Pope Francis Pushes for Climate Action

Published October 15, 2015

While Pope Francis discussed many issues during his September visit to the United States, ranging from abortion to war, the issue he raised most consistently was mankind’s responsibility for global warming.

In speeches at the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the United Nations, and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Francis said governments had dual obligations to act to protect the environment while improving conditions for the world’s poor.

Francis repeated the plea he made in his papal encyclical “Laudato Si” for governments to prevent harms to future generations from the use of fossil fuels in the pursuit of profits. He praised President Barack Obama for his actions to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and urged Congress and the United Nations to do more.

In his speech before the United Nations, Francis said “a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist” and argued Earth’s climate is threatened by “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity.”

‘Gets the Science Wrong’

Responding to the pope’s message, Craig Idso, chairman of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Climate Change, says the pontiff’s concern about human-caused climate change is misplaced and his call to reduce the use of fossil fuels and give governments more control over the world economy will only exacerbate the plight of the world’s poor.

“The pope simply gets the science wrong,” said Idso. “The biosphere is not rapidly spiraling downward toward planetary Armageddon.

“None of the computer models upon which predictions of disastrous human-caused climate change are based predicted the current plateau in global temperature that has continued for nearly two decades now,” Idso said. “In addition, contrary to claims of global-warming-caused crop failures, the recent increase in carbon dioxide has been a boon for staple crops.”

Carbon dioxide is the major building block of nearly all life, Idso says.

Idso’s research shows when plants are exposed to higher concentrations of carbon dioxide, “they produce greater amounts of biomass, become more efficient in using water, and are better able to cope with environmental stresses.” 

Environmental Harm from Renewables

James Rust, a retired nuclear engineer with Georgia Tech University, says Pope Francis’ push for the expanded use of renewable energy sources actually harms the environment.

“Renewable energy sources require vast land areas in order to produce significant amounts of energy, usually requiring the destruction of millions of square miles of forest land that cleans our air and water and helps cool the planet,” Rust said.

Commenting on Francis’ dual support for the poor and Obama’s climate policies, Heartland Institute Senior Fellow Peter Ferrara said, “Pope Francis leaves America to long-term stagnation and decline based on the anti-growth overregulation of Obama’s [Environmental Protection Agency], which Francis supported.

“The pope claims to want to help the most vulnerable—the poor, blacks, Hispanics, and working people and their families,” Ferrara said. “Yet President Obama’s policies harm these people the most. How Francis can praise these policies is inexplicable.” 

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.