Could Pope Francis save the world on climate change?
The year 2015 may prove to be the year that the pope figures out how to save the Earth. In the coming months, Pope Francis might be able to accomplish what other politicians haven’t been able to do — lead the world on the issue of global warming.
In 2015, the pope has a full agenda to talk about climate change. In March, he will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, including the 75 million Catholics who live in the United States. In September, he will address the subject at the United Nations General Assembly. To top it all off, he is planning to call a summit of the world’s main religions, all to figure out how the world can save itself from heating the planet beyond livable sustainability.
After a visit to the Philippines, where he will meet with victims still reeling from Hurricane Haiyan in November 2013, Francis will publish an encyclical on climate change and ecology, according to an article in The Guardian. The encyclical “will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners,” the story reports.
The choice of the Philippines isn’t accidental. The effects of the typhoon no doubt were worsened by how environmental factors have affected the islands of the Philippines and how they have altered how people live there.
Such an encyclical on climate change ought to make for some interesting homilies during Mass. It should be an interesting topic in sermons in Protestant churches, Jewish synagogues, Muslim mosques, Hindu temples, and everywhere else people listen to religious leaders. It’s the first time the Catholic church has addressed global warming in an encyclical — the highest form of papal teaching.
These efforts by Pope Francis also follow a four-day workshop in May 2014 at the Vatican called “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility.” The title really says it all, but the meeting was “aimed at shaping strategies for human advancement that are attuned to the planet’s limits, organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Academy of Social Sciences,” according to a column in The New York Times.
All of these efforts will build up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris next November. The point of that meeting is to develop a legally binding agreement on climate science and climate change, with buy-in from countries all over the world — something that has been tried but has failed at past meetings. The United States and China got the ball rolling with the climate pact that President Obama announced in November 2014, which sets goals to cut carbon emissions in both countries.
It’s not going to be an easy task. Pope Francis will face backlash from some within the Catholic church itself and from conservatives who are still burying their heads in the sand — sand that is several degrees warmer in recent decades because of global warming. As Republicans take over both houses of the U.S. Congress, we can expect little or no action from them on climate change. As a matter of fact, incoming Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has said one of his primary tasks is to weaken regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Of course, the pope knows that the Bible directs humankind to take care of the Earth. As it says in Leviticus chapter 25, verses 23 and 24: “The land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants. Throughout the country that you hold as a possession, you must provide for the redemption of the land.” And if you really want the scary warning, read Jeremiah chapter 2, verse 7: “I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and you made my inheritance detestable.”
During a climate change conference in Lima, Peru, in December 2014, Pope Francis declared that the “time to find global solutions is running out.” The question is, will the rest of the world heed the pope’s warning?