5 Ways Pope Francis May Just Have Changed the Future of Climate Action

What’s next now that fighting global warming is a moral obligation.

Banner carriers called for action on global warming at the People's Climate March in New York City in September 2014. (Photo: Adrees Latif/Reuters)

Jun 18, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Emily J. Gertz is an associate editor for environment and wildlife at TakePart.

In his first major encyclical, Pope Francis called for immediate action on global warming, endorsing steps that link environmental conservation with social and economic justice.

But how will “Laudato Si’ ” move the dial in practical terms on climate aid to developing nations, breaking the climate impasse in the U.S. Congress—long a bane to international climate treaty negotiations—or even how people and institutions spend their money?

So, Why Should You Care? Most experts, including climate scientists, believe we have very little time left to make changes that will avert the worst impacts of global warming. Actions that help speed up the transition to renewable energy, conservation of forests and biodiversity, and cuts to greenhouse gas pollution will help reduce the environmental consequences of climate change.

Here are five possible positive reactions to Pope Francis’ message that we think are among the most likely in the next several months:

1. Fossil fuel divestment accelerates. The papal focus on climate change is welcome news to proponents of the movement by universities, foundations, and other organizations to sell off investments in oil, coal, or gas. Now that Pope Francis has put global warming action into church canon, they anticipate that more Catholic and other faith-based entities will embrace fossil fuel divestment. “If there are a few points that will be remembered in history, even 50 years from now, one of them will be the release of this encyclical,” said Yossi Cadan, senior campaigner with 350.org’s Fossil Free divestment campaign. “I think it will create a serious momentum in our work, which already has a lot of momentum.”

RELATED: The Church Challenges the State to Take Radical Action on Climate Change

2. The Green Climate Fund plumps up. Wealthy nations have already donated close to $10 billion to the GCF. The money is being used to finance environmentally sound economic projects in developing countries and help them adapt to climate change. But it’s long been unclear that the GCF would hit its more ambitious goal of handing out $100 billion a year by 2020. Increasing their contributions to the GCF would be a relatively easy way for the world’s richest nations to tip their caps to Pope Francis on climate justice while sidestepping the more fundamental economic reforms that he endorses.

3. Pressure mounts for binding greenhouse gas cuts. Wealthy nations made legally binding commitments on how much they would cut greenhouse gas pollution in the first international climate treaty. This more than anything killed the Kyoto Protocol, as Congress never ratified it, and ever since, U.S. negotiators have held out for no binding cuts in a future treaty. Pope Francis, however, made a point of calling for “gradual framing and acceptance of binding commitments” to cut carbon emissions. This may embolden negotiators to renew calls for carbon cuts that have legal teeth, but they will need to include a much broader swath of nations than Kyoto did.

4. Congressional Catholics are put on the spot. Pope Francis is apparently not going to change the minds of many conservative Republican Catholic lawmakers with “Laudato Si’.” But what about Democratic Catholics, particularly the “blue dogs” who historically back the energy status quo while also supporting social reforms such as Obamacare? R.L. Miller, the astute climate politics observer who also runs the @climatehawkvote Twitter handle, thinks there will be some self-reckoning.

5. Vacations from technology take off. People longing for an authoritative excuse to let their cell phone batteries die, sign off Facebook, and never catch up on Orange Is the New Black have a new ally: Pope Francis. “[W]hen media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously,” he wrote in “Laudato Si’.” “True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution…giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays than with other people and with nature.”

With license from God’s own representative on Earth to turn off, tune out, and drop off a gadget or two at the nearest e-waste recycler, expect a wave of tech-free evangelists to advise us “how to create the perfect tech-free vacation off the grid.”