Pope Francis Writes On The Environment, And Many People Miss The Point

Pope Francis's new encyclical isn't exactly being received positively by American conservatives, because they seem to be missing the point.

Pope Francis

Lost in much of the coverage of the tragedy in Charleston on Wednesday night was the fact that, on Thursday, Pope Francis released an encyclical on global climate change that is causing some interesting debate both inside and outside Catholicism:

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change, blending a biting critique of consumerism and irresponsible development with a plea for swift and unified global action.

The vision that Francis outlined in a 184-page papal encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope: He describes relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment and says apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness are to blame.

The most vulnerable victims, he declares, are the world’s poorest people, who are being dislocated and disregarded.

Francis, the first pope from the developing world, used the encyclical — titled “Laudato Si’,” or “Praise Be to You” — to highlight the crisis posed by climate change. He places most of the blame on fossil fuels and human activity, while warning of an “unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequence for all of us” if corrective action is not taken swiftly. Developed, industrialized countries were mostly responsible, he says, and are obligated to help poorer nations confront the crisis.

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” he writes. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

The Vatican released the encyclical at noon on Thursday, three days after an Italian magazine posted a leaked draft online, to the fury of Vatican officials. The breach led to speculation that opponents of Francis in the Vatican wanted to embarrass him by undermining the release.

Even so, religious figures, environmentalists, scientists, executives and elected officials around the world awaited the official release, and scheduled news conferences or issued statements afterward. News media interest was enormous, in part because of Francis’ global popularity, but also because of the intriguing coalition he is proposing between faith and science.

“Humanity is faced with a crucial challenge that requires the development of adequate policies, which, moreover, are currently being discussed on the global agenda,” Cardinal Peter Turkson said at a news conference at the Vatican. “Certainly, ‘Laudato Si’ ’ can and must have an impact on important and urgent decisions to be made in this area.”

Francis has made it clear that he hopes the encyclical will influence energy and economic policy and stir a global movement. He calls on ordinary people to press politicians for change. Catholic bishops and priests around the world are expected to discuss the encyclical in services on Sunday. But Francis is also reaching for a wider audience, asking in the document “to address every person living on this planet.”

Even before the encyclical, the pope’s stance against environmental destruction and his demand for global action had already thrilled many scientists. Advocates of policies to combat climate change have said they hoped that Francis could lend a “moral dimension” to the debate.

“Within the scientific community, there is almost a code of honor that you will never transgress the red line between pure analysis and moral issues,” said Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and chairman of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. “But we are now in a situation where we have to think about the consequences of our insight for society.”

Francis has been sharply criticized by those who question or deny the established science of human-caused climate change, and also by some conservative Roman Catholics, who see the encyclical as an attack on capitalism and as political meddling.

Governments are now developing domestic climate-change plans to prepare for a United Nations summit meeting on the issue in Paris in December. The meeting’s goal is to achieve a sweeping accord in which every nation would commit to new policies to limit greenhouse-gas emissions. Many governments have yet to present plans, including major emitters like Brazil, which has a large Catholic population. The encyclical is seen as an unsubtle nudge for action.\

“It gives a lot of cover to political and economic leaders in those countries, as they make decisions on climate change policy,” said Timothy Wirth, vice chairman of the United Nations Foundation.

Catholic theologians say the overarching theme of the encyclical is “integral ecology,” which links care for the environment with a notion already well developed in Catholic teaching: that economic development, to be morally good and just, must take into account people’s need for things like freedom, education and meaningful work.

“The basic idea is, in order to love God, you have to love your fellow human beings, and you have to love and care for the rest of creation,” said Vincent Miller, who holds a chair in Catholic theology and culture at the University of Dayton, a Catholic college in Ohio. “It gives Francis a very traditional basis to argue for the inclusion of environmental concern at the center of Christian faith.”

He added: “Critics will say the church can’t teach policy, the church can’t teach politics. And Francis is saying, ‘No, these things are at the core of the church’s teaching.’ “

New York Times reporter Justin Gillis notes that the encyclical shows the Pontiff aligning with mainstream science on what is nonetheless a controversial political issue but also notes that there are points where the science and policy prescriptions are incomplete:

The new papal encyclical on the environment is a ringing call to action, a critique of consumerism and a prophetic warning about the dangers of ignoring what Pope Franciscalls “the ecological crisis.”

