Rutland Herald and Montpelier (Barre) Times Argus

Sunday June 21st, 2015

This past week Pope Francis inserted himself directly into the 2016 U.S. Presidential elections. Whether or not that was the intent, it is a clear consequence of the Pope’s new encyclical on the environment - because this document puts him on a collision course with the Republican Party.  

The New York Times lead best summed up the pope’s broad global concerns and objectives.

Pope Francis on Thursday called for a radical transformation of politics, economics and individual lifestyles to confront environmental degradation and climate change.

“The vision that Francis outlined in the 184-page encyclical is sweeping in ambition and scope: He described a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, for which he blamed apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness. The most vulnerable victims are the world’s poorest people, he declared, who are being dislocated and disregarded.”

With that latter point, the pope is making climate change a moral issue. A papal encyclical is meant to be a teaching document for Roman Catholics world wide- and it ranks among the most authoritative statements a pope can make.

This encyclical is a major step in Pope Francis’ personal campaign to lead his church in the battle against global warming. As a prelude to the next major international environmental conference scheduled for Paris in December, the pope plans to address the subject during the United Nations General Assembly in September. And also on that trip he will speak to a joint meeting of the United States Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner insulted the White House when he invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress, in opposition to the Iran nuclear talks. But the way things are shaping up, the Speaker’s invitation to have the Pope speak to Congress, will be even more controversial.

That’s because most Republican members of Congress claim not to believe that global warming is largely man-made. And of the historic number of Republicans running, or thinking about running for the 2016 presidential nomination, none is so far willing to admit that climate change has been scientifically proven.

However, before the pope enters that lion’s den of climate change deniers called the American Congress, the Vatican also plans to have prominent bishops around the country deliver sermons, homilies and hold press conferences in support of the pope’s warnings and pleas.

Miami Roman Catholic Archbishop Thomas G, Wenski is one of those actively involved in that effort. The Archbishop reportedly hopes the pope’s message will resonate with two members of his flock in particular: Florida’s junior senator Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush, both Catholics and both Republican presidential candidates.

Like all of the Republican candidates, Mr. Bush and Mr. Rubio have refused to concede that humans are the main culprits responsible for global warming and they oppose policies designed to tax or limit the burning of fossil fuels. In this they are in lock-step with the billionaire Koch brothers, who will be spreading their enormous campaign fund largess to Republican presidential wannabes according to those who completely toe their line.

When a leaked draft of the papal encyclical surfaced early this past week, candidate Jeb Bush was quick to try to inoculate himself against any notion that the pope might be able to sway his view.

At a campaign event in New Hampshire, Mr. Bush said, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope…..I think religion ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting in the political realm.”

Senator Rubio takes the position that the climate is constantly changing, but insists that, “humans are not responsible for climate change in the way some of these people out there are trying to make us believe.”  

Gov. Bush and Sen. Rubio are immediately susceptible to pressure from billionaire campaign donors for whom protecting their investments in oil, coal and gas are paramount. But especially for Florida politicians, the politics of global warming could change. Thirteen Federal agencies issued a 2014 National Climate Assessment, in which Miami was named as one of America’s cities most vulnerable to physical and economic damage due to human caused climate change.

This past week the PBS News Hour devoted a long segment to how rising sea levels caused by global warming threatened the Florida everglades. As Judy Woodruff put it in her introduction, “The consequences aren’t just to hundreds of species of animals and plants that for centuries have called the everglades home. It’s to the economy and way of life for millions in South Florida who depend on the vast and teeming water once dubbed ‘the river of grass’” Among the most troubling of the details in the report is that the everglades, “a wild habitat once the size of Connecticut has shrunk by more than a half.”

On a visit to Florida to mark Earth day in April, President Barack Obama visited the everglades and noted its vulnerability. ”In terms of economic impact, all of this poses risks to Florida’s $82 billion tourist industry, on which so many good jobs and livelihoods depend.”

Republican energy lobbyist Michael McKenna who says he’s a conservative Catholic dismisses the pope’s message. “This pope is selling a line of Latin American-style socialism,” said McKenna. “This guy is not in sync with the American Catholics.”

Actually according to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, 86% of American Catholics view Pope Francis positively and 71 % believe the planet is getting warmer. However only a quarter of Catholic Republicans believe climate change is man-made. As for the Congress, 30 % of the members are Catholics, including Speaker Boehner. And they promise to be Pope Francis’ most skeptical audience.

Yet as the American people watch the network news, which virtually every night leads with historic and disastrous weather conditions in various parts of the country, they might finally begin to ask why? Pope Francis is providing credible answers.

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