How I hope Pope Francis approaches the environment issue

It has been well publicized that Pope Francis is planning to issue an encyclical on creation and respect for the environment at some point this year. My hope is that the Holy Father will take this as an opportunity to unite people in finding practical or even not-so-practical ways to address environmental concerns, reminding people of their role as stewards of the planet and the need to be aware of the impact individual lifestyles and large-scale operations can have on various regions of the world.

What I hope he does not do is create further division, demonizing some based on their personal opinions based on their own readings about environmental issues. An example of this approach was seen recently when Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Silvano Tomasi spoke recently at the Climate and Health 68th World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, Switzerland. The archbishop stated that the religious leaders and technical experts who participated in a recent event held by the Holy See “left no further room for denial under the mistaken guise of so-called religious belief when they declared that human-induced climate change is a scientific reality.”

So, because a bunch of people who were already in agreement got together and agreed with each other, there is no room for anyone who disagrees. Pretending that there is no one who disagrees with you doesn’t make you more right, and there is evidence that many scientists disagree with the view “that climate change is happening, that it is not a normal cycle of nature, and humans are the main or central cause.”

In 2008, WND reported that more than 31,000 scientists signed a petition stating that “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth.”

Even among scientists who believe that that the earth is getting warmer and that human activity is a contributing factor, there is disagreement about whether we are the primary cause and how much difference behavioral changes could make, and on how much damage global warming will actually cause.

My point is not that these scientists are necessarily right, just that there seems to still be significant disagreement within the scientific community on the subject. And arguing that those who disagree with one’s position don’t count isn’t going to persuade anyone that you are right. If that’s the approach Pope Francis takes, the only people his encyclical influences will be those who already agree with him.

There are ways in which an encyclical on environmental stewardship could be play an important role. I think most people, regardless of their opinions on global warming, understand that air and water pollution are bad things, for example. The problem is that we tend to look at the air and water in our own region and ignore it everywhere else.

For example, according to this pollution index, the U.S. ranks on the lower end of the scale 118th out of the 135 listed countries. But some of our biggest oil suppliers besides ourselves and Canada do not fair so well. Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, Nigeria, all have pollution index scores twice that of ours. China, from whom we import so many products, is the 10th worst polluter on the planet. Doesn’t our consumption of these exports confer some kind of responsibility upon us for the pollution generated in the process of making those resources available.

And our own score of 31.45 is at least twice that of any of the countries in the top six.

There are definitely opportunities for improvement here, and we should be considering whether our consumption habits may be hurting the environment, and thereby hurting other people. Maybe it’s a matter of finding new ways of doing things. Maybe it’s a matter of consuming less. Spreading awareness of the impact of our everyday choices could be an important step.

But demonizing people who disagree on a matter of science is not going get people listening.

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