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Horowitz: Pope Francis Sounds Climate Change Alarm

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Rob Horowitz

Making expert use of the world’s most powerful bully pulpit---and in this case an actual pulpit-- Pope Francis last week merged spirituality and science in a strong and plainly stated call for the nations of the world to take action on climate change.

In a 184 page encyclical devoted to the topic, Pope Francis writes, ““Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

Pope Francis is aiming his words not just at the Catholic faithful, saying he would like ‘to address every living person on this planet.”  He writes, “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.”   Putting the risks of inaction in stark terms, the Pope continues, “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

Hewing closely to the broadly accepted science,  Pope Francis emphasizes that the world’s poor are already and will continue to suffer a disproportionate share of the problems resulting from a warming planet an calls on the wealthier nations whose greenhouse gases have created the problem to take the lead in solving it.

The Pope’s nearly universal popularity and particularly strong influence within heavily Catholic, South American nations such as Brazil, which so far have resisted committing to takes serious steps to address climate change,  makes his joining the climate change fight very important.  His words are also well-timed.  At the end of this year in Paris, the nations of the world will meet to finalize a new global climate change agreement---one in which all nations, including China and India, are expected to submit their individual plans to reduce emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases.

Coming on top of already achieved diplomatic progress towards a formal new climate agreement, the Pope’s strong words on the climate challenge, provide critically needed additional positive momentum in what is a decisive year for global action. The preliminary agreement reached late last year in Lima’ Peru was of major significance because developing nations, such as China and India, now the world’s first and third largest carbon emitters, abandoned for the first time their traditional resistance to making any commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and agreed to put forward emission reduction plans.  They moved from their assertions that since the problem was created by the developed world, primarily the United States and Western Europe, the developed world alone should provide the solution. This response made it more difficult to generate action on climate in the developed world, because critics pointed out accurately, that if the developing world did not join in reducing emissions, the problem could not be solved 

Recognizing that one document no matter how powerful, must be continually reinforced to have lasting influence, Pope Francis plans to keep drawing attention to the issue. Last week’s release of the encyclical by the Vatican was followed-up by discussions and sermons at Sunday services throughout the world.  In what is sure to be a heavily covered event worldwide, Pope Francis will address a Joint Session of Congress on the topic in the Fall.

Pope Francis writes, “All is not lost, Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”    By putting his powerful moral voice to the service of the climate challenge, Pope Francis brings the prospect of that ‘new start” closer to fruition.

Rob Horowitz is a strategic and communications consultant who provides general consulting, public relations, direct mail services and polling for national and state issue organizations, various non-profits and elected officials and candidates. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of Rhode Island


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