The pope’s encyclical on climate change and inequality

I have not read pope Francis’s 40,000 word encyclical Laudato Si’ dealing with climate change and its relationship with inequality. But Joshua J. McElwee, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, has read it and summarizes some of the key points. There is no doubt that this document is going to infuriate conservatives in the US even though the basic message would be considered uncontroversial in most parts of the world.

For example, Francis says that the science of climate change is pretty much settled and there really is little room for doubt or controversy that human actions are causing the climate to change in ways that pose a serious threat to the planet.

“Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases … released mainly as a result of human activity.”

He castigated world leaders whose response to this crisis has been weak and says that that those who are casting doubt about the scientific consensus are being disingenuous about their motives: “Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption.”

He also says that this is a problem caused by the wealthy but the price is being paid by the poor. He blasted the inequality that exists between nations and within nations.

“We should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst, whereby we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights.”

Will this have an effect? I think it will have some because the nature of such encyclicals is to give marching orders to church leaders around the world to spread the message to their congregations and political leaders

Leaders of the Catholic church in America took their “marching orders” from the pope’s encyclical on Thursday, fanning out to Congress and the White House to push for action on climate change.

The high-level meetings offered a first glimpse of a vast and highly organised effort by the leadership of America’s nearly 80 million Catholics to turn the pope’s moral call for action into reality.

“It is our marching orders for advocacy,” Joseph Kurtz, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Archbishop of Louisville, said. “It really brings about a new urgency for us.”

Representatives of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said they would hold two briefings for members of Congress on Thursday and visit the White House on Friday to promote and explain the pope’s environmental message.

Those efforts will get a new injection of urgency, when the pope delivers a much-anticipated address to Congress during his visit to the US in September, church leaders said.

Church leaders rejected the accusations from some conservatives – including the Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush – that the pope had trespassed into the political realm.

It is true that in the US, party affiliation is a better predictor of positions on climate change and inequality than religious beliefs. Hard-core conservatives will find ways to dismiss the encyclical and ignore Francis’s message and will call him a Marxist. The Thinking Housewife is quick out of the gate with this charge, saying that the document is “a public profession of faith in a religion that is not Catholic” and is a signal from Francis to his leftist allies that he is one of them, saying “Years from now if it is proved that Jorge Bergoglio was a Marxist infiltrator planted in the Catholic Church by its enemies, will you be ashamed, dear reader? Will you be ashamed that you did not stand up and say, “No! This man is not the pope?”” She says that ‘true’ Catholics should consider that Francis is not a legitimate pope by virtue of the doctrine of “sedevacantism, which holds that a non-Catholic in the papacy automatically loses authority, not by human decree but by divine law.”

But there are Catholics who are have not thought much about these things and are not rigidly committed to one view or the other and this message might persuade some of them. And it will cause great heartburn to the right wingers in the US who have long looked on the pope as their ally in the culture wars.


  1. Mobius says

    Well, yes, consumerism does have something to do with scarcer resources. But that is in large part because there is an ever increasing number of us. We reached a world population of 3 billion around 1960, and even then there were complaints of “too many humans”. 40 years later, it had doubled to 6 billion and is closing in on 7.5 billion now.

    And the Catholic Church’s (and Pope’s) position is that we don’t need population control. Insane.

  2. tecolata says

    The pope accepts the science on global warming while rejecting the science on population.

  3. Nick Gotts says


    Most of the population growth expected in the next few decades will come among populations who produce far less greenhouse gases than the global average -- let alone than rich Americans or Europeans. Population growth rates have roughly halved since their 1960s peak, and since the 1990s, even the absolute annual increase has fallen. Population control suggests -- intentionally or not -- coercion. There’s no reason to think we need that to bring an end to population growth: raising the status and education of women, and ensuring the availability of contraception to all who want it, will suffice. But halting population growth will not suffice to mitigate anthropogenic global warming: that needs both a switch to low-carbon forms of energy plus greater energy efficiency, and radical behavioural change on the part of the rich: fly less or not at all, drive less or not at all, eat less meat and dairy or none, buy fewer or smaller electrical appliances, turn the heating or air con down and rely on wearing more or less… In brief: reduce, reuse, recycle.

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