But amid all his soaring rhetoric, did the pope get the science right?

The short answer from climate and environmental scientists is that he did, at least to the degree possible in a religious document meant for a broad audience. If anything, they say, he may have bent over backward to offer a cautious interpretation of the scientific facts.

For example, a substantial body of published science says human emissions have caused all the global warming that has occurred over the past century. Yet in his letter, Francis does not go quite that far, citing volcanoes, the sun and other factors that can influence the climate before he concludes that “most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases” released mainly by human activity.


In aligning himself with mainstream scientific thinking, Francis invites criticism from people who dispute the science of climate change — indeed, these contrarians were attacking his paper even before it was issued.

But the more meaningful critiques in coming weeks may come from those experts schooled in environmental policy. The scattered policy prescriptions in the document do not display the meticulous framing of the scientific statements.

For instance, Francis devoted a long paragraph to criticizing an approach called carbon trading that can be used to put a price on greenhouse emissions, even though many environmental economists favor that approach.

The response to this particular criticism, of course, is that the encyclical is not meant to be a scientific document and that, while it may have been drafted in consultation with experts in the fields of climatology and the environment, it certainly doesn’t measure up to the rigors of a peer-reviewed article. Similarly, Laudato Si as the document is called, is not meant to be a call to action on policy or a shopping list for legislators from which to draw in drawing up legislation. As most of what comes from these types of documents, the encyclical is meant most of all a teaching document and a moral statement for Catholics and for the rest of the world. In that respect it is worth noting that this does not fall under one of those instances in which the Pope is believed to be speaking ex cathedra, literally “from the chair (of St. Peter),”  and thus espousing infallible doctrine that all Catholics are bound to believe. That being said, it is certainly something that Catholic Churches around the world will use to talk about issues related to climate change in a religious and moral context, and for that reason it’s arousing no small degree of controversy among those who remain opposed to the idea that there is such a thing as measurable global climate change.

The Wall Street Journal, for example, titles it’s report on the encyclical “Pope Blames Markets For Environment’s Ills”:

While acknowledging natural causes for climate change, including volcanic activity and the solar cycle, Pope Francis writes that a “number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”

The pontiff goes on to argue that there is “an urgent need” for policies to drastically cut the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases and promote the switch to renewable sources of energy.

But the pope goes further by weaving his signature theme of economic justice and his vehement criticism of capitalism throughout the entire encyclical.

The document alternates between passages of almost apocalyptic moralizing and more-technical language, including practical proposals for alleviating environmental problems.

Pope Francis opens the encyclical, which includes extensive sections on the theology of creation, with a lament for man’s sins against “Mother Earth”: “We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”

The pontiff later denounces past failures to enact bolder environmental policies. “The failure of global summits on the environment makes it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected,” he writes.

The Argentina-born pontiff, the first in history to hail from the Southern Hemisphere, writes that the North owes the South en ecological debt because “developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.”

The encyclical addresses other environmental problems besides climate change, including the “water poverty” of Africa and other poor regions where clean drinking water is scarce. The pope even advocates more environmentally conscious lifestyles, including reduced use of plastic, paper and water; separating trash; carpooling and turning off lights.

“We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world,” he writes.


Samuel Gregg, a Catholic who serves as director of research for the Acton Institute, a conservative ecumenical think tank that advocates for a free market, took exception to the pope’s economic premises, saying Pope Francis has “significant blind spots” with regard to market economies.

“When you read through the text, you find the free market, and finance in particular, is identified more or less as responsible for many environmental problems,” Dr. Gregg said. “It’s almost a subterranean theme of the encyclical….In many respects, it’s a caricature of market economies.”

Pope Francis is likely to repeat his arguments about inequality and environmental degradation when he addresses a United Nations special summit on sustainable development in September in New York. He could also raise those topics earlier that week, in a scheduled speech to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, where the issue of climate change is highly controversial along partisan lines.

