God and has been given dominion over all of the earth…. Whereas Scripture clearly teaches that man is the apex of all God’s purposes and creations, the primary purpose of radical environmentalism is the preservation of the earth.”
The current level of inaction is indefensible
Pope Francis: “It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. 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.”
“As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear.
“This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.”
Steve Daines: “I pledge to the taxpayers of my state, and to the American people, that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.”
There is hope
Pope Francis: “Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities.”
“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”
Steve Daines: “Coal, oil and natural gas will continue holding a critical role in powering the world for the foreseeable future.”