Can Pope Francis Move the Needle on Climate Change in America?

Pertinent question, no? With the nonstop full-court press media coverage that His Holiness’s visit to the United States has been receiving (most Americans watching their nightly news broadcast probably don’t even know that over 700 pilgrims died today during their hajj, or that China’s president Xi Jinping is also in Washington), a major question has been regarding the pope’s stance on climate change. In May, to much fanfare, Pope Francis published Laudato si’ significantly subtitled in English “On Care For Our Common Home.” It’s not unusual for a sitting pope (we have the historically almost unheard-of case of having a living, non-sitting pope) to issue an encyclical related to pressing matters of the day: war, famine, human rights abuses. But climate change? That was new and unprecedented.

Yes, climate change directly and powerfully impacts the global underclass and the global South, the concerns of whom weigh heavily on this pope’s mind and message. Yet it truly was a radical step for Francis to declare responsibility for addressing the ramifications of climate change a moral issue — it’s easy to dismiss climate change when it’s considered purely in political or economic terms, but to up-end the cart, so to speak, and recast the debate in moral and ethical terms is a dramatic step. It forces the individual, regardless of her or his particular faith, to consider climate change from a different perspective, one in which it’s not so easy to disregard its facticity.

Yet, in the real world — the one we’ve been handed, not the one we would have chosen — climate change is a political issue and one most of the sociopaths who control both houses of Congress think is a fairy tale conjured up by liberals who surreptitiously dream of stealing everyone’s guns etc. While I have an immense amount of respect for Pope Francis — despite our obvious differences when it comes to doctrine — I remain pessimistic about his ability to change the debate in the United States about climate change. I hope I’m wrong, but given the entrenched resistance on the right to even admit that man-made climate change even exists, combined with the reflexive distrust of most right-leaning Protestants (who largely control the Republican Party) of anything even remotely affiliated with Catholicism does not bode well for a papal exhortation to meaningful action on the issue that will likely define the rest of at least my time on this planet. The paranoia on the right is pervasive and entrenched; climate change is just another big government scheme.

I wish Pope Francis the best of luck in trying to bend that curve, move that needle. I don’t think, though, that he — or anyone, really — can do it. The roots of willful ignorance descend deep and drink of water even Dante wouldn’t dare venture into.

I don’t know how to change that attitude; it’s fundamentally an epistemological question — what counts as knowledge? What do you accept as proof? If your standards are theological, can anything temporal and human potentially pass muster?

Addendum: The text of Laudato si’

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~ by Benji on 25 September 2015.

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