And Jeb Bush, who is arguably the most prominent Catholic among the candidates for the Republican Presidential nomination, joined other Republicans in criticizing the Pontiff’s foray into environmental policy:

Republican presidential contender Jeb Bush joined forces with the coal industry and climate deniers in a gathering conservative backlash against the pope, lashing out against a leaked draft of the spiritual leader’s letter on climate change.

In his first official day on the presidential campaign trail, Bush, who is Catholic, told a town hall event in New Hampshire that Pope Francis should steer clear of global affairs.

The energy industry also turned on the pope, with the lobbyist for one of America’s biggest coalmining companies sending out an email blast on Tuesday, rebuking the church leader for failing to promote fossil fuels as a solution to global poverty.

Bush converted to Catholicism when he got married 20 years ago, and regularly cited church teachings when he was Florida governor – even enacting a law to introduce anti-abortion “Choose Life” car license plates.

“I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home, but I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope,” the former Florida governor said. “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

With those remarks, Bush joined fellow Republicans, the fossil fuel industry, and the climate deniers of the Heartland Institute in trying to discredit the Pope’s much-anticipated message on poverty and climate change – even before its release.

At least five of the Republican presidential contenders are Catholic. Two so far – Bush and Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and devout Catholic – have come out against the pope on climate change.


Bush’s rejection of the pope’s authority to speak out as a spiritual leader on a global issue such as climate change was in line with comments from other conservatives and fellow Catholics, who claim to followchurch teachings

Santorum told a Philadelphia radio station earlier this month: “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”

Three other Catholic Republican hopefuls: Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal and Marco Rubio, have yet to speak out on the encyclical.

Other Republicans have come forward, however, including the Oklahoma senator James Inhofe, who bluntly told reporters that Francis was out of line – “The pope ought to stay with his job” – at a conference of the climate change-denying Heartland Institute.

Most Republicans in Congress deny the existence of manmade climate change and oppose regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

As I have said before when writing about these issues, I am hardly an expert on the environment or climate science so I am not qualified to speak personally on the question of whether or not climate change is “real.” In some sense, that’s actually a dumb way to put it since the global climate has been changing in some way or another for roughly four-and-a-half billion years, and it will continue to change long after humanity ceases to exist until the Earth itself is consumed by the Sun. The proper question, really, is what impact humanity is having on the environment and what, if anything should be done about it. On that point, it seems rather obvious that it is foolish to deny that humanity has some impact on global climate because we obviously do. Additionally, all of the available science seems to indicate that levels of carbon dioxide are increasing at rates that have not been seen for quite some time, that this is having an impact on global weather patterns and sea temperatures, and that those factors are going to have some impact on the world we live in. There really ought not to be any disagreement on these facts considering that they have been supported by numerous studies. The questions that follow from recognizing that fact, though, are the ones where there ought to be disagreement, namely the question about what if anything we should or can do about these issues. It’s here that the encyclical seems to stray into some of the same dogmatism you see from hardliners on both sides of the “climate change” debate.

Since there isn’t any way to prevent the fact that humans will have some kind of impact on the environment, the question becomes what we should do about it. On some level, the Pope’s encyclical is meant to argue against a doctrine of conspicuous consumption that has no regard for the environment at all that doesn’t really have much bearing on the modern world. At least in advanced nations, the environmental movement has had a real impact on fixing things like environment levels of lead, the health of water supplies, and other matters. When you start talking about areas of environmental disaster, you often end up talking not about nations like the United States, but nations like China, India, and parts of Africa where authoritarian governments hell bent on pushing their societies forward have shown little regard for safety and the people have little power to effect change on their own. Instead of criticizing those things, though, Francis seems to spend most of his time attacking the “First World” and accusing it of victimizing the poor. While it’s no doubt true that Western Corporations are part of the means by which some of these nations are wrecking their environment, they aren’t the ones responsible for making those decisions, and blaming them alone makes little sense and is really rather illogical. Additionally, portions of the encyclical that delve into the ridiculous, such as a rather puzzling diatribe against air conditioning, make it an easy target for critics.

