Has Green Pope Francis Made a Difference on Attitudes to Global Warming?




by Des Pensable copyright 2015

Catholic Pope Francis, the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world has taken up the mantle as a world champion of Global Warming action. He has written an extensive 246 point guide (encyclical) to the members of his faith called “Laudato Si” outlining the problem of Global Warming, its causes and the need for urgent action. However, the document is not just targeted at the Catholic faithful but all mankind as the problem and need for urgent action affects us all.

Internationally, the Pope’s encyclical stimulated a very positive backing from the Islamic community and the Dali Lama.

Following the publication of his encyclical he travelled to the USA and spoke to the US Congress in an appeal for logic and sanity to Global Warming denier Republican congressmen who currently control the congress and are blocking serious US Global Warming mitigation action. His visit was well publicized, timely and his pro Global Warming action message widely distributed around the country.

The question of interest to everyone is whether Pope Francis has had any significant effect at convincing the people of the USA that the problem is both real and needs urgent attention.  A second question is whether his personal appeal to the Global Warming denier politicians especially the Catholic deniers in US congress will yield a change of heart leading to policies that favour action rather than hindrance and inaction.

With 246 points, the encyclical is rather large and strong on the world’s moral obligation to care for God’s creation, our home; to fix wealth inequality and reduce poverty. It has been reduced to 10 main points but can be neatly summarized into three main areas.

  1. it is based unequivocally on the scientific consensus that global warming is taking place and that climate change is man-made; it rejects the denial of anthropogenic warming;
  2. it unmasks the political and economic structures of power behind the climate change debate and stresses the importance of non-state actors in achieving change; and
  3. it defines the atmosphere and the environment as a common good rather than a “no man’s land”, available for anyone to pollute. This underlines that climate change is strongly related to the issues of justice and property rights.

To many conservative US citizens and perhaps conservatives around the world the Pope’s message is likely to be a shocking awakening. It leaves no doubt that the scientists are 100% correct. Global warming is real and if we ignore it then our civilization is likely to perish through our own negligence.

He places the blame for Global Warming squarely on the materialism caused and promoted by the poorly regulated free market Capitalism championed world-wide by the USA.  He is aware that the current continual growth economic philosophy in our world of finite resources is both technically and logically impossible.

He states that the current western neoliberal economic policy is causing an increasing wealth gap between the rich and the poor, increased poverty and damaging nature, the water we drink and the air we breathe. It is destroying the Earth’s life support system.

He argues both a moral and practical case for an urgent world-wide transition from fossil fuel use to renewables. More controversially, he calls for a revolutionary transition over the next few decades from the materialistic free market growth economics to a more socially benevolent and sustainable democratic economic system favoring people over profit.

This will need to be a social economic revolution carried out by the people as the politicians and wealthy elite are unlikely to either be in favor or help.

In short, this effectively means moving the USA and world away from a failing Capitalism which is dooming the planet to a more communal oriented Socialist style world. It favors communal ownership over privatization and a political system responsive to people rather than corporations.

The Pope is a realist in that he understands that asking US politicians, industry and commerce to change its ways is likely to fall on deaf ears. So he has pleaded directly to the courageous responsible clear thinking people of the USA and the world.

He is asking you and me for a peaceful revolution where we transform the world dragging the ignorant, the deniers, the greedy, the blind politicians and arrogant selfish wealthy self-styled elite along with us.

It is a mighty challenge that many would say is impossible but to others it’s inconceivable that we idly sit by waiting to perish without trying. So what is the reaction to the Pope’s call for world-wide action? Well two US opinion polls taken before (spring) and after (fall) the Pope’s pilgrimage to the USA are giving the first response of the US people (see here and here).

In short, it’s very positive. There was a definite Pope Francis effect. Indeed a 10-20 point swing. Significantly more people agree that Global Warming is real, caused by humans and requires urgent action. They are very much in favor of moving quickly towards a carbon emissions-free world using renewables.

opinion poll 0n pope visit

Click on graph for clearer view.

