In the wake of Pope Francis’ newly-released encyclical, which calls man-made climate change “one of the principal challenges facing humanity,” right-wing denialists insist that the pontiff should stick to religion and stop meddling in politics.
Which is hilarious, because right-wingers typically love it when religious leaders participate in politics. To quote Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, they love it when religious leaders “engage America in the public square with Biblical values.” They love it when religious leaders bring a moral dimension to the political crusades against abortion and gay marriage. They loved it when President Reagan met with Pope John Paul II to strategize about winning the Cold War.
But on the most crucial issue of our era – protecting the ecosystem from the rapacious practices of man – they’re saying the exact opposite. Jeb Bush says, “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 into the political realm.” Rick Santorum says the world’s Catholic leader is “better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology.”
We cant expect much from Santorum – as a candidate, he’s DOA – but Jeb is supposedly the GOP’s big brain. He’s insisting that the pontiff skip the public square, yet it was only four weeks ago when he spoke at the right-wing Liberty University and declared that “there is no more powerful or liberating influence on this earth than the Christian conscience in action.” And 10 years ago, when he used his gubernatorial clout to keep comatose Terri Schiavo alive via a feeding tube, he defended his decision by quoting Catholic theology. As governor, he also buttressed his support for the death penalty by invoking, in his words, “the Catechism of the Catholic Church…preserving the common good of society.”
Pope Francis’ encyclical is all about preserving the common good of society (he refers to the environment as “our common home”), but he has clearly picked the wrong issue. Because when he rebukes man for fouling the planet (“We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will” and “Our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience”), he is insulting the denialists’ true deities: the Koch brothers, and the other fossil-fuel moguls who finance the junk-science think tanks and donate heavily to the GOP.
When Santorum says that Pope Francis should “leave science to the scientists,” well, that’s precisely what the pontiff has done. In 2013, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group comprised of thousands of scientists from 195 member countries, released its fifth report on the crisis. It says that the probability that humans are responsible for “most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century” is now 95 percent. And 97 percent of climate scientists endorse that view. Those stats are roughly equivalent to the scientific consensus that cigarettes cause cancer.
And yet, Jeb Bush keeps saying stuff like this: “For the people to say the science is decided on this is really arrogant.” He can diss the pope for entering the political realm, but the truth is, the pope seems more attuned to reality than he is. Which is quite irresponsible of Jeb, given the fact that he’s a Floridian (as is fellow denier Marco Rubio) and that the 2014 National Climate Assessment, written by 13 federal agencies, cites Miami as one of the cities most vulnerable to economic havoc from man-made climate change.
I get why Jeb and other Republicans have to keep talking nonsense. They’re trolling for primary season votes from The Base, where denialism is a rampant disease (according to Gallup, only 27 percent of conservative Republicans say that humans cause climate change). But a fervent encyclical from the world’s Catholic leader puts them in quite a squeeze.
Papal encyclicals are typically treated as authoritative church statements. They’re typically taught in Catholic schools. The archbishop in Jeb’s Miami is reportedly planning to highlight the document in his summer sermons. And Pope Francis is set to address the House of Representatives in September – at the invitation of John Boehner, who apparently didn’t get the new memo that religious leaders should stay out of politics.
Actually, Pope Francis addressed that issue in his encyclical: “The Church does not presume…to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.” We all know which “interests and ideologies” he’s talking about. No wonder they want him to zip it.