All of that being said, it’s worth taking into account what the encyclical says rather than what it doesn’t say and to note that, by and large, Pope Francis gets it right. On some level, Francis is telling people that they should have more long-term thinking on issues impacting the environment than the next quarterly statement, or even what is likely to happen in their lifetime. Some of what is being measured today isn’t likely to have a noticeable impact for decades, if not longer, but at that point reversing course won’t be an option. We can’t stop the fact that human beings impact the climate, and we shouldn’t reject capitalism, technology, or the conveniences of modern life, especially since those things are the main reason that life expectancy and quality of life are better today than every before. At the same time, we can give some consideration of the long term impact of what we do, and work toward developing technologies and practices that don’t have the same negative impact on the environment. That seems pretty sensible if you ask me. Instead, Bush, Santorum, and their fellow Republicans seem to be reflexively denouncing it as they denounce anything else that is deemed to be supportive of the underlying logic of global climate change. It strikes me that they’re missing the point.

For those interested, you can read the encyclical for yourself.

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, Africa, Climate Change, Environment, Religion, Science & Technology, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Ron Beasley says:

    My major problem with the Pope and the Catholic Church is that they fail to recognize that we have reached and in fact exceeded “Peak People” and continue to oppose birth control. The major environmental issue is there are too many humans.

  2. Hal_10000 says:

    I’m glad to see the Pope acknowledge the reality of climate change. It’s not a huge surprise: the Church has been very pro-science since the 1950’s. But it’s good to have it spelled out and put in moral terms.

    But I do agree with Doug that he’s wrong to identify capitalism as the biggest problem. The worst environmental criminals in the planet are not capitalist. It wasn’t capitalism that dried up the Aral Sea or created the black triangle in the Czech Republic or has the air in Beijing toxic. And, with the exception of global warming, almost all environmental trends are positive, especially in the developed world. Water is cleaner, air is cleaner, forests are bigger, population is leveling off, even fish stocks are starting to recover. Regulation’s been a big part of that but so have capitalism and innovation (e.g., crops that no use up a fraction of the land and water they used to). And if we are going to solve global warming, it’s going to mean a heck of a lot of innovation.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    I don’t think that’s quite true. Fertility rates are dropping just about everywhere, including the big population centers like China and India where they’ve plummeted from 5.8 live births to 2.5, with replacement rate being 2.1. The US, Europe, Russia, Japan, Brazil.

    Fertility is down everywhere really but the Muslim world where women are given very little control over their own reproductive functions – kind of a Republican wet dream in other words.

    What we need are engineering solutions to global warming. Conservation efforts will simply not get the job done. Learning to engineer the environment is a necessary step in human development. We’ve been doing it small scale since cave times, and we’ve more recently blundered our way into a destructive sort of environmental engineering, now we need to figure out how to turn the thermostat down as well as up.

  4. Ron Beasley says:

    @michael reynolds: The “Peak People” will eventually take care of itself. We are already approaching peak water and thousands of square miles where billions live will in the not to distant future will be part of the sea bed thanks to sea level rise. Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush’s south Florida will be the first to go here in the US. Without cheep fossil fuels we won’t be able to feed everyone – many will starve. And don’t discount the possibility of a world wide pandemic – the planet has an ability to equalize things
    Reducing the birth rate is not enough, the population must be reduced. If we don’t do it mother earth will do it for us with much pain and suffering.

  5. Argon says:

    Doug writes:

    The proper question, really, is what impact humanity is having on the environment and what, if anything should be done about it.

    Not quite. There are several questions, starting from the empirical and moving on to the moral. These include:
    1) What is the expected amount of heat imbalance and how will that likely affect the ecosystem.
    2) To what extent are humans contributing (Hint: It’s not insubstantial), and what impact would different mitigation plans have on our contribution to warming.
    3) The environmental costs of dealing with warming considered in various scenarios from doing nothing differently to deploying various mitigation plans.
    4) The economical costs of such.
    5) The “social” costs on people and countries for such.

    I’d like to say that we’d confront these questions rationally and be able to assign appropriate values to preferred outcomes but humans are notoriously bad at intuitive risk assessment. Our brains really aren’t wired for that. Personally, I’d like to see a more analytically guided risk assessment along the same lines that actuaries perform.

    Also, regardless of cause (but, FWIW, humans are having a major infuence there), we still have to deal with it. How we deal with it has moral implications we cannot escape.

