While Pope Francis is not the first pope to come out against climate change (Saint John Paul II and Benedict XVI both acknowledged the urgency), he is by far the most outspoken. And although most of the world has accepted the idea that man-made climate change is a pressing issue, he was in hostile territory when he visited the United States and spoke before a joint session of Congress.
Think Progress, a progressive research organization, says that 56% of Congressional Republicans, the majority party in the United States Congress, who have 100% control over that body, do not accept catastrophic anthropogenic climate change. Some Catholics even decided to boycott the Pope’s speech on grounds that his views are thought to be too progressive. This is not the exception, but rather the rule, in the Republican Party. Only five of the 15 candidates running for president on the Republican side show unwavering support for tackling anthropogenic climate change.
This would be contradictory to the views of Pope Francis, who earlier this year, penned his second papal encyclical, Lautado Si’, highlighting issues with the environment and pushing for sustainable development. In it he writes, “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods.”
Despite the climate change deniers in the room, the pope walked into the joint session to thundering applause. Just over 30% of the United States Congress is Catholic, as well as the majority of Supreme Court judges. Standing behind him was the Speaker of the House John Boehner, and Vice President Joe Biden, both Catholics. It was clear that the Pope has great influence over the Congress, and the hearts of 70 million American Catholics, and even if a person is not Catholic, one has to admire his efforts.
Most Republicans were probably holding their breath, largely due to the Pope’s progressivism, namely his climate change stance. They were hoping that he wouldn’t be too Al Gore-y. And Francis decided to pull his punches, not even mentioning the words “climate change” in his Congress speech, which upset many progressives hoping that he would grill the Republican Congress on climate change. Within the nearly 3400 word speech, 225 words were devoted to what he called “environmental deterioration.”
He instead chose to incite climate change in his speech at the White House, where he praised President Obama’s efforts to protect their “common home,” citing his initiative to cut greenhouse gas emissions, a major cause of climate change.
As the Pope is the spiritual leader of one billion faithful around the world, his progressive (and correct) views on scientific topics, including the Big Bang, evolution, and especially climate change will certainly have a positive impact on our “common home.”