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A Green Pope? And Why Not?

By Edouard Tétreau


Rush Limbaugh, conservative American radio star, cries: “This Pope is a Marxist!” Peggy Noonan, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, claims: “The Church is making the same mistake now that it made with Galileo 400 years ago.” Greg Gutfeld, of Fox News, calls the Pope “the most dangerous man on the planet.”

True colors were quickly revealed following the release of what is already the global “bestseller” of the summer, the encyclical Laudato Si’, written by Pope Francis on the topic of the environment.

While American Tea Party aficionados spew insults at the active head of the Catholic Church, the 192-page text he wrote has already produced its first miracle … in France! For the first time in many years, French green politicians are talking about the environment again! The publication of what they describe as a “very strong text” is a welcome distraction from their usual politicking.

In the Western world, political leaders have welcomed the strength and relevance of this text, which was conveniently published six months before the Paris Climate Conference, reinforcing the de facto importance of the event.

What does this text, addressed not only to Catholics alone, but to “every person who lives in this world,” have to say? Essentially, the Pope tells us that our “common house” is burning, due to the excessively consumerist economic and social model of our modern world.

After a thorough diagnosis, which even climate change skeptics have found difficult to attack intelligently, Pope Francis lists some of the dead-end solutions that a number of countries have recently tested. At the top of the list is communism, which he identifies as a “totalitarian regime in the service of the extermination of millions of people.” So much for those who saw this Argentinian Pope as a “red pope.”

He next criticizes the idea that there are simply too many humans for this planet to support, and that people should, therefore, be forced to have fewer children (e.g., China’s barbaric one-child policy), or be encouraged to euthanize the elderly: “It is an attempt to legitimize the current distribution model where a minority believes it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.”

The word “waste” appears 27 times in this encyclical. There is, indeed, in our economies and societies, a pervasive “waste culture” that plagues both humans and countries alike: those who are not “competitive” enough are, well, dumped. It is therefore high time to consider the issue of “human ecology.” Now is the time to hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of man,” the cry of the earth that we are plundering, and the cry of those individuals who have been excluded from development. The excluded “who represent the majority of the planet, billions of people. If they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, it is only as an afterthought.”

The Pope does not limit himself to a discussion on principles. He delves into the most difficult and concrete aspects of climate change. He claims that it is urgent to reduce CO2 emissions, by “substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.” The oil lobbies will certainly appreciate this. Finally, as an antidote to the over-consumption plundering our planet, the Pope advocates “sobriety,” for “those who enjoy more and live better each moment are those who have given up dipping here and there, always on the look-out for what they do not have.”

Additionally, the Pope highlights the “ecological debt” of Northern nations to Southern nations (even though major polluters such as India and China are every bit as bad as Northern countries in this regard), and goes so far as to recommend “decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth.”

Laudato Si’ has inspired grassroots responses around the world, including this interfaith march in Rome calling for climate change. – Photo: Wikipedia

Laudato Si’ has inspired grassroots responses around the world, including this interfaith march in Rome calling for climate change. – Photo: Wikipedia

At the end of September, Pope Francis will bring his message of an economic, ecological, and social “New Deal” to the United Nations and the United States Congress. Consequently, he will influence the international political and environmental agenda until the December Paris conference. In this context, dissenting voices stand out. For example, that of Catholic Jeb Bush, Republican presidential candidate, supported by the oil industry, who rejected Pope Francis’ proposition, revealing that he “[doesn’t] go to Mass for economic policy or for things in politics.”

As if Christian teachings should only concern an abstract and ideal world, but not the world we live in. This encyclical is no fairy tale, but the first step on a road towards a more humane world economy and society.

This article by Edouard Tétreau was originally published in the French newspaper Les Echos on July 1, 2015. It was translated into English by Lauren Wodarski and Tomi Johnson.