Pope expected to endorse climate change consensus

Pope Francis (credit: Raffaele Esposito/flickr)

A leaked draft of Pope Francis’ soon-to-be-published encyclical shows that the leader of the Catholic church is in agreement with the consensus that climate change is an urgent and man-made problem. It is the world’s poorest people who are bearing the brunt of climate change today and as it gets worse. He indicts the world’s wealthiest countries, calling for reduction in overall consumption and use of fossil fuels to slow down the progress of climate change.

“Enormous consumption in some rich countries has repercussions in some of the poorest places on Earth…If the current trend continues, this century could see unheard-of climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with grave consequences for all of us,” writes the Pope.

The official encyclical, a document viewed as exerting Papal authority on a theological issue, is officially published tomorrow. The draft was leaked on Monday by the Italian magazine L’Espresso. Officials at the Vatican confirmed that it was in fact a draft of the Pope’s encyclical, calling it an “intermediate version” when describing it to the press.

The final document will feature some changes, but analysts indicate that the major points are likely to remain. It is a significant publication given the current debate over climate change around the world. Only 47 percent of U.S. Catholics believe global warming is a man-made problem, found a recent Pew Research Center poll.

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It is a reflection of overall feelings about climate change in the U.S. While most Americans (68 percent) believe the planet is warming, less than half attribute the problem to humans. That is despite an overwhelming consensus among experts that human activity is driving the warming of the planet. The document chastises inaction by the the world’s wealthiest.

“Enlighten the masters of power and money so that they should not fall prey to the sin of indifference, so that they should love the common good, support the weak, and care about this world that we inhabit,” says the draft.

It echoes similar sentiments shared by Papal ally and Ghanaian cardinal, Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. In a recent speech, Turkson called attention to the over-consumption at the top.

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“Much of the world remains in poverty, despite abundant resources, while a privileged global elite controls the bulk of the world’s wealth and consumes the bulk of its resources,” he said.

Much of what the Catholic leaders are saying agrees with the findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The group of more than 800 scientists from around the world urged world leaders to take steps to slow down the progress of climate change.

“We have the means to limit climate change,” said R. K. Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, last November. “The solutions are many and allow for continued economic and human development. All we need is the will to change, which we trust will be motivated by knowledge and an understanding of the science of climate change.”

The Pope is answering the call with the publication of his encyclical tomorrow. It is already sparking debate among Catholics and other people around the world. Will he be able to convince his American followers that climate change is a problem that starts with us?

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.