- - Thursday, June 18, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Jeb Bush has been a Catholic for 25 years and says he tries to follow the teachings of the Church. But as for Pope Francis‘ recently released encyclical on the environment, Mr. Bush won’t be following any specific policy advice.

“Religion ought to be about making us better as people,” Mr. Bush said during his first campaign stop Tuesday, “and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

Those who would try to label Mr. Bush a heretic might want to have another look at the pope’s letter.

“On many concrete questions,” Pope Francis writes in Laudato Si, “the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion.” He admits that “a variety of proposals [are] possible,” and later stresses again that “the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics.”

Despite the pontiff’s best intentions to steer clear of politics, his encyclical too often engages in sophisticated science and partisan policymaking. Francis blames markets and advances in technology without at least admitting that the Industrial Revolution lifted more people out of poverty than ever before.

Francis argues that it is “our irresponsible use and abuse” of the planet that has caused the earth to warm. He cites a “very solid scientific consensus” behind the notion that “most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”

That may come as a surprise to 500 scientists compiled in 2007 or 48 percent of meteorologists from a 2013 survey who dispute the so-called “consensus” around man-made climate change.

Francis nonetheless encourages politicians to develop policies “so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced.”

The pope suggests getting rid of fossil fuels; cautions against the construction of highways, plantations, or dams; dispenses with the use of mercury or sulfur dioxide in mining expeditions; supports imposing “restraints” on the rich; recommends coal, oil and gas be “progressively replaced without delay”; requires only “industrialized countries” to curb carbon emissions; calls for “subsidies” for developing countries to use solar energy; advocates for new “global regulatory norms” and “international institutions,” which should be “empowered to impose sanctions” on climate violators; endorses populist boycotts of businesses that don’t fall in line; bans products that allegedly pollute the environment; regrets “new ways” to regulate the financial system weren’t implemented after the 2008 crisis; proposes a general slowdown “in the pace of production and consumption”; and wants us to somehow think about “containing growth.”

The problem with pretending to be a scientist or a policymaker is that it dilutes the authority of the Church on issues of faith and morals. It can also sometimes lend itself to climate alarmism or peculiar advice. Like when Pope Francis worries that the polar ice caps are melting and says doomsday predictions aren’t so far off. Or when he decries the use of air-conditioning, and calls it an “act of love” to wear a sweater or turn off unnecessary lights. These silly sidebars probably shouldn’t have found their way into an authoritative document of the Church. Good Catholics can disagree on how to combat climate change and shouldn’t worry about being sent to the confessional if they drive a SUV.

Many in the green movement will undoubtedly parade many passages from the encyclical as an imprimatur, but Francis has some inconvenient truth for those who seek to sprinkle the Sierra Club in the name of the Most Holy Trinity.

The pope forcefully rejects population control and abortion. He laments that “when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment … they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life.” Francis is clear in his critique of those who “combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed unwanted.

“This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment.”

Which brings us to the pontiff’s most welcome contribution to the climate debate: Human beings are at the center of creation. “Our relationship with the environment can never be isolated from our relationship with others and with God.” Anything else, Francis writes, is just “romantic individualism dressed up in ecological garb.”

“Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves,” Francis argues. “We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.” We are called to ” ‘till and keep’ the garden of the world,” Francis writes. “Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbor, for whose care and custody I am responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth.”

People in the pews and politicians alike don’t have to agree with the pope about global warming to say amen to that.

Nicholas G. Hahn III is the editor of RealClearReligion.org.

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