The Pope vs. Climate Change Deniers
The recent blizzard of bunk coming from climate change deniers giddy over the recent Snowmageddon that paralyzed the nation's capital is a classic case of putting ideology and politics before science. While the overwhelming body of evidence from experts points to human causes exacerbating climate change -- this means extreme weather and more intense storms, not only rising temperatures -- some politicians can barely contain their joy at the recent deep freeze.
Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma built a six-foot-tall igloo on Capitol Hill with a cardboard sign on top that read "Al Gore's New Home." Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich offered this awkward taunt on Twitter: "where is al gore to explain it snows this heavily as a sign global warming is imminent." The Washington Times crowed in a bizarre editorial that "record snowfall illustrates the obvious: the global warming fraud is without equal in modern science."
While some lawmakers and ideologues blithely challenge the world's leading scientists, along with a growing number of military leaders concerned about this issue as a global security risk, they also part company with the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI. The Green Pope, as some have called Benedict, has frequently addressed climate change and care for the environment as profound moral issues. The pope has touted solar energy, the benefits of local agriculture and sustainable development, and the perils of hyper-consumerism. He has spoken boldly about the shameful reality of "environmental refugees" and recognizes the link between war and ecological exploitation. The Vatican has even taken steps to become the world's first "carbon-neutral state."
In his latest encyclical, Pope Benedict calls for a "model of development based on the centrality of the human person, on the promotion and sharing of the common good, on responsibility, on a realization of our need for a changed lifestyle, and on prudence, the virtue which tells us what needs to be done today in view of what might happen tomorrow." This type of farsighted thinking and simple common sense would be helpful on Capitol Hill. You might think that conservatives, as much as anyone, would be interested in, well, conservation and prudent stewardship of natural resources. But it seems wink-and-nod slogans like "Drill, Baby, Drill" are easier to come up with than finding real solutions to a crisis. Fortunately, people of faith are showing the kind of leadership and clear-eyed vision that many of our esteemed public officials lack.
As Christians around the world begin the observance of Lent, many people of faith are using these 40 days of fasting and prayer to conserve energy, eat less meat, take public transportation instead of driving, and spread the message that environmental justice is a core principle of faith. Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good has launched a social media Facebook campaign: Go Green for Lent: Faith, Stewardship and the Common Good. Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento is challenging the area's 900,000 Catholics to join him in cutting back on using their computers, iPods, and cell phones. Several prominent Anglican British bishops are also calling for a "carbon fast" by urging Christians to keep their carbon consumption in check this Lent. The Archdiocese of Washington has also developed a calendar listing 40 ideas for carbon fasting.
For Catholics, caring for creation and being prudent stewards of our rivers, mountains, and forests is not a trendy cause. It's a Biblical mandate, and a necessity to promote the sacred dignity of life. The Catholic Church has been in the forefront of these efforts long before rock stars and Hollywood celebrities made it cool to be "green." In particular, faith communities have a unique role to address the ways the poor and vulnerable around the world are most impacted by climate change. International agencies estimate that there will be more than 200 million environmental refugees by 2050 as a direct result of rising sea levels, erosion, and agricultural damage.
While the fate of climate change legislation in the Senate remains unknown, the faith community is not going away on this issue. We know the stakes are too high for politics as usual. Perhaps our elected officials can stop building snowmen, get off Twitter, and starting leading.
John Gehring is Director of Communications for Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good