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    Keep in mind the first calculations of the impact of increased CO2 levels were done in 1824. There have been no natural additional additions to the CO2 levels in several hundred years. The output of energy from the sun has not significantly increased. What has changed is we have burnt tons of carbon based material deposited over several million years over a couple of centuries.

  7. Bob @ Youngstown says:

    Bush told a town hall event in New Hampshire that Pope Francis should steer clear of global affairs.

    Because the politicians are the only credible authorities ????

  8. humanoid.panda says:


    The worst environmental criminals in the planet are not capitalist. It wasn’t capitalism that dried up the Aral Sea or created the black triangle in the Czech Republic or has the air in Beijing toxic

    Your statement is true for the first 2 cases, but very problematic insomuch that China might be a “state capitalist” polity, but economically, its pollution is basically exported from the Capitalist West. The way I would amend it is that democratically unaccountable regimes are much more likely to fail to act on pollution than democratic ones. The Soviet bloc and China are of course a great example of that, but so are African extractive states, or even the United States before the Progressive era.

    The gravest danger I see for the US and and Europe acting on climate change is related to this: elites pushing, via free trade agreements or novel constitutional doctrines the view that democratically elected governments are not allowed to regulate markets and the externalities they produce.

  9. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that a lot of people are engaging in kneejerk reactions. I didn’t see much in what Francis had to say that wasn’t pretty conventional Catholic social thought.

    IMO one of the problems is that some American Catholics have confused Americanism with Catholicism.

  10. C. Clavin says:

    What I’m curious about is why we are able to, and should, completely disregard the church on climate change, and yet we absolutely must legislate according to the church on topics such as abortion and marriage equality.
    This is just more Republican hypocrisy and should be treated as nothing more.
    In the meantime the first five months of this year are the hottest since record keeping began in 1880…which puts 2015 on the way to being the hottest year on record. (a record previously held by 2014) But yeah…this Pope Frank guy is crazy.

  11. @Dave Schuler:

    I think that a lot of people are engaging in kneejerk reactions.

    I have to agree here. If you read the whole thing, a lot of it is calling for Santorum style social conservatism using the environment as an excuse to justify restricting how people are allowed to live their lives.

  12. J-Dub says:

    I don’t see how Capitalism isn’t partly to blame, assuming that it is responsible for our rampant consumerism, which ironically has co-opted the holiest of Catholic holidays. Maybe the Pope should call for an end to Christmas shopping, as most of that crap ends up in a landfill somewhere.

  13. Crocker says:

    @Ron Beasley: If just reducing the birth rate isn’t enough, how do you intend to further reduce the population? I don’t like where you’re heading with that line of thought.

  14. @C. Clavin:

    But yeah…this Pope Frank guy is crazy.

    He is. Have you actually read it the encyclical? Or did you just start drooling, pavlov’s dog style, simply because someone said “environment”?

    He’s got the obsession with suffering that dominates so much of Catholic theology. His goal isn’t to reduce the waste of resources so as many people as possible can live as well as possible. His goal is to get everyone living like a Catholic monk because in his mind only live of puritan asceticism are worthy.

  15. C. Clavin says:

    @Stormy Dragon:
    All organized religions are superstitious delusions based on the longings and fears and insecurities of humans. They promise hope and love but truth of the underlying structure is nothing but cruelty. Are you thinking you’ve noticed something brand new???
    However…Frank is right about the science of climate change…and it’s awesome to watch Republicans denounce the Vicar of Christ because he is now in opposition to their immoral dogma.

  16. gVOR08 says:

    Republicans said Kennedy as a Catholic couldn’t be Prez because he’d do what the Pope said. Then they said Biden is bad because he doesn’t do what the Pope said. Now they’re all setting out to ignore what the Pope said. I’m so confused. Or maybe it’s not me.

    Catholics, partly due to abortion, were a chunk of the “Reagan Democrats” GOPs have come to rely on as part of their coalition. Now the Pope has said common sense stuff and in response the GOPs are dissing the Pope. Ain’t enough popcorn in the world to carry us through to Nov ’16.