The Francis effect in the USA, has not only changed Global Warming opinion among the US people but reinvigorated the whole US Catholic Church.  Catholic leaders from many countries have signed and submitted a 10 point plan to the organizers of the Paris Climate conference calling for firm international action at the conference in December.

What the polls didn’t ask was whether the people in the USA are willing to move away from the current free market vulture capitalism that profits from fear and war towards a more socially inclusive, sharing and sustainable peaceful economy.

Judging by the popular responses to Bernie Sanders’s Presidential campaign advocating strong Global warming action and an economic move towards a sustainable economy there are millions of enlightened US citizens who would be prepared to move in that direction.

By the same token there are likely to be millions of ignorant authoritarian mass media controlled sheeple who are extremely fearful of any change.

The real unanswered question is whether the US congress has listened to the Pope and is mature enough to place the well-being of the world’s future before their own petty personal agendas and dreams of a US empire. Few have faith in the US congress so it’s likely that the US people will need to do as the Pope suggests and show true leadership at the community level.

You might also like “The World’s Christians Are Global Warming Believers But Does It Matter?

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The World’s Christians Are Global Warming Believers But Does It Matter?

destroying creation

by Des Pensable copyright 2015

The world’s Climate Science community through the IPCC reports has declared a world emergency over Global Warming. Nearly a third of all the people of the world are Christians so it’s worth examining how the Christian churches are accepting the science and how they are reacting to the challenge.

So where do Christians as a whole stand on the Global Warming issue. Well it’s more complex than at first it might seem. The Christian religion is fragmented into four main groups Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican.

These are further divided into smaller subgroups each interpreting the religious doctrine of the Bible in slightly different ways and they don’t always agree with each other on political and social problems.

Added to the problem is that several factors such as Geographic region, Education level, Demographics, Political Affiliation, Individual risk Assessment, Ideology and the mass media all affect public opinion on Global Warming.

So what we might expect to see is varying degrees of response to Global Warming depending upon the above factors and upon the attitudes of the local leaders of each individual religious group in each country.

But will the attitudes of the religious leaders have much of an effect on the individual Christian’s response to Global Warming?  Does it even matter?

The good news is that all the leaders of the main religions of the world including the leaders of the four main Christian groups agree that Global Warming is real and caused by human actions and they have all made statements supporting actions to mitigate Global Warming. That does not mean that all of their followers will necessarily agree.

The belief in Global Warming and action against it in the USA in particular is seen largely as a part of the ongoing culture war between the progressive liberal Democrat left and the conservative traditionalist Republican right. A similar cultural war is taking place in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Two recent surveys (2014 and 2015) have been made in the USA on religious attitudes to Global Warming. Both showed that the predominant factors were the culture war; both showed the religious Christians were more split along political party and ideological lines than religious lines.

In the figure below from the 2015 survey showed that the largest group of religious people (about 40%) were politically moderate with slightly higher numbers of Catholics leaning liberal / Democratic while more Evangelicals leaning conservative/ Republican.

religion vs politics survey

In the 2014 survey the attitudes on Global Warming were broken into three groups: Believers, that both believed Global Warming was true and caused by humans; Sympathizers, that believed Global warming was happening but NOT caused by humans; and Deniers (incorrectly called skeptics), that refused to believe anything was happening.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of religious Democrats are climate change Believers, 20% are Sympathizers, and 13% are Deniers.  Less than a quarter (22%) of Republicans are climate change Believers, 28% are Sympathizers, and nearly half (46%) are Deniers. Similar results were found in the 2015 survey.

The demographic attitudes to concern over the effects of Global Warming were even more interesting with a low proportion of either white Protestant or Catholics worried about its effects on them (see 2014 survey graph below).

