Thursday 18 January 2018

Scientists welcome Pope's encyclical on climate change

Pope Francis, who will issue today a document supporting the view that climate change is mainly caused by human activities, kisses an infant at an audience at the Vatican yesterday
Pope Francis, who will issue today a document supporting the view that climate change is mainly caused by human activities, kisses an infant at an audience at the Vatican yesterday

Mary Wisniewski

Scientists in the US are hoping that Pope Francis's encyclical on global warming, which embraces the view that it is mostly caused by human activities, will change public opinion in the United States, where the issue is highly politicised.

Last night, Texas Tech University climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe said the Pope's document is important because more facts alone will not convince climate change sceptics.

"We have to connect these issues with our values," said Dr Hayhoe, who described herself as an evangelical Christian.

Dr Hayhoe said the Pope's document will expose the "cognitive dissonance" in using religious arguments against global warming - for example, that God would not let this happen.

"The real reason you object to it has to come out of the closet," Dr Hayhoe said.

The Pope is due to release the document today. However, a leaked draft shows that Pope Francis calls for urgent action on climate change and repeats the scientific consensus that the world is warming mostly thanks to human activity. That position has been contested by conservatives, particularly in the United States.

"What I think it will be effective at is reframing the basic essence of climate change as a moral issue - indeed, a moral imperative," said Michael MacCracken, chief scientist for climate change programmes at the Climate Institute in Washington.

Michael Greenstone, an economics professor who directs the University of Chicago's Energy Policy Institute, said it is becoming "increasingly uncomfortable and complicated" to deny climate change, and the Pope's statement will make it even harder.


"I think the dam will break at some point," Prof Greenstone said. "The arc of history bends towards truth."

A Pew Research Centre poll released this week found that 45pc of Americans and 47pc of US Catholics attribute global warming to human causes.

DePaul University environmental science professor Mark Potosnak said he hopes the Pope's stance will change opinions.

"It's really a moment to reframe the debate and move away from the partisanship, and emphasise to Catholics and others that it should really be a unity issue," Prof Potosnak said. "There's been a lot of bad information out there. It's nice the Pope had a voice here, and I think a lot of people are ready to listen."

Catholic priest Thomas Reese, who writes for the 'National Catholic Reporter', said the encyclical will raise the climate conversation to another level.

"Suddenly, you're not just doing it for the polar bears, you're doing it for God," Fr Reese said. "I think it makes a big difference."

Meanwhile, speaking in the Vatican yesterday, Pope Francis made a global appeal on the migrant crisis, appealing to governments not to close the door to those seeking a better life.

Pope Francis made the comments during his weekly general audience. He thanked those who care for refugees and urged governments to act together to prevent forced migration.

Speaking off-the-cuff, he said: "I invite all of you to ask forgiveness for those who close the door on these people who are looking for life, for a family, and to be cared for."

In Italy, dozens of migrants have been camped out on the border with France, which won't let them in. Hungary is warning it may build a fence to keep out migrants.

Irish Independent

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