  17. gVOR08 says:

    There are a whole lot of experts who say addressing AGW wouldn’t hurt the economy, might even boost it. But it would hurt the Koch Bros and Exxon Mobile, and they have way better lobbyists than the economy has. You think the Koch Bros are putting most of a billion dollars into this election out of a sense of civic responsibility? They’re scared spitless we might do something sensible.

  18. T says:

    @C. Clavin:

    and it’s awesome to watch Republicans denounce the Vicar of Christ because he is now in opposition to their immoral dogma.

    not unlike the death penalty.

  19. michael reynolds says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    My first publicly political act was to organize an Earth Day assembly at my high school (Urbandale High, go. . . um, whatever the hell the mascot is) and I placed a heavy emphasis on zero population growth because I’d been reading Paul Ehrlich and I was young and credulous. There was another book out at the time called FAMINE: 1975.

    Fool me once. . . Since then the supply of food has risen and the price has dropped. Our single biggest health disaster in the US is obesity. And that’s with us wasting acreage on ethanol.

    We are not out of room, and we are not out of air or food. We aren’t even out of water, we’re just out of salt-free water.

    I believe in anthropogenic warming, I think it’s a real threat, but I also don’t think we’re going to stop it by switching from plastic to paper or even by improving car mileage. I’m not dismissing the importance of small steps, but they won’t be nearly enough to stop what’s already coming, not if you look at the projections of scientists in the field. In the end we need technology plus conservation, not just conservation.

    We have a bunch of unemployed engineers or engineers just working on screwing up the next printer. We should put people to work right now on looking for an engineering solution to climate change. If we’re advanced enough to kill the planet with our machines we’re advanced enough to fix the problem.

  20. Davebo says:

    We aren’t even out of water, we’re just out of salt-free water.

    Well actually we are low on water in areas that have always been low on water for the most part.

    In other places, not so much..

  21. Dave D says:

    @michael reynolds: I have lived in DSM 6 years now and I don’t think I’ve ever learned Urbandale’s mascot but have advocated it to be changed to “The Sprawl”

    As to

    If we’re advanced enough to kill the planet with our machines we’re advanced enough to fix the problem.

    Breaking things is super easy compared to fixing them. I have broken oh so many things that I had neither the skill nor technology to fix. But I agree at the very least we should be expending what little blood and treasure left in this country on something good. If there was a law where X% or even a fraction of a percent of the military budget had to be spent on engineering a solution it is definitely attainable.

  22. @michael reynolds:

    I’d like to draw the comparison between MR’s comment and the pope’s encyclical as a demonstration of why I think embracing the encyclical is a mistake. As MR shows, it’s possible to be concerned about the environment without rejecting the concept of scientific progress, without demonizing the pursuit of happiness, without reducing people to mere serfs, as the pope does.

    The Pope has not embraced environmentalism, he’s merely attempting to coopt it. Embracing that attempt simply because you are amused by the sight Republicans and the Catholic Church squabbling is only going to hurt the long term success of real efforts to fix the environment.

  23. gVOR08 says:

    @michael reynolds: @Stormy Dragon: Talk to me about technological solutions when “clean coal” becomes a possibility, not a con. Talking about technological solutions is just a way to avoid hard choices. And the choices are hard because the people who are going to have to take a hit from leaving carbon in the ground have large, effective lobbying organizations.

  24. @michael reynolds:

    You make a good point.

    Religious doctrine aside, fertility rates decline as societies become more prosperous. The best most recent example of that is the very Catholic country of Mexico.

  25. Crocker says:

    @Stormy Dragon: This sounds a little too much like a purity test to me. Who cares what brings the pope to the table as long as he’s willing to work towards a common goal. I’m what you could call a professional environmentalist and every issue I’ve ever worked on had a diverse group of stakeholders. When someone is willing to work with you, you don’t exclude them just because they don’t agree with your entire platform. Politics makes strange bedfellows and every success requires some compromise. He has the ear of millions of Catholics. To not use that access to people that haven’t heard but may be receptive your message would be foolish. I’ve worked with farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, oil companies and the military. We never synch up completely but when they’re on board with solving a specific problem I’ll gladly work with them. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

  26. MarkedMan says:

    Two corrections for the record. China’s birthdate is 1.7, well below replacement rate. And years of good solid research has shown that the largest impact on fertility rates is educating girls. General societal prosperity has some impact, as do other things, but educating girls has the biggest impact.

