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Pope Francis made an unprecedented call to action to tackle climate change today. He issued the first encyclical dedicated solely to the environment, calling it one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.
It was the kickoff of an effort to spread the message to the faithful and others in months to come.
Pope Francis issued a nearly 200-page document casting climate change as a moral issue, not simply a political or economic debate.
Lead climate researchers joined in the formal release at the Vatican.
JOHN SCHELLNHUBER, Director, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research: I think the encyclical, by listening to the science and to reflecting to the science, is bringing together two big messages. One message comes from reasoning, from ingenuity, from technological progress. The other comes from faith, moral, ethical values, Christianity, but they combine into one message.
That message, to the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, is: Global warming is mostly manmade. It comes heavily from burning fossil fuel. And it disproportionally harms the poor.
In the encyclical, the pontiff warns: "The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet's capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes."
Rich countries must act immediately, Francis says, to cut consumption of fossil fuels and help poor nations create sustainable development.
But Cardinal Peter Turkson, who helped pen the first draft, acknowledged today it's a tough sell.
CARDINAL PETER TURKSON, President, Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace (through translator): There are discussions on environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a consensus. The church doesn't claim to settle scientific questions or to replace politics, but, quoting Pope Francis, I encourage an honest and open debate, so that particular interests or ideologies do not jeopardize the common good.
To promote that debate, Catholics around the world were able to view the announcement via live-stream from the Vatican.
But the papal document also drew criticism. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who's Catholic, said yesterday in Iowa: "I go to church to have my faith nourished, to have my faith challenged. I don't go to mass for economic policy or for things in politics."
And the Senate's leading climate change skeptic, Republican James Inhofe of Oklahoma, dismissed what he called the pope's philosophy on global warming.
Even so, supporters are hoping the encyclical will push the United Nations Climate Summit to reach agreement later this year.
President Obama said he admired the pope's decision to issue today's historic call with his — quote — "full moral authority."
But in the U.S. Senate, Republicans voted against funding several administration initiatives on curbing climate change and clean water rules.
This morning, I spoke with the archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, about the pope's encyclical. We met at the National Press Club.
Your Eminence, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, thank you for speaking with us.
CARDINAL DONALD WUERL, Archbishop of Washington: Judy, it's a pleasure to be here.
Why did Pope Francis want to devote an entire encyclical to the environment, to climate change?
CARDINAL DONALD WUERL:
What he is doing, I believe, is calling all of us to recognize that there are serious problems.
There are serious problems that have to do with the environment, that have to do with the way in which we live and consume. And he's asking all of us to take a look at the world around us, and what do we have to do to see that our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have the benefits of this magnificent creation that we enjoy.
And so he's giving this call to everybody, participate in a discussion on how do we best serve one another in our home, which is this planet. I think the starting point is the recognition the Earth is our common home. This is where we all live. How does he see the connection between caring for the Earth and caring for the people who are alive today and generations to come and the focus on the poor?
He says, in any discussion, whether you're talking about the biodiversity, whether you're talking about the pollution of water, whether you're talking about deforestation, you need to start with the person, the human person.
And the goal of everything that we have is the flourishing of human life. So we start there, and then we say that has to take place in the context of a sustainable development of the resources that are available to us, while protecting the planet.
So you have these three elements, the person, the planet, and reasonable, sustainable development.
It is not unprecedented for a pope to be taking a bold stand on an issue, a controversial issue. He is taking this further, father, though, than his predecessors, in Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, in saying there's an urgency here. How unprecedented is that?
Judy, I think what we're seeing in this encyclical is a recognition that there's — there's a time element involved, but the urgency is to get the discussion going.
The urgency is to recognize — and he begins the encyclical by listing all of these things that we all recognize are damaging the Earth. The deforestation is one example. The lack of sufficient water, the lack of clean water, all of these things are facts.
How did he satisfy himself that the science is settled on whether humans are causing climate change? As you know, there's still argument out there about that.
Yes, I don't see any declarations affirming any particular theory about any type of scientific understanding of what's happening.
He's just pointing to the fact that it's there, that these things are clearly happening around us. And what he's saying is, shouldn't the starting point be with all of this not so much trying to fuss over this piece or that piece, but all of that together calls us to work together with a sense of urgency to make sure that the environment is preserved?
In effect, he's calling on political leaders, he's calling on captains of industry to change the direction they're going in, to make a dramatic change — changes, in effect.
How much power does the pope have, does he believe, do you believe, to get that kind of dramatic change to take place?
Well, I think what our Holy Father is asking — and that's why he's not imposing anything. He's not saying what the solutions are, but he is lifting up, we have problems, folks, and we need all of us to try to resolve these problems.
What he brings is the moral dimension. It's not any longer, what can we do, the question now is, what should we do, what ought we to do when we're dealing with this environment, when we're dealing with this good Earth?
There is pushback already from climate change skeptics, from political conservatives.
Just yesterday, one of the candidates for president for the Republican nomination, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who is Roman Catholic, said, "I respect the pope, but I think it's better to solve this problem in the political realm." He said, "Religion is about making us better as people and less about things in the political realm."
I don't think the pope is saying to politicians, here is what you must do. Here is the answer.
But what he is saying is, as spiritual leader, as a religious leader, I'm calling — together with other religious leaders, I'm calling everyone to look at the problems and begin to come up with some solutions.
He's not saying to politicians, this is what your public policy or your political platform should be. And he's not saying to people involved in the world of industry, the world of development, this is what you must do.
But he is saying, in light of all the problems that there are, and even if you might prioritize them differently, we all recognize we have to work together to resolve these problems.
But it sounds as if Governor Bush and others are saying, we're not going to listen to the pope on this issue.
Well, I wonder if, as time goes on and more people begin to look more deeply into this and hear what the pope is saying, there will be a stronger sense, a realization of what he's actually asking.
How is the pope, how are you, as a leader in the Catholic Church, going to follow up on this? What is the plan to move this forward, beyond today's announcement?
Judy, that's a very, very important question. What we're going to have to do is, using today, using the announcement of the encyclical as a starting point, we're going to have to devote a lot of energy to education, and even getting the issue out into the public. What we're going to be doing in this archdiocese, for example, we're going to spend a lot of time getting this message out, pulling apart, unpacking this encyclical, and helping our people understand better what it's saying.
But this is a long-term project. But everything in the church is long-term.
Long-term, and yet the pope is trying to influence what comes out of the climate change summit this winter in Paris.
It's — it's true. There are some short-term measures, but the church doesn't see her teaching in those terms.
She sees her teaching as formative of conscience that will be ultimately directive, long-term-wise, of a better world.
Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Your Eminence, we thank you very much.
Judy, it's been a pleasure to be here with you. Thank you. God bless you.
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