A few weeks ago I wrote about the Catholic bishops’ intervention in the climate change debate. It turns out that they may just be the fore-runners of a big shift in Catholic teaching. Next year, Pope Francis is expected to move decisively on climate change. He is due to address the United Nations on the topic, and a papal encyclical is anticipated in March.
I prefer my religion disorganised, so I tend not to get too excited about latinate proclamations by the men in white hats, but there’s something different about this Pope. He’s put social justice at the heart of his agenda, and he’s not afraid to speak truth to power. He’s earned respect inside and outside the church, and if can use his influence to inject some urgency into climate discussions, that would be very welcome. If it motivates even a fraction of the world’s 1.2 billion catholics, it could be a significant development in a crucial year for the climate.
It will be interesting to see how far the encyclical goes. Will he overturn the church’s deeply unhelpful objections to birth control? Will he appeal to those outside the Catholic church, to streams of Christianity where climate denial is more common? Recent comments in speeches suggest Pope Francis has his sights not just on the climate, but on the economic system that lies behind it:
“An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.
The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness.”