Laudato si’ and the green Pope

The Pope's ill advised intervention on climate change could make it look as though he is pandering to shallow, Guardian-style political correctness, or that he is a celebrity endorser of ‘good’ causes, like Bono

Pope Francis looking cool...
Tim Hedges
On 22 June 2015 08:00

The Pope has issued his second encyclical, Laudato si’, on the subject of the environment. It has been welcomed by some, condemned by others. Giles Fraser in the Guardian, welcoming it, described His Holiness as ‘a bit like Naomi Klein in a cassock’. Doubtless the Holy Father is flattered.

For myself, I can’t help thinking this new work is a poorly thought out mistake.

An encyclical is a letter to the faithful (although in this case it is addressed to everyone) which becomes a statement of church teaching. An example is Paul VI’s famous Humanae Vitae of 1968 in which he laid down the law on contraception and abortion.

The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church is now firmly on the side of the International Panel on Climate Change.

Much of the encyclical is uncontroversial. We hark back to the days of St Francis of Assisi, after whom Francis took his papal name; the encyclical takes its name from a hymn written by St Francis. Here the Pope waxes lyrical recalling how St Francis talked to plants, a habit shared with Prince Charles who did not get nearly so good a press for it.

‘The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth’ The Pope cites mining, pollution of rivers, overextraction of water etc, and he will find plenty of support for this.

On the subject of man-made global warming he is unequivocal: ‘A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system’.

‘A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases….released mainly as a result of human activity’.

The leitmotif of  Bergoglio’s papacy has been concern for the poor and this comes out strongly in Laudato si’. They it is who will suffer after we in the rich world have damaged their countries in extracting raw materials.

His Holiness rejects our business model as being unable to see this, and warns those who seek a technological solution to environmental issues that it is a false hope.

Where to start?

To subscribe to the global warming agenda you have to believe three things: that the world is warming, that the warming is caused by mankind, and that there is something we can do about it. For myself I have difficulty with all three and strongly disagree with the last.

But it is not just a case of disagreement: in far greater numbers than us sceptics are the people who really don’t care.

As to the capitalist system, the Pope seems to ignore the fact that life expectancy in the undeveloped world is considerably longer than at the time of St Francis. The reason is that our businesses found cures for diseases and provided improved lifestyles and improved crops.

As regards the millions he mentions suffering from cooking over wood fires, until new research enables electricity storage so solar power can be used at night, the best way to improve their lot would be a gas import terminal and a power station.

But industry can develop new processes which help the poor and help the environment, as it has done since the industrial revolution. And in my view we have the time. We have more than 50 years of oil left, more than 60 years of gas and more than 100 years of coal (BP Review of World Energy).

As for the suggestion that we in the developed world cut down, what does His Holiness think would be the outcome for the poor in the developing world if we stopped buying their exports? If there is global warming, we need to develop the technologies and defences to cope with it, not indulge in a futile attempt to stop people using energy.

But the important thing is not whether Laudato Si’ is agreed with by people like me. Humanae Vitae was contentious, but nobody said it was none of Paul’s business. What is important is whether this is a good thing for Francis and for the Church.

More than one commentator believes that Francis’s popularity will have a positive effect on the climate change debate, coming as it does just before the next round of talks. In my view the opposite is the case. Participating in this worldly, contentious issue will take the shine off his papacy.

He will become just another politician, or, worse, a celebrity endorser of ‘good’ causes, like Bono.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelance writer, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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