Monday, September 21, 2015

Pope Francis: "Solid." "Disturbing."

The following is an adaptation of an email I sent to some Catholics I know. It's part of a series of emails from me regarding Pope Francis and climate change. Tomorrow the pope arrives in the U.S. for his first ever visit, so I thought this would be especially timely to post here.

We've been looking at how to determine whether there's a strong scientific consensus on climate change. We've seen that Pope Francis clearly accepts that consensus. In his encyclical Laudato Si', Francis wrote that "a very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climactic system." <23> You can't put it more plainly that that. And note the adjectives: Solid. Disturbing.

Not surprisingly, most leaders on the political left accept the consensus. And amazingly, it's really hard to find anybody on the right who does. If, as I have argued, the scientific consensus is overwhelming, it's nothing short of stunning that one half of our political divide fails to acknowledge or respond to it. Why is that? How on earth can science be a partisan issue?

Marco Rubio, when asked what he thinks about global warming, responds that he's "not a scientist." Many Republican politicians have adopted that very response as a preferred way to deflect demands that they take a stance. Hey, don't ask me: I'm just a guy who wants to be president.

Jeb Bush admits that the climate is changing, but says we don't know why. "I don’t think the science is clear what percentage is man-made and what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted. And for the people to say the science is decided on, this is just really arrogant, to be honest with you."

Bush continues: "It’s this intellectual arrogance that now you can’t even have a conversation about it. The climate is changing, and we need to adapt to that reality."

Ask yourself: When was the last time you noticed a Republican wanting to "have a conversation" about climate change? Seriously.

Pope Francis would say all those mealy-mouthed evasions are a shameful dodge. Really, he would. Allow me to quote the pope. In his Encyclical Laudato Si', Francis notes that "as often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear." <59> Sound familiar?

But it is clear. Far from being "convoluted," science tells us by overwhelming consensus that humans are heating up the planet, and that devastating consequences are likely, starting now, and continuing to worsen for many centuries. If you've still not familiarized yourself with that overwhelming scientific consensus, you can do so easily, here.

Obviously, Marco Rubio doesn't need to be a scientist—and neither do you. He only needs to take an honest look at what science says with near unanimity. But doing so would put him in a dangerous position relative to Republican politics, and so weasel-words are his best bet. Dodge and deflect. Don't look too close. "I'm not a scientist."

"This," says Pope Francis, "is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen." <59> Yeah, that too is a direct quote.

What's needed is leadership, but on the political right especially we're not getting any. The pope tells us that "we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations." <53>

Think about it: The left is ready, willing, and eager to take action, but the current political impediments make action impossible outside what the president can do through executive and regulatory authority. If a solid contingent of Republican politicians were to abandon ideology and embrace the need for action, a nonpartisan consensus could emerge that would finally launch the U.S. into its essential leadership role on climate change.

The only thing that will convince Republican politicians to get serious is for the Republican electorate to demand it. That's where you come in, dear Republican voter. Think about it. Just like Marco Rubio, you don't need to be a scientist. You don't need to master the science of climate change. All you need is the intellectual honesty to acknowledge what people who are scientists are overwhelmingly telling us. And that will take less than half an hour of your time. Again, you can do so here.

Numbers in angle brackets <> are paragraph numbers in the encyclical. Read it for yourself.

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