Pope Francis Should Follow John Paul II’s Lead on Climate Encyclical

Published May 17, 2015

Pope John Paul II said:

“We must not be afraid of the future. We must not be afraid of man. It is no accident that we are here. Each and every human person has been created in the ‘image and likeness’ of the One who is the origin of all that is. We have within us the capacities for wisdom and virtue. With these gifts, and with the help of God’s grace, we can build in the next century and the next millennium a civilization worthy of the human person, a true culture of freedom. We can and must do so!”

We must not be afraid of when God blessed humankind, saying in Genesis: “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the living things that move on the earth.”

The U.S. Catholic Bishops’ 1996 statement Catholic Framework for Economic Life ought to likewise inform this encyclical. It embraces free markets, and provides moral and ethical guidance for individuals and societies.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said, “This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years since the Industrial Revolution.” For the U.N., it does not matter that the report by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change shows that human activity is not causing climate change. Climate change is actually about changing capitalism.

In the reunified Germany when the Berlin Wall came down, it was not the more affluent and consumptive West Germany that faced a crisis of pollution, but rather communist East Germany. Redistribution fails both environmentally and economically, as demonstrated in history – from the Pilgrims, to the Soviet Union, to North Korea. As countries become wealthier, they become cleaner, which allows people to move beyond subsistence, to be able to address environmental concerns. Winston Churchill said, “Socialism is the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.”

The annual Index of Economic Freedom, published as a joint project by The Wall Street Journal and The Heritage Foundation, analyzes the relationship between economic freedom and prosperity across the world. Of the 186 countries analyzed each year, the data point to the same conclusion: Countries with the most economic freedom also have higher rates of long-term economic growth; their people are better off, at all income levels.

The rise of individual liberty has given Western civilization its great creative power and consequent wealth. The origin for this liberty is the understanding that each person possesses inherent human dignity and is endowed by the Creator with natural rights that no government may deny. The protection of these rights is embodied in the U.S. Constitution. The function of law is to protect the free exercise of these rights.  Solomon writes about wisdom: “With me are riches and honor, enduring wealth and prosperity.”

The Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” 

Without God, there are no inalienable rights; without inalienable rights, there is no freedom; without freedom, there is no prosperity. America’s Founders understood this. “The great pillars of all government and of social life…[are] virtue, morality, and religion,” wrote Patrick Henry.

As St. Paul instructed Timothy:

“Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.”

If the Catholic Church places government as an intermediary between people and acts of generosity and charity, then the Church ceases to act as the Body of Christ, and becomes merely an instrumentality of the State. The mission of the Church is not to enlarge and elevate the State; it is to enlarge the heart, and elevate the spirit.

Bruce Colbert lives in San Diego, California.