By Jeffrey Sachs
Pope Francis is calling on the world to take action against global warming, and many conservatives in the United States are up in arms. The pope should stick to morality, they say, and not venture into science. But, as the climate debate unfolds this year, most of humanity will find Francis’s message compelling: we need both science and morality to reduce the risk to our planet.
The first point to note is that an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with Francis’s call for climate action. Unfortunately, their views are not represented in the US Congress, which defends Big Coal and Big Oil, not the American people. The fossil-fuel industry spends heavily on lobbying and the campaigns of congressmen such as Senators Mitch McConnell and James Inhofe. The world’s climate crisis has been aggravated by America’s democratic crisis.
In a survey of Americans conducted in January 2015, an overwhelming majority of respondents (78%) said that, “if nothing is done to reduce global warming,” the future consequences for the US would be “somewhat serious” or “very serious.” Roughly the same proportion (74%) said that if nothing is done to reduce global warming, future generations would be hurt “a moderate amount,” “a lot,” or “a great deal.” Perhaps most tellingly, 66% said that they would be “more likely” to support a candidate who says that climate change is happening and who calls for a shift to renewable energy, while 12% would be “less likely” to support such a candidate.
In March 2015, another survey examined the attitudes of US Christians, who constitute 71% of Americans. The responses were reported for three groups: Catholics, non-Evangelical Protestants, and Evangelicals. These groups’ attitudes mirror those of Americans more generally: 69% of Catholics and 62% of mainline Protestants responded that climate change is happening, with a smaller majority of Evangelicals (51%) agreeing. Majorities in each group also agreed that global warming will harm the natural environment and future generations, and that reducing global warming would help the environment and future generations.
Which minority of Americans, then, opposes climate action? There are three main groups. The first are free-market conservatives, who seem to fear government intervention more than climate change. Some have followed their ideology to the point of denying well-established science: because government intervention is bad, they tell themselves that the science simply cannot be true.
The second group comprises religious fundamentalists. They deny climate change because they reject earth science entirely, believing the world to be newly created, contrary to the overwhelming evidence of physics, chemistry, and geology.
But it is the third group that is by far the most powerful politically: oil and coal interests, which contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the 2014 campaign. David and Charles Koch, America’s biggest campaign financiers, are simply oilmen out to multiply their gargantuan wealth, despite the costs to the rest of humanity. Perhaps they are true climate deniers as well. Then again, as Upton Sinclair famously quipped, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Francis’s right-wing critics perhaps come from all three groups, but they are at least partly funded by the third. When the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences and some of the world’s top earth and social scientists met at the Vatican in April, the libertarian Heartland Institute, supported over the years by the Koch brothers, mounted a fruitless protest outside of St. Peter’s Square. The scientists at the Vatican meeting took extra care to emphasize that climate science and policy reflect fundamental principles of physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, engineering, economics, and sociology, key parts of which have been well understood for more than 100 years.
Yet the pope’s right-wing critics are as mistaken in their theology as they are in their science. The claim that the pope should stick with morality betrays a basic misunderstanding of Roman Catholicism. The Church champions the marriage of faith and reason. At least since the publication of Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica (1265-74), natural law and the Golden Rule have been viewed as the fundamental pillars of the Church’s teachings.
Most people know that the Church opposed Galileo’s advocacy of Copernican heliocentrism, for which Pope John Paul II apologized in 1992. But many are unaware of the Church’s support for modern science, including many important contributions to biology, chemistry, and physics by world-leading Catholic clerics. Indeed, the founding of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences traces its origins back more than 400 years, to the Academy of Lynxes (Accademia dei Lincei), which inducted Galileo in 1611.
Francis’s purpose, of course, is to marry modern science, both natural and social, with faith and morality. Our hard-won scientific knowledge should be used to promote human wellbeing, protect the vulnerable and the poor, preserve Earth’s fragile ecosystems, and keep faith with future generations. Science can reveal the environmental dangers caused by humanity; engineering can create the tools to protect the planet; and faith and moral reasoning can provide the practical wisdom (as Aristotle and Aquinas would have said) to choose virtuously for the common good.
The Vatican gathering in April included not only world-leading climate scientists and Nobel laureates, but also senior representatives of the Protestant, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim faiths. Like Francis, religious leaders of all the world’s major religions are urging us to take wisdom from faith and climate science in order to fulfill our moral responsibilities to humanity and to the future of Earth. We should heed their call.
Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management, and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, is also Special Adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals. His books include “The End of Poverty,” “Common Wealth,” and, most recently, “The Age of Sustainable Development.” © Project Syndicate.
a tiny manatee says
You know you are terrible when the catholic church is more progressive and scientifically correct than you are.
Scotty Boy says
Hey Popey…We will start cleaning up the earth, when you release the three letters from the Children of Fatima 1917….What are you covering up and what does the third letter say about our ancient relatives ?
Yes! And we also demand a definitive answer to that annoying “Head of a Pin” puzzler!
“The planet is fine. The people are fucked.”
― George Carlin
The papal doctrine of ex-cathedra(infallibility) only applies to theology. The secular/scientific basis for climate change or global warming is a true example of the need for the separation of church and state. Let the science outline the facts, let opinion be left to each person’s discretion !
The hoax finds another cheerleader. Based on the computer models, which solely propagate “the big lie”, many of us should be dead by now. It’s like this: Garbage data in =’s garbage data out.