Global Warming by US demography

So it might appear that religion takes third place to politics and ideology when it comes to belief in Global Warming. This has led to a great deal of pessimism whether Global Warming can be contained.

religious optimism on Global warming

But what if a powerful religious leader such as the Catholic Pope Francis were to strongly advocate for Global Warming action, would it make a difference?

In the 2015 survey, three in four Catholics (76%) have a very or moderately positive opinion of Pope Francis and only 2% have a negative view of him. Over half of non-evangelical Protestants (57%) also have a positive opinion of the Pope. Few (4%) have a negative opinion of him. About one in three evangelicals (35%) view Pope Francis positively. Relatively few (13%) view him negatively.

Over the last year we’ve seen a growing number of reports about the Catholic Pope Francis who represents 1.2 billion Christians becoming a champion of action to mitigate Global Warming. He believes all good Catholics have a moral and religious obligation to help mitigate Global Warming.

The 2015 survey showed Large majorities of Christians say global warming is a major environmental and scientific issue. Some consider it a major moral issue (22% of Catholics, 21% of non-evangelical Protestants, and 16% of evangelicals), but few currently consider it either a major religious (5%, 6%, and 9%, respectively) or spiritual issue (8%, 6%, and 9%). So what are the Pope’s chances?

He is going to release an encyclical shortly to both educate and convince the followers of the Catholic religion in all countries to seriously consider supporting actions to mitigate Global Warming as a matter of priority.

This has created both positive reactions from the scientists, environmentalists and many people from all around the world but negative reactions from the fossil fuel / global warming denier lobby centred in the USA.

The fossil fuel lobby are worried as they are concerned that the Pope’s message could motivate more action for mitigation than is currently the case but the Pope doesn’t seem worried.

The more conservative Catholic Republican congressmen are not so sure “In today’s Congress, party matters much more than the faith tradition you come from,” said Geoff Layman, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic institution in South Bend, Indiana. “Catholic Democrats tend to vote like any other Democrat, and Catholic Republicans like any other Republican.”

However, in the 2014 survey, Americans who say their clergy leader speaks at least occasionally about climate change are more likely to be climate change Believers than Americans who tend not to hear about climate change in church (49% and 36%, respectively), so it’s possible that the Pope might have an effect.

Judging from the graph above Pope Francis leading a religion crusade to fight for a greater effort to combat Global Warming could well have a positive effect on convincing a significant proportion of the white Catholic sympathizers and deniers that Climate Change is real, human caused and action is necessary and more urgent than they originally believed.

This would be especially important with those in state or federal parliaments and middle corporate management as it could significantly change the balance of power towards more action to mitigate the problem in the USA.

However, even doubling the number of white Catholic believers might not be enough as three quarters of the US religious population are Protestants. Many of these are fundamentalist evangelists, who are relatively anti-science presumably because of their rejection of the scientific theory of Evolution.

The religious fundamentalists are strongly represented in the US congress by vocal overtly religious conservative anti-science, Global Warming denying Republican congressmen who currently control both houses of the US parliament.

These Republican congressmen state openly that they will fight against any efforts of the USA to curtail the growth of the fossil fuel industry, block the growth of renewables and cancel any legislation designed to mitigate Global Warming. This policy position could have disastrous consequences for the whole world.

Still there is hope. A look at the religious breakdown of the current 2015 congress suggests that if half of Catholic Republicans changed to Global Warming believers in line with the Pope it would give both houses a pro Global Warming vote.

So in conclusion, at present Global Warming action is hostage to the politicians. Whether religion through the efforts of the Pope can make a difference is a question that we will all have to wait to see.

The question arises then who is controlling the Republican Party’s anti Global Warming agenda? Is it fundamentalist religious zealots pushing a religious agenda or billionaire fossil fuel barons like the Koch brothers and their right wing think-tanks funding the Republican Party or perhaps an alliance of the two or some other insidious influence.

This question will be examined in a future Blog.

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