The Roman Catholic Church did some catching up last week with a clear and definitive statement calling for decisive action on global greenhouse gas emissions.
In Pope Francis’ “encyclical”, the head of the world’s one billion or so Catholics described climate change as “one of the principal challenges facing humanity”.
In Laudato Si’ – On Care For Our Common Home, the Pope set out the strong moral case for action. He wrote: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”
The Pope quoted Patriarch Bartholemew, spiritual leader of the world’s 300 million Orthodox Christians, who had described acts of polluting the environment and causing climate change as “sins”.
The Pope’s 183-page document even issued a thinly-veiled attack on the fossil fuel industry and governments siding with them when he wrote that “too many special interests, and economic interests” were “trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected”. He wrote,
Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.
But there are some high profile and influential Catholics around the globe who will have been shifting uncomfortably on their pews after reading the Pope’s message — especially those who still deny that human-caused climate chnage is even a thing.
Let’s hear their confessions (not actual confessions).
Cardinal George Pell
One can only guess what Cardinal Pell thinks of his Pope’s statements on tackling climate change, but perhaps he muttered something about pagans under his breath.
Pell, who heads the Vatican’s financial secretariat, once said that the kind of concerns about the urgent threat of climate change expressed by the Pope were, in his view, a “symptom of pagan emptiness”.
In a 2011 speech to UK-based climate science denial group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, Pell said: “Some of those campaigning to save the planet are not merely zealous but zealots. To the religionless and spiritually rootless, mythology — whether comforting or discomforting — can be magnetically, even pathologically, attractive.”
In the speech, Pell claimed the science linking climate change to rising carbon dioxide emissions lacked empirical support and said that CO2 was “not a pollutant, but the stuff of life”.
Climate scientists described Pell’s speech as “utter rubbish” and “flawed”.
Pell’s Confession: Forgive me Holy Father… I don’t really think you’re a pagan, or religionless, or spiritually rootless, or a zealot.
Marco Rubio has dabbled with Mormonism, evangelical Christianity and more recently, appears to have settled into Roman Catholicism.
The 2016 hopeful for the Republican presidential nomination looks to be trying to play to the climate science denialists in the Republican ranks when he chooses to dodge the question of whether humans cause climate change and if something should be done about it. The Florida Senator’s position was described by the Washington Post as “intellectually hollow”.
Earlier this year, Rubio joined other Republicans to vote against an amendment stating that humans caused climate change.
Another Catholic in the race for the Republican presidential nomination is Jeb Bush, who also has a history of denying the science of climate change.
A rhetorical question comes to mind. Is the Pope Catholic? Do Republicans deny climate change science?
GOP Confession: Forgive us Holy Father… we accepted 78 per cent of all the donations made by coal and oil companies in the current US congress so… you know.
Greg Boyce is the executive chairman of Peabody Energy, the world’s largest privately owned coal company.
Peabody has been trying harder than any other energy company in the world to recast their product as the answer to global energy poverty, rather than the key cause of climate change.
Appearing before a House of Representatives committee in April 2010, Boyce was evasive when asked repeatedly if carbon dioxide was causing climate change, choosing instead to talk about “clean coal” and “green coal”.
In Peabody’s annual reports for 2013 and 2014, the company refuses to endorse that its coal has an impact on the climate, describing those impacts as “perceived” rather than reality.
In April 2015, Boyce again dismissed climate change, describing the issue as being “predicted by flawed computer models”. Boyce has repeatedly argued his company’s products are the only genuine answer to lifting the world’s poor out of poverty, an argument contradicted by the Pope’s encyclical.
Peabody also launched the “Advanced Energy for Life” advertising campaign to push this argument.
In exchanges with The Guardian newspaper, Peabody’s vice-president of corporate communications Viv Svec said climate change was a “modelled crisis”, adding: “Climate concerns are a threat, to the extent that they lead to policies that hurt people”.
Boyce’s confession: Forgive me Holy Father… I tried to tell everyone our products were good news for the world’s poor, when they’re really the opposite.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott once said the science of climate change was “absolute crap” and believes that “coal is good for humanity”.
From 1984 to 1987, Abbott studied to be a Catholic priest and has been described as one of the most overtly devout political leaders in Australia’s history.
Abbott now claims to accept that carbon dioxide causes climate change, but doesn’t accept that rising temperatures are linked to an increase in the risk of bushfires in his country. Abbott, who counts Cardinal George Pell as a mentor, has continued to defend his country’s powerful coal industry.
Abbott’s handpicked top business advisor Maurice Newman thinks climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the United Nations to help them impose a world government.
Earlier this month Abbott said that wind turbines were “visually awful” despite apparently only ever seeing one single turbine up close.
Abbott’s Confession: Forgive me Holy Father… I said coal was “good for humanity” and I gave Maurice Newman a job.
Devout Catholic and high profile conservative radio and television host Sean Hannity shares the disdain for climate science of many of his co-hosts on Fox News.
Hannity has regularly argued that the science linking climate change to human activity is uncertain.
On his radio show in January 2014, Hannity told one caller: “I don’t care what your liberal friends say. I think global warming is a hoax.”
Hannity offered a conspiracy theory that scientists had altered temperature data “so that they could make a political point”.
The Pope’s encyclical on climate change is unlikely to have much of an impact on Hannity, who has reportedly rowed with the church previously over his support for birth control.
Hannity is just one of many climate science denying hosts on Fox News, owned by a company chaired by another climate science denier, Rupert Murdoch.
Murdoch’s media outlets have been a key to spreading climate misinformation around the globe, providing forums to virulent climate science denial particularly in the US and Australia.
While Murdoch is not Catholic, he did receive a so-called “papal knighthood” in 1998 from Pope John Paul II.
Hannity’s confessional: Forgive me Holy Father… I really should have checked before promoting that guy who thought global cooling was coming.
Main Image: Flickr/Aleteia Image Department, Hannity and Rubio images: Flickr/Gage Skidmore, Pell image: Flickr/Catechista 2.0, Abbott image: Flickr/Troy, Boyce image: Flickr/United Way of Greater St Louis