In a sweeping, sometimes apocalyptic encyclical, Pope Francis on Thursday blasted the Obama administration and other world governments for not doing nearly enough to confront climate change, and said mankind is squandering the planet given to it by God and must abandon fossil fuels as soon as possible.
“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” the pontiff said in his 184-page climate-change encyclical, a long-awaited document released publicly Thursday by the Vatican.”These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years.”
The encyclical — Francis’ most explicit foray into international politics — avoids endorsing specific climate policies proposed by President Obama and other leaders around the world. But the document does blame mankind, and specifically the burning of oil, gas and coal, for the devastating effects of global warming, which Francis says already are clear to anyone paying attention.
The encyclical comes as Mr. Obama and other world leaders prepare for a U.N. climate-change summit in Paris in December. Analysts say the timing of the encyclical was meant to coincide with that meeting, and the pope certainly seems to believe he can play a major role in spurring global action.
The document is stunning in its scope. Francis not only takes direct aim at governments, big business and energy policies, he also calls on Catholics to embrace car-pooling and public transportation as a way to reduce CO2 pollution. He blasts urban sprawl and says cities and those who build them bear much of the blame for the destruction of earth.
“Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighborhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature,” Francis said.
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Francis made clear that he believes governments have failed to protect God’s creation. He called for major changes in global energy policy and seems to call for government funding for renewable energy.
“Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change,” he said. “However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy.”
Environmentalists and many Democrats immediately praised the document, which could prove influential in the 2016 presidential race. GOP White House hopefuls Jeb Bush and Rick Santorum, both Catholics, have urged Francis to stay out of the climate-change debate.
But Democrats who support greater action on global warming welcomed the pontiff’s involvement.
“Pope Francis’ powerful message on climate change should change the debate around the world and become a catalyst for the bold actions needed to reverse global warming. The pope helps us all see how those with the least among us will fare the worst from the consequences of climate change,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont independent running for president as a Democrat. “Denying the science related to climate change is no longer acceptable.”
In setting the stage for the Paris climate conference, Francis even mentions the failure of previous global efforts, which include a widely hyped 2009 summit in Copenhagen that ultimately produced very little in the way of international response to climate change.
“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment makes it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected,” he said. “Consequently, the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”
Heading into the Paris summit, Mr. Obama has proposed a host of new regulations to combat climate change, including dramatic new restrictions on carbon emissions from power plants. Those regulations, the White House has pledged, will allow the U.S. to reduce its overall greenhouse-gas emissions by at least 26 percent by 2030.
Other nations also have made commitments ahead of the meeting. China has said it will cap its emissions by 2030 and then begin reductions, though it has yet to finalize its proposal.
But Francis said governments cannot confront climate change on their own. He saved some of his harshest comments for big business, saying corporations are knowingly wrecking the planet for the sake of their bottom line.
“We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations?” he said. “Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention.”
The pontiff also said that evidence of climate change is clear, and that even skeptics who deny mankind’s responsibility in fueling global warming still should recognize the facts and join the effort to save earth. He called on Catholics to recognize they must protect each other and the earth.
Francis laid out specific changes he believes Catholics can make in their daily lives, such as choosing to take public transportation instead of driving a car every day.
“The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them. Many cars, used by one or more people, circulate in cities, causing traffic congestion, raising the level of pollution, and consuming enormous quantities of non-renewable energy,” he said. “This makes it necessary to build more roads and parking areas which spoil the urban landscape. Many specialists agree on the need to give priority to public transportation.”
Catholic climate-change activists say the encyclical is a major step in the right direction. They also said world leaders should heed the words of the pope.
“We welcome Pope Francis’ critique of the current, dominant economic model that prioritizes the market, profit and unharnessed consumption and regards Earth as a resource to be exploited. We hope that world leaders, at the … international climate talks in Paris in December, will take heed of the pope’s moral imperative to work for a more just and sustainable world,” said Sister Pat McDermott, president of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, a member of the Global Catholic Climate Movement.
The full encyclical can be found here.