Addressing Climate Change Is a 'Moral Duty'
February 28, 2015
Al Jazeera America & Sarah Posner / Al Jazeera America & David Gibson / The Washington Post
A significant majority of Americans believe combating global warming is a moral issue that obligates them -- and world leaders -- to reduce carbon emissions, a new survey indicates. The Reuters/IPSOS poll of 2,827 Americans was conducted in February to measure the impact of moral language, including interventions by Pope Francis, on the climate change debate. The poll suggests that appeals based on ethics could be key to shifting the debate over climate change in the United States.
Slowing Global Warming a Moral Duty to Most Americans, Survey Finds
Appeals based on ethics could be key to spurring action on global warming, according to poll results
Al Jazeera America
(February 27, 2015) -- A significant majority of Americans believe combating global warming is a moral issue that obligates them -- and world leaders -- to reduce carbon emissions, a new survey indicates. The Reuters/IPSOS poll of 2,827 Americans was conducted in February to measure the impact of moral language, including interventions by Pope Francis, on the climate change debate.
In recent months, the pope has warned about the consequences of failing to act on rising global temperatures, the impact of which is expected to disproportionately affect the lives of the world's poor. The result of the poll, released Friday, suggests that appeals based on ethics could be key to shifting the debate over climate change in the United States.
Two-thirds of respondents said that world leaders are morally obligated to take action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. And 72 percent said they were "personally morally obligated" to do what they can in their daily lives to reduce emissions.
Poor countries often bear the brunt of climate change's effects in terms of extreme weather, droughts and storms, and are often unable to fund infrastructure to mitigate the damage of disasters.
As part of his efforts to highlight climate change, the Pope visited storm-ravaged islands in the Philippines last month to console survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, which scientists say was made stronger by warmer ocean temperatures. Haiyan left over 7,000 dead in the Philippines in 2013. Unable to recover, one year later over 25,000 still lived in tents and other temporary structures.
"When climate change is viewed through a moral lens it has broader appeal," said Eric Sapp, executive director of the American Values Network, a grassroots organization that mobilizes faith-based communities on politics and policy issues. "The climate debate can be very intellectual at times, all about economic systems and science we don't understand. This makes it about us, our neighbors and about doing the right thing."
Some observers believe the pope's message can resonate beyond his own church. "The moral imperative is the way to reach out to conservatives," said Rev. Mitch Hescox, president of the Evangelic Environmental Network, a large evangelical organization that advocates for action on climate change.
Talking in terms of values is "the only way forward if we are to bring our fellow Republicans along," he added. Moral questions are increasingly invoked in the climate debate -- and not just among anti-carbon activists.
In a Feb. 12 speech to oil industry leaders in London, Royal Dutch Shell CEO Ben van Beurden noted that "the issue is how to balance one moral obligation, energy access for all, against the other: fighting climate change."
The US Environmental Protection Agency has also wrapped some of its anti-pollution initiatives in the language of "climate justice," likening the battle against climate change to the mid-20th century fight for civil rights.
Pope Francis has vowed to make fighting climate change a centerpiece of his papacy, using his authority as head of the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics to push political leaders toward a deal at a United Nations-sponsored conference in Paris this December that is aimed at cutting carbon emissions.
The pope has confronted critics of climate change science that finds human activities responsible for increases in global temperatures, saying in January that it is mostly "man who has slapped nature in the face."
Sixty-four percent of those polled agreed with the pope that human activities are largely responsible for the rising Co2 levels that scientists say drive climate change.
The pope also criticized the negotiators at a global climate conference in Peru last December for "a lack of courage" and has promised to issue an encyclical -- a letter setting out papal doctrine -- on climate issues that he hopes will add momentum to getting a deal in Paris.
In turn, he has been attacked by those who deny the scientific findings on global warming for aligning himself with environmentalists. But only one in 10 of respondents saw him as a voice of authority on the issue, on a par with Democrats and Republicans in Congress and less than the percentage citing President Barack Obama (18 percent).
The poll respondents also said that United Nations scientists and popular US television host Bill Nye "The Science Guy", carry more authority on climate change than US politicians.
Al Jazeera and wire services
Pope Francis Will Have Some
US Legislators 'Squirming in their Seats'
Sarah Posner / Al Jazeera America
(February 9, 2015) -- When Pope Francis becomes the first pope to address a joint session of Congress, in September, many Catholic theologians and activists expect that he will focus on rising global economic inequality rather than on the hot-button cultural issues that often dominate US politics.
The pontiff continues to disappoint Catholic women pressing for equality in the church, reproductive rights and allowing birth control, and his recent endorsement of a Slovak referendum to ban marriage and adoption by same-sex couples has dismayed supporters of LGBT rights. But most papal observers don't expect to see those issues addressed in Francis' congressional speech. Instead, they predict that the pope will use his critique of the current global economic order to challenge his audience on the role of government in alleviating inequality as well as on immigration and climate change.
The central message of Francis' papacy has been that "income and wealth inequality in our world is the source of social ills," said Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of Network, a Catholic social justice lobbying group best known for its Nuns on the Bus campaigns challenging income inequality and pressing for immigration reform. "Until we remedy that, we won't have any sort of real peace or good community."
