Pope Francis and Inconsistent Climate Concerns


The baldachin over the tomb of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. (Source unknown.)

“I’m not a scientist.” That’s a phrase which, nowadays, seems to echo through the halls of the Capitol in Washington. Despite the overwhelming consensus on the existence of climate change, and its severity, many American politicians seem content to ignore the horror that awaits.

Well I’m not a scientist, either, but I find it easy to understand and accept the science on climate change. I’d rather it (anthropogenic warming) didn’t exist, but we can’t go on just ignoring the facts, anyway. Many of the environmental crises that face the world in the 21st century can be understood through a basic review of the—I would argue—highly flawed and discordant societal systems of which we are all a part. It takes no more than a little cursory research, some empathy, and intuition to get the fact that the world is going to hell in an ecologically-devastated hand basket.

Well, it’s not all shit. (Not just yet, at least.) Despite a kind of virulent denialism on part of many political and business leaders, a few important religious figures have stepped up in response to this growing, impending disaster. Pope Francis is perhaps the most championed person in this category. He has gained some considerable attention on the issue, especially due to the announcement of a forthcoming papal encyclical which would urge Catholics to combat the crisis.

Anyone who has been following Francis’ undertakings would be right to call him something of a progressive, at least relative to most of his predecessors. But on the issue of climate I think that Francis is a bit inconsistent. In fact, he fails to really challenge one of the major contributors to climate change (and other environmental catastrophes): overpopulation.

The connection between overpopulation, and thus over-consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, is clear. (It’s no small wonder that larger carbon sources can be connected to more densely-populated areas.) And yet the Pope has no effective way of addressing this issue. In his recent visit to the Philippines, he merely suggested that Catholics not breed “like rabbits.” His view of contraception is still in line with his predecessors, and this is impacting the world in a truly negative way. The Canadian Guelph Mercury reports that the Church’s insistence on abstinence from birth control is contributing to the impoverishment of many people in Uganda, for instance. This is a direct contradiction of the Church’s stance on charity, and its efforts to alleviate poverty around the world. I myself was raised a Catholic, and I was often told of the virtues of giving to the poor. However, it’s simple logic that, the more people there are, the less there is to go around. That isn’t to say that the allocation of resources isn’t itself a problem, but that overpopulation greatly magnifies a persistent issue of wrongful consumption.

In any case, the Catholic Church needs to reform its views on contraception and overpopulation if it wants to be consistent, considering both its stated climate concerns, and its concern for the world’s poor.

“Pax et bonum!” proclaimed St. Francis. Let’s take his words to their logical conclusion. Let the Catholic Church move in a direction that is consistent with its views on climate change.