But, statists have to state and the charade of “global warming” gives them their best excuse.
a tiny manatee says
Thanks for that FOX news talking point, delivered by noted scientist sean hannity as confirmed by noted scientists glen beck and rush limbaugh.
Nothing going on here . . . Move on!
The Flat Earth Society has this whole issue under control. Go home, hide under your pillows, and wait for the oxygen to vanish.
Those that have the most to gain financially have your (and mostly their) carefully taken care of emotions.
Conservatives love to cherry pick what they like to believe. For example, consider their stance on states’ rights… Allowing state control over issues convenient to their beliefs is fine (education for example) but when a state then decides to enforce standards on fracking to protect groundwater, the conservatives speak out for the need for a Federal energy policy to force states to allow the oil and gas industry to have their way. They do this because they are not about principle but about the money and which lobbyist they represent. Ever since Chicken Hawk Cheney convened his energy cadre at the start of his first term as “President” and refused to release details of even who attended those White House meetings, the Grand Oil Party has been representing big oil. Haliburton made their billions while thousands of Patriotic young Americans died in the sands of Iraq not for WMD’s or promoting liberty but on behalf of big oil and the pre-9/11 plans of Cheney and his oil associates who had Iraq carved up and allocated among the players.
Rick Scott doesn’t care about the facts, he wants what is convenient to his narrow-minded beliefs to keep him in power working on behalf of those special interests who elected him.
Sherry E says
Well said and right on Kevin!
Just because Pope Francis is spiritual and loving, doesn’t mean he is ignorant or uneducated. He understands full well how humans are destroying the environment of our planet. . . in the name of massive profits for the billionaire 1%. Just denying climate change again and again doesn’t change the scientific evidence.
Again, for those who may want to take their brains out and dust them off by moving beyond the idiotic rants of Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck, et al, please take a moment to educate yourselves with this factual, scientific information. from Nasa: http://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/
the pope is a false teacher leading his flock to hell with a false idolatry gospel
acts 4-12 john14-6 1tim2-5.what a sham vicar of christ this is an abomination.
repent you false roman catholics and turn to the real jesus christ as your
lord and saviour before it is too late. the bible has the answer not the false
mass it is no where i the bible, repentance not penance.unless a man is born
again he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven john 3-3
Sherry E says
Please bear in mind that religious zealousness and divisiveness is precisely what has lead to so many human atrocities down through the centuries . . . in the name of “my God is better than your God”. May I respectfully suggest that you discuss this article and your position with a knowledgeable and open minded member of the clergy.
“In a survey of Americans conducted in January 2015, an overwhelming majority of respondents (78%) said that, “if nothing is done to reduce global warming,” the future consequences for the US would be “somewhat serious” or “very serious.” Roughly the same proportion (74%) said that if nothing is done to reduce global warming, future generations would be hurt “a moderate amount,” “a lot,” or “a great deal.”
It’s easy to talk the talk, how many of these people walk the walk?
Answering Snapperhead’s question: Although still not enough and each day we strive to do more here are some of the things we do to “walk the walk”:
1. we drive a hybrid
2. Photovoltaic solar panels on our roof-top
3. recycle everything we can, not just to reduce trash in landfills but to reduce energy consumption as recycling an aluminum can saves upwards of 70% of the energy to create one from scratch
4. re-purpose and re-use those items we no don’t recycle that others can use.
5. Do not drink bottled water, tap water in most communities is perfectly safe.
6. Support organic producers, yes the cost may be more but the savings in better health is worth it
7. Only purchase meats and eggs certified as treated humanely. Cage free eggs and free range chicken and grass fed beef. Once again slightly more expensive but there is a reason for that, better quality feeds result in better tasting and healthier diets. Watch some of the films about how our food is produced and the horrendous treatment of animals in our agri-business economy and you might become a vegan.
8. Avoid the use of hydro-carbon based pesticides and herbicides. Round-up is used by homeowners like they are spraying water but studies indicate it is linked to cancer. In addition where do you think the run-off from all of these chemicals ends up?…in our rivers, streams and estuaries. There is a consequence beyond our driveways.
Just a few few simple steps by each and everyone of us (steps 3-8 are simple enough, they just take a commitment) can have the multiplier impact and be a game changer.
Sherry E says
Thanks Kevin. . . all great ideas1 Each and every one of us can make a difference.
Please, remember that simply because “others” do not protect our environment, does not absolve each of us from doing the healthy thing for the future of our planet. REGARDLESS of exactly how it started, climate change is happening TODAY. Our scientists have conclusive evidence of this!!! The also have FACTS that show our behaviors affect our environment and climate.
Other ideas include:
1. Supporting the development of public transportation. Which will help lower the pollution from cars and provide much needed transportation for those elderly citizens who should not be driving.
2. Install landscaping that requires very little water.
3. Support measures/regulations that preserve/create cleaner air and water
4. Shut down your computers at night
5. Use solar garden lights
6. Walk or ride a bike instead of driving those 2 or 3 blocks
7. Use water and electricity “mindfully”. . . shorter showers, lower hot water tank temps, light out when not in use, turn off monitor when only listening to music, etc. etc.
8. Carpool/use the school buses
9. Support regulations against polluters
10. Dispose of toxic waste (oil, paint, insecticides, etc.) correctly
We Can Do It Together!!!!