When the pope speaks, people listen. Sort of. Usually, they hear what they want to hear, not what the man is really saying in the context of Church Teaching, no matter which pope it is. When it comes to the environment, different sides of the political divide hear different things. Such was the case this week in Rome at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences where Pope Francis addressed scores of scientists – including atheist Stephen Hawking – during their plenary session titled “Science and Sustainability: Impacts of Scientific Knowledge and Technology on Human Society and its Environment.”
Photo from L’Osservatore Romano via AP
Francis’ remarks mostly centered around international cooperation in keeping the planet clean for sustained human living and development. The Washington Post reported the comments through the lens of American politics, where the divide is deep as the people cannot come to an agreement as to how far to allow concerns for the environment to overtake the need for economic development, which, ultimately, is what lifts humans out of poverty.
Pope Francis this week implored world leaders not to postpone the implementation of global environmental pacts, an appeal that appeared aimed at President-elect Donald Trump’s vows to end the United States’ leading role in combating climate change….
“It is worth noting that international politics has reacted weakly — albeit with some praiseworthy exceptions — regarding the concrete will to seek the common good and universal goods, and the ease with which well-founded scientific opinion about the state of our planet is disregarded,” the pontiff said, according to a translation provided by the Vatican. He added that the “‘distraction’ or delay” in implementing global agreements on the environment demonstrates how politics have become submissive “to a technology and an economy which seek profit above all else.”
(It is worth noting to The Washington Post and any number of other American news outlets, that the USA is just one country. On this topic, the pope could have been speaking to China, a far worse polluter of the world’s ecosystems.)
As always, this particular pope speaks with the veneer of a missionary, one of the characteristics of his order, the Jesuits (and one of the reasons we haven’t had a Jesuit pope before now). In this case, though, his advocacy to pure science is troubling to those who understand that it is to be undertaken with faith and the benefit of humanity in mind. From Catholic News Agency:
“It falls to scientists, who work free of political, economic or ideological interests, to develop a cultural model which can face the crisis of climatic change and its social consequences, so that the vast potential of productivity will not be reserved only for the few,” the Pope said Nov. 28….
Francis stressed that with the cooperation of scientists, the creation of “a normative system” that includes “inviolable limits and ensures the protection of ecosystems” is now necessary.
This must be done, he said, “before the new forms of power deriving from the techno-economic model causes irreversible harm not only to the environment, but also to our societies, to democracy, to justice and freedom.”
Since science and discovery, at this point, are intertwined with political and economic interests, this hope is just that – a pipe dream until science comes back to serving humanity in the name of God, not taxing basic chemical elements just because governments can. Some of the most self-serving people this writer has come across were in science, and, thus, politics. In addition, one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to the planet. The reef systems alone prove that out. They die out and move all the time. And nothing pollutes like a volcanic eruption. Those are completely out of human control other than to vacate when the recharge swarms get rolling.
What makes Pope Francis’ remarks troubling is not his concern for nature and the environment – in Catholicism we are called to be responsible in that vein, actually – or that he is preaching morals since that is his job. The issue is meddling in world politics without acknowledging that the very human failings he describes are the reason that countries aren’t signing onto international agreements. When it comes to the environment, those agreements are, simply, thinly veiled attempts to drain national treasuries. It would be nice if they were actually about protecting the planet, but since China is still considered to be “developing” and they are the biggest offender man-made pollution wise, and they aren’t on the hook the way the United States is….
As usual, these papal remarks will be spun by those seeking to push the narrative of environmentalism being a moral imperative without the context of the faith element. Also missed is the reality that science is now divorced from faith. And thus, this pope is being used to further the goals of the very wolves that seek to devour the Church.