Just when it seemed that Pope Francis couldn’t do more to offend U.S. conservatives—including Catholics—after he argued for income equality, he tackled the environment. The opening lines of his new encyclical, “Laudato Si (Praised Be),” come from a 13th-century poem, “Canticle of the Creatures,” written by his namesake. “Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs,” the saint from Assisi wrote. The current pope chose his namesake because of his concern for the poor, his love of peace, and his care for creation.
“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” Francis wrote. “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environment change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable that it is, can only precipitate disaster.”
He closed with progressive ideas that conservatives hate: a commitment to renewable energy, a binding agreement on carbon emissions, and an economy that throws away less and recycles more.
These are five important arguments in the pope’s document:
Climate change is real and “disturbing,” and people are the primary cause of it, primarily from “the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.”
Technology will not save the environment because “it’s based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.”
There is no excuse for denying reality or playing politics, especially from business-people and elected officials who use personal gain in “masking the problems or concealing their symptoms” and “pretending nothing will happen.”
The Bible was written by an environmentalist, and “Christians in their turn realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith.”
Survival comes only from changing everything.
The 184-page encyclical infuriated 170 members of the House—56 percent of the entire membership—who oppose the belief from 97 percent of scientists that climate change is happening and that humans are causing it. In the Senate, 72 percent are climate deniers, including the chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee. After a draft of the text was leaked, members of the conservative Heartland Institute traveled to Rome for a “pre-rebuttal,” and GOP presidential candidates attacked the pope for being political instead of religious. Jeb Bush, the Catholic who said that religion would guide his presidency, stated. “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.” Another Catholic, Rick Santorum, who declared he was more qualified to discuss climate change than the pope, said, “We probably are better off leaving science to the scientists, and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.”
Defacto GOP leader Rush Limbaugh complained that Francis “doesn’t even disguise” his Marxist beliefs about global warming. Fox nework Greg Gutfeld supported Limbaugh after Juan Williams tried to explain to Gutfeld that being better stewards of the planet isn’t political. Williams said:
“I think the problem for you is that you put it in a box of pure politics, left and right. What about if the Pope is simply saying… we should do all we can to support God’s green earth. Is that so radical?”
Gutfeld responded, “Um, he has a Marxist background.” That was after Gutfeld called Pope Francis “the most dangerous person on the planet.” He added, “[Francis] wants to be a modern Pope. All he needs is dreadlocks and a dog with a bandana and he could be on Occupy Wall Street.” Gutfeld is even angry about the pope believing “that the Earth is overpopulated.” He continued, “Remember he said Catholics have to stop breeding like rabbits? Do you remember where that came from? That’s a Malthusian belief. And Malthusians believe that the Earth is overpopulated and it would be nice if there were a few billion people less. How does that happen? Global warming.” Malthusian belief is that population will be controlled by famine and disease; it seems the Gutfeld opposes the pope in order to have the controlling influence of climate change on population control.
Scientists disagree with the conservative politicians about the pope’s encyclical. Deborah Huntzinger, an assistant professor of climate sciences at Northern Arizona University, criticized only one part of the encyclical because it was simplistic, that how greenhouse gases warm the planet is more complicated. She did say that “the pope captures the science quite well.” Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, noted that the only problem is that “Pope Francis is overly conservative [with respect to] the science in the encyclical” and understated some of the problems. “All of the increase in the carbon dioxide is due to fossil fuel burning and other human activities,” Mann said. Anthony Broccoli, a professor of environmental sciences at Rutgers University, said:
“Pope Francis doesn’t have to be a scientist to arrive at these conclusions. All he would have to do is consult the extensive reports on climate change that have been written by the world’s climate scientists in a process organized by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. These reports have been written to inform policymakers and stakeholders about the state of the science and they are a reliable source of information.”
Columnist E.J. Dionne addressed the fallacy of conservative arguments that Francis is ignoring the past and presenting “radical new doctrines.” The encyclical frequently cites Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II, neither one known for being liberal, “on the limits of markets and the urgency of environmental stewardship.” As the pope writes, “opinion makers, communications media and centers of power are far removed from the poor.” Hardly a radical statement or new to the Catholic religion. The focus of his paper is “that the world’s poor face the largest threat from climate change and that the world’s rich have a special obligation to deal with it.” In focusing on the “shared responsibility for others and the world,” he brings together the connection between the personal and the political.
If the Koch brothers succeed in buying conservative Catholics with huge donations to Catholic universities, conservative Catholics may turn farther away from the pope’s positions. In 2013 the Kochs give $1 million to launch the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America (CUA), dedicated to “principled entrepreneurship” where the school’s dean, Andrew Abela, opposes public-sector unions and argues that questioning global warming or climate change is a sin.” The donation brought a letter of protest from 50 Catholic educators regarding the ultra-conservative, anti-government, anti-workers-rights, climate-change-questioning, free-market-hyping tendencies of the Koch brothers. It read in part:
“The Koch brothers are billionaire industrialists who fund organizations that advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship.”
CUA leaders released a press release calling the educators’ letter “presumptuous.”
Last December, the Charles Koch Foundation gave Creighton University (Omaha, NE) funds for the new Institute for Economic Inquiry. The next month, the Foundation pledged another $3 million to CUA. The Koch brothers’ donations to a secular university have allowed them to veto most of the professors that the school wanted to hire with the donation. The Catholic Church opposes the Koch brothers’ positions on shrinking the social safety net, cutting taxes, weakening environmental regulations, ending the minimum wage, and busting unions. Conservatives argue that Pope Francis is not talking about capitalism as it is practiced in the U.S., or that he simply doesn’t understand economics. David Koch supports marriage equality and abortion rights; critics of the CUA gifts have pointed out the irony of the school’s accepting massive support from him when Catholic charities are not allowed to take money from any person or group that supports abortion rights or gay rights.
There was a time when the Pope was infallible and the President of the United States deserved respect. Now conservative Catholics have set themselves above the pope’s teaching, following only the restrictive teachings against abortion, contraception, and marriage equality. They have tried to make themselves gods.
The pope says, “We are not God” and should not act as if we are “usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot.”