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Why Pope Francis Refused To Stay Silent On Climate Change

To the chagrin of climate change deniers, the pontiff's environmental encyclical says there are no reasonable doubts that global warming is caused by human activity.

Blessed be the trees
Blessed be the trees
Ignacio Zuleta

-OpEd-

BOGOTAPope Francis has penned a long-awaited "green" encyclical on the destruction of the natural world, the fruit of years of research inside the Catholic Church. The first clue that the Church was planning to adopt an environmental position came in late April, when the Pontifical Academy of Sciences convened a conference that also drew secular groups and the United Nations.

The "On Caring for Creation" encyclical — whose draft was leaked June 15 by the Italian magazine L'Espresso — is inspired by Saint Francis of Assisi's "Canticle of the Creatures," and will address both climate change and extreme poverty. Pope Francis is expected to include his reflections on the systems currently preying on the planet as they blindly seek to maximize profit.

The Pope has stated in formal and informal declarations that the document will not assert as factual and true anything about which science is divided. To the chagrin of climate change deniers, it will, for example, say that "man-induced climate change is a scientific reality" and "its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity."

Not surprisingly, the powers representing oil companies have not been sitting idly. They have sent representatives to lobby the Vatican, while other detractors of the pontiff's style and agenda try to minimize his influence. For example, Maureen Mullarkey, a critic and contributor to the influential theological review First Things, accuses the pope of being a dogmatist driven into geopolitical meddling by his own megalomania.

Why should the pope be silent here? Why, when the G7 and even German Chancellor Angela Merkel have declared there must be a deadline for abandoning all use of fossil fuels? President Barack Obama has found an environmental ally in Pope Francis, who has not hesitated to denounce how an economic system based on consumerism is ruining the planet (not to mention the earth beneath our feet). The Vatican's April meeting criticized using Gross Domestic Product as the measure of wealth while excluding the harmful costs of business.

If intellectuals oppose the Church here with the same fanaticism they show in their anti-clerical writings, all people will lose this opportunity to unite around basic certainties, like the fact that we are causing climate change and that the planet may wind up ridding itself of the species harming it. There is something helpful in a declaration that could prompt consciousness among millions of people, and in the follow-up campaign the Church will no doubt undertake among its faithful.

After all, this struggle is in many ways spiritual, and the papal encyclical must be read in its own unique light.

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