  27. michael reynolds says:

    @Stormy Dragon:

    I’d like to draw the comparison between MR’s comment and the pope’s encyclical

    A phrase I never thought I’d read. But I guess if you live long enough. . . Me and the Pope, baby, there’s your political Oscar and Felix.

    But yeah, I’ve never joined up with the part of the environmentalist movement that sees mankind as some sort of problem, or a blight on an otherwise perfect planet. We may be screwing up, but this is our planet, and it has worth because we ascribe worth to it. We are conscious, it is not, we’re not some kind of malignancy, we’re the point of the exercise.

    I like gas hog luxury cars, and I like planes to take me on trips that might not be strictly necessary travel, and I eat the hell out of beef and intend to go right on doing it.

    But it would be a mistake to see me as an outlier. I think most people concerned about the future, which obviously includes the environment, are remarkably capable of moderation and pragmatism. We are not all members of our environmental left wing, however much we respect their passion and their commitment to what is, after all, a matter of extreme importance.

    There’s a degree of extremism in the environmental movement and quite a bit of youthful credulity, but there’s no evil in those people. Even the crazies aren’t looking to put people in camps. The farthest edge of the edge is certifiable, maybe, but not malign.

  28. Hal_10000 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    I agree entirely. Population projections all have one thing in common — erring too high. Over the last forty years and especially the last twenty, humanity has gotten better fed using less land and resources. There are serious concerns about our future — water, fish stocks, global warming. But the Population Bomb doomsday scenarios seem increasingly unlikely.

  29. stonetools says:

    I welcome Francis I’s contribution. ( Its not perfect, but what is? )
    He is at least partly right to blame capitalism. Modern capitalism, great as it is , just doesn’t have a long term perspective. The fossil fuel industry is all about getting carbon out of the ground (and protecting it’s privileges) . As to what happens when the carbon is burned up or after all the carbon is out of the ground? The fossil industry’s position is pretty much “F**k those people-that’s not my problem”. It’s response has been to buy politicians that will make sure no one will interfere with their pursuit of current profits, and to fund science denying propaganda. None of this is helpful.

    Markets are all about allocating stuff-not thinking 20 or 50 years down the road. Governments, though, can and should think about the future -which is why we need to be investing in renewable energy now ( thanks Obama -thanks stimulus program).
    Renewables won’t do it all though. Conservation, or if you like , energy efficiency will be a big part of the solution, and investment in science and technology will help there too.(Another shout out to stimulus investment in battery and electric car technology-thanks again, Obama).
    From a political POV, what we see is the Democrats are the party of sane policy. They accept the science and at least discussing solutions. The Republicans? Thanks mainly to their fealty to the fossil fuels industry, the Republicans are in deep denial. Senator Inhofe is playing around with snowballs and generally acting the fool, and the Republicans on their ironically named Science and Technology Committees are denialist to a man(they’re pretty much all men). So Republicans are once again the party of insane policy.

  30. de stijl says:

    @Dave D:

    I have lived in DSM 6 years now and I don’t think I’ve ever learned Urbandale’s mascot but have advocated it to be changed to “The Sprawl”

    Hey, homey. 12 years in DM, myself. We should grab a beer someday at The Royal Mile.

    BTW, the Urbandale HS mascot is The Smugly Self-Satisfied ISU Grad. (I know, it’s a stupid name for a mascot, but what are you going to do about it?) His costume is a pair of Dockers and a polo shirt and is super passive-aggressive.

  31. michael reynolds says:

    @de stijl:
    Is that how Urbandale turned out? Interesting. It was sort of sparsely-populated and open when I lived there, which was just for a year. Borderline between city and farm. I did 10th grade there.

  32. de stijl says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Urbandale is now the west edge ‘burb. It’s the fastest growing population center in the state. Strip malls and financial service back-offices tastefully landscaped in that nowhere style popularized by every suburb outside of every city in America.

    If Gertrude Stein were alive today, Urbandale would be the new Oakland.

  33. de stijl says:

    One would think that conservatives would be open to the concept of conservation. Does etymology mean nothing to these people?

