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Vail Daily column: Pope’s moral convictions rile climate change deniers

Jack Van Ens

Pope Francis is principled but not ideological. His recent encyclical letter pinpoints causes of global warming. It emphasizes our moral obligation to care for the environment.

In contrast, ideologues deny scientific findings regarding global warning because these facts contradict their biases.

Want to view an ideologue in action? Check out verbal flame thrower Donald Trump who is running for president. Spewing his brand of political purity, Trump verbally scorches at the stake anyone who crosses him.



In contrast, Pope Francis places his hand firmly on a moral wheel that drives his ecological ship. When storms of controversy swirl around him, he shifts his intellectual weight like a good sailing captain does. He has learned the art of tacking between scripture and science in dealing with climate change.

His principled mind works like that of Dwight D. Eisenhower. Writing to boyhood friend, Swede, during his presidential second term, Eisenhower sounded more like a naval admiral than a military general. He traced how working principles kept him from being wedged into Republican ideologues’ corners. Eisenhower recollected, “Possibly I am something like a ship which, buffeted and pounded by wind and wave, is still afloat and manages in spite of frequent tacks and turnings to stay generally along its plotted course and continues to make some, even if slow and painful, headway.”



The pope reflects Ike’s principled commitment to changing what’s wrong and working for what’s right. Pope Francis doesn’t equivocate. He warns Earthlings that global warming threatens our planet’s existence. It’s mainly caused by human activity detrimental to green causes, which push the poor into desperate plights.

The pope writes, “If the present trends (regarding global warming) continue, this century may well-witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all.” Natural causes, like volcanic eruptions, choke the atmosphere, says the pope, but the No. 1 culprit is our over-reliance on fossil fuels. “ … Numerous scientific studies indicate that the greater part of global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) emitted; and, above all, due to human activity,” he concludes.

The pope speaks from the heart. “The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” It especially contaminates the Third World’s regions. Poor peasants’ meager resources are “largely dependent on natural reserves and eco systemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry.”



The pope makes a compelling theological argument. Theology is the art of reflecting deeply and wisely on God’s thoughts. Pope Francis blends biblical insight with scientific discovery. His theology runs on two complementary rails: scripture and science.

Like the pope, Thomas Jefferson regarded the Bible, rid of superstition, as an aid God gives believers who investigate scientific advances. Jefferson referred to “nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence as the creative power that lights up the universe and enlivens scripture.

Jefferson’s historian Andrew Burstein investigates how God works, using science and scripture, to aid moral reflection. “It was only through scientific study, he (Jefferson) felt that the greatest of mysteries would ever be resolved. Jefferson was not an atheist or pure rationalist. God existed for him as ingenious design power evident in the organization of our universe. He was quite capable of marveling at the mysteries of Creation” (“Democracy’s Muse”).

Similarly, Pope Francis’ encyclical uses science and scripture to warn against global warming. When a poet pictures Eve and Adam wielding “dominion” over creation, this Genesis story-teller wants us to respect the Earth, not rape it for a quick buck (Genesis 1:26).

Several Republican Roman Catholics running for president completely misread the pope’s encyclical. Some condemn it as a misinformed public text with a political ax to grind against free-market capitalism.

“I respect the pope,” says Jeb Bush. “I think he’s an incredible leader, but I think it’s better to solve this problem (about global warming) in the political realm. I’m going to read what he says, of course. I’m a Catholic and try to follow the teachings of the Church.”

A Roman Catholic convert of many years, Bush then undercuts every platitude he gave the pope. “I don’t go to Mass for economic policy or for things political.”

The pope does not warn of global warming to win votes, as partisan politicians do. He weighs climate change on a moral scale. He frames the issue using religious measurements, such as: sinful overconsumption, unrestrained free markets that contaminate soil and sea; and, over-reliance on fossil fuels, which pollute the atmosphere. He urges us to “replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing.”

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com).


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