Friday, June 19, 2015

The Pope's Encyclical On Climate Change

The quote below is the final comment in the New York Times summary of the Pope's encyclical on climate change.

“All is not lost,” he writes. “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”
The Pope believes that the scientific community has made the right conclusion about the human contribution to climate change.  He has also seen much of the damage from climate change in his travels around the globe.  At a fundamental level, the Pope shows his respect for the ability of the scientific community to deepen its understanding of natural phenomena.  This may be one of the positive virtues that we possess as human beings.  He is concerned, however, about our moral and ethical development.  We are better at science than we are at moral and ethical development.  Our pursuit of material gain, without regard for the health our planet, and the well being of future generations, is the root cause of the damage that we are doing to our planet.  We are capable of realizing our human potential but it has been often been difficult for us.  He is hopeful that we can rise above our human frailties and do the right thing.  His encyclical is intended  to push us in that direction.

This editorial in the New York Times praises the Pope's encyclical but it is not as hopeful as the Pope's message.  We all struggle to live up to the moral and ethical values that we hold.  Our politicians don't seem to care much about that kind of struggle.  The senate majority leader opposes any efforts made by the government which might affect the interests of the coal mining industry in his state.  More generally, the Republican Party has used climate change denial as an attribute that distinguishes itself from its "liberal opponents" in the Democratic Party.  It is not likely to give up its war against liberalism which has been well received by its electoral base.  However, we should be hopeful that the Pope's message will have a positive impact on public opinion.  Politicians place a high value on swings in public opinion.  It can determine whether they remain in office. This is something in which they all believe.  They have to balance the loss of campaign contributions from the affected industries versus the impact of changes in public opinion.

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