Francis' view on the global economy, say Catholic theologians, is deeply rooted in Catholic social justice teaching that demands care for society's most vulnerable to promote the common good. Francis' critique of global capitalism, laid out in detail in his 2013 apostolic exhortation, "Evangelii Gaudium," decries the "economy of exclusion." That phrase, said Meghan Clark, an assistant professor of theology and religious studies in moral theology at St. John's University in New York, is based on his belief that "we're in a state in which when someone isn't 'useful,' they simply don't even exist."
The pope also uses the phrase "throwaway culture" to describe how people, like consumer goods, are used and cast aside, said Clark. He has used the phrase to critique rampant consumerism, abortion and neglect of the elderly. If he addresses abortion on Capitol Hill, she said, it would likely be through such a lens.
The Rev. David Hollenbach, the university chair in human rights and international justice in the theology department at Boston College, expects Francis to highlight the fact that the United States is "an extraordinarily privileged country with an enormous amount of wealth, especially at the very top." Hollenbach added that the pope will likely further emphasize that the United States "has a very important role to play in shaping international economic policy in ways that could work to alleviate and advance further the reduction of poverty worldwide."
Out of 535 members of the current Congress, 164 are Catholic, and 81 of those are Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center. Catholic activists such as Campbell and John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a Democratic-leaning advocacy group, have been critical of Republican economic policies, particularly those of House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan, both Catholics.
"The pope is not going to offer detailed policy proposals, but I would expect him to be unambiguous about the moral dimension and the reality that so many are left behind in our global economy," said Gehring. "Speaker Boehner and the Koch brothers won't find endorsement of their policies from this pope."
Some conservative American Catholics have claimed that free market economic policy is supported by the Catholic concept of subsidiarity, which calls for decision-making at the lowest, most local level of government possible. But more liberal theologians say that rather than call for less government intervention, subsidiarity, as part of a broader, holistic Catholic social justice tradition, requires government intervention to alleviate inequality.
Subsidiarity, said Clark, does not mean "smaller government is better." She argued that was "simply a misreading and a misdefinition of Catholic social teaching." Instead, "the flourishing of all levels is the priority," requiring the state to step in if a local community is unable or unwilling to promote economic justice, she said.
She dismissed conservative claims that Francis' critique of capitalism is drawn exclusively from his experience in Argentina and that he therefore does not understand the American economy. "Pope Francis knows very well what capitalism does and doesn't do without government interventions," she said.
Francis' critiques of economic and political power are not directed solely at Republicans.
The economist Jeffrey Sachs has argued that Francis' message is "fundamentally subversive of prevailing attitudes in the corridors of American power, whether on Wall Street or in Washington." He is the director of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network and of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. While Francis is in the US, he is expected to attend the U.N. summit on Sustainable Development Goals, which will address eliminating poverty and promoting environmental sustainability.
When the pope addresses Congress, said Gehring, "Plenty of politicians on both sides of the aisle will be squirming in their seats."
But Francis does see politics as an "honorable vocation," Gehring added. The pope will likely remind legislators that "public service is about serving the common good, not their own interests or party agendas."
To some, though, it is anathema that the pope known for meeting the marginalized where they reside would make an appearance in a seat of global power. In The National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters, a Catholic commentator known for his liberal views on economic issues, wrote that he is "wary" of the pope's visit. The "optics," he argued, seem "all wrong, such a specifically political setting, and a powerful one too," given that the pontiff typically visits "peripheries where Pope Francis is most comfortable and where he has repeatedly said he wants the church to be."
But Campbell said she hopes the pope will use the occasion to remind the powerful that "governments have a responsibility to ensure that all of their citizens, all of their residents have all the basics they need to live in dignity."
Francis, she said, "is very clear that the market is just as human as the rest of us and greed enters in. It's the role of government to check greed," through regulations covering areas such as banking, food safety, airline safety and other matters.
In the end, said Hollenbach, "Mr. Boehner may regret that he invited him."
Pope Francis: A Christian Who Does Not Protect Creation
'Does Not Care about the Work of God'
David Gibson | Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY (February 9, 2015) -- If you are a Christian, protecting the environment is part of your identity, not an ideological option, Pope Francis said Monday (Feb. 9).
"When we hear that people have meetings about how to preserve creation, we can say: 'No, they are the greens!'" Francis said in his homily at morning Mass, using a common name for environmental activists.
"No, they are not the greens! This is the Christian!" he said.
"A Christian who does not protect creation, who does not let it grow, is a Christian who does not care about the work of God; that work that was born from the love of God for us," Francis continued. "And this is the first response to the first creation: protect creation, make it grow."
The pope -- who took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment -- has made care for the environment a hallmark of his papacy since he was elected nearly two years ago.
In fact, the pontiff is preparing a major document, called an encyclical, on the environment. It is likely to reiterate his frequent calls for governments and individuals to take steps to combat climate change, a phenomenon he attributes in part to human activity.
That conclusion, and his focus on protecting creation, as he calls it, has angered some conservative Catholics in the US, who see it as further evidence that Francis is pushing a liberal agenda that slights traditional Catholic talking points on issues like abortion and gay marriage.
The issue is likely to get more heated in the coming months: The encyclical is expected by July, and Francis will be making his first visit to the US in September.
In his homily on Monday in the chapel at his Vatican residence, Francis dwelt on the first reading of the Mass, the passage from Genesis that recounts the creation of the universe.
"In the 'first creation,'" the pope said, "we must respond with the responsibility that the Lord gives us."
"Even for us there is a responsibility to nurture the Earth, to nurture creation, to keep it and make it grow according to its laws," he said. "We are the lords of creation, not its masters."
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