  34. stonetools says:

    @de stijl:

    No, because conservation has been associated in the national mind with hippy dippy socialist tree huggers who don’t understand that conspicuous comsumption is part of FREDUMB and “f&*k yeah” American exceptionalism (you see hints of this in Michael’s comments).
    Environmentalists have given up the fight on that, which is why they are rebranding conservation as the more macho sounding “energy efficency”.
    Welcome to the world where labling is more important than the thing itself. e

  35. Stan says:

    It isn’t capitalism, per se, it’s greed. The climate change debate is a recap of “Jaws” or Ibsen’s “An Enemy of the People”. Decreasing carbon emissions is going to cost money, and in America money talks. I’ll resist quoting Upton Sinclair on this subject.

  36. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:

    We may be screwing up, but this is our planet, and it has worth because we ascribe worth to it. We are conscious, it is not, we’re not some kind of malignancy, we’re the point of the exercise.

    We don’t disagree on much….but wow. That’s just misguided. The human race is a blip in the history of the earth…but we’re the point of the exercise? T-Rex was pretty sure he was the point of the exercise. Sure…we are the apex-predator of the moment. Who’s to say what follows us?
    Lucretius taught us that pleasure is the ultimate pursuit…but there is a significant difference between being happy and over-indulgence. Our hyper-intoxicated consumerism is doing unnecessary harm.

  37. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If we’re advanced enough to kill the planet with our machines we’re advanced enough to fix the problem.

    Unfortunately it is much easier to break things than it is to put things back together. I can easily reduce the efficiency of my car, but I’m not near so good at doing the reverse.

  38. michael reynolds says:

    @C. Clavin:

    It’s basic philosophy Clavin, if you subtract humans from the picture you have a tree-falls-in-the-forest scenario. All known values are obviously created by humans, right? I mean, maybe squirrels have opinions but they are unknowable. The only way anything has value to humans is that humans ascribe that value. It can’t be any other way unless you’re religious which I’d argue is just kicking the philosophical can down the street a few feet.

    So, yes, clearly the earth’s value rests on our deciding to see that value. We are the creators of our own opinions, after all. So, you’re a human with an opinion about planet earth, and earth is important to you because you formed that conclusion. Ditto every other human. Things are worth what we say they’re worth. Can’t be otherwise.

  39. michael reynolds says:


    True, but I’m not claiming we have the technology now, only that we have the talent to start looking for it. I think we’ll find it, unless of course we don’t look for it.

  40. Dave D says:

    @de stijl: I resent that since I am technically a YP and am currently in grad school at ISU. But my god do they stress the whole #1 city for YP’s in the nation. I love the mile was there Thursday so I’d be down. All that said I’m more of an oxford cloth button down and wool pants in lieu of Dockers and Polo.

  41. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Well…that’s a theory. There are others.

  42. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:
    We can find technology to help mitigate our effects, but living with less is part of any solution that has any chance of success on the horizon. Thinking we can continue with our lifestyles unaltered and find a solution purely made of new technology is magical thinking, just as any solution that doesn’t include ramping up research on mitigation efforts is doomed to failure.

    All known values are obviously created by humans, right? I mean, maybe squirrels have opinions but they are unknowable. The only way anything has value to humans is that humans ascribe that value.

    All the values created by humans were created by humans and the first rule of tautology club is the first rule of tautology club. Other animals have brains as complex as ours and societies as complex as our ancestors. That we don’t know their values, doesn’t mean they are unknowable.

  43. Tyrell says:

    The “drive 55”, “set AC on 78” will only get you so far, and most people ignore that kind of junk anyway. What has to be done is climate engineering so that climate is controlled for the best possible outcomes. But this could vary from one area to the next. Russia seems to be best suited for cold climates, but the Caribbean for warm. So if they cool things down it could adversely affect countries that depend on warm weather.
    Millions of American homeowners have been doing their part for years: installing insulation, efficient doors and windows, upgrading appliances, and even installing their own solar panels (which can be built using materials from the local home improvement stores). They have been doing this without help from the government. They see a big savings on their power bills. So we have done our part.
    And consumption of gasoline in this country peaked a few years ago. Technology is there and already being used for far more efficient engines, but the oil/government complex fights it.