Saturday, June 27, 2015

Pope Francis vs King Coal

The Pope has honored his role as Christ’s representative by urging followers not to discriminate against gays, lesbians, bisexual or transgender brothers and sisters. He spoke sternly about the immorality of the growing gap between rich and poor.

Francis bluntly called out world powers for failing to stop a Holocaust they knew was in progress during World War II. He questioned the faithfulness of those who manufacture weapons of war all week long and then go to church on Sunday.

Now Pope Francis has decreed that climate change is far more than a political issue. It is moral, spiritual, and theological.  Scripture justifies, even demands, his outspokenness.

“Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Genesis 1)

Politicians serving gods of the fossil fuels industry are aghast at the Pope’s entry into this fray. They really thought it possible to serve two masters. Like Jesus, the Pope says it can’t be done.  But God endowed human caretakers with the choice-making capacity. We’ve used that gift selfishly.

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum said, “I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists.” The Pope is a scientist with a Master’s Degree in Chemistry. Those who fear challenging the fossil fuels industry are not willing to leave science to the scientists.”  Their common mantra is, “I am not a scientist.”

“I’m not a scientist,” says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “I’m interested in protecting Kentucky’s economy.”  Thus the choice is made between the planet and certain powerful economic interests.

While Nero and his colleagues fiddle, other non-scientists with real responsibilities rely on scientists. Mayors, military generals, and business leaders are preparing their corners of the world hoping to avoid the calamity.

Most of the most densely populated U.S. cities are on coastlines. Their mayors don’t deny climate change. They know the threat is real and they take their responsibilities seriously. They can’t adopt science denial as a policy. They know flooding accompanying rising sea levels will inundate their cities damaging billions of dollars in public and private property in America’s coastline cities.

Neither will you find the American military among science deniers. U.S. military installations are now being surveyed for vulnerabilities. With national security at risk, the generals are preparing for the impact of climate change on military operations.

While some governors and congress-people are paralyzed, U.S. businesses are acting. "Climate change poses a tremendous threat to the key sectors of the Midwest economy, particularly manufacturing and agriculture.” Hank Paulson, President George W. Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury, is “gravely concerned that our 'business as usual' path is dangerous, unsustainable and threatens our way of life.”

Wyoming’s politicians must know Wyoming cannot escape the wrath that is to come. Less snow in the mountains means declining run-offs in the spring, which means Wyoming’s agriculture industry will suffer. Hotter temperatures and less rainfall mean more devastating wildfires. Agriculture and tourism will be among the losers. 

Yet, Wyoming blithely spews more carbon dioxide than any other state or country: 276,000 pounds per capita each year, thanks to King Coal.

Genuine leaders recognize there is no future for coal but there is a future for Wyoming. If saving a dying fossil fuels industry is our only climate change policy, the future is much more bleak than it need be.

This matter is far too important to leave to pandering politicians whose vision extends no farther than the next election. There are, unfortunately, so few issues on which they have ever led. That’s why this Pope’s courage is so refreshing. The Pope speaks of “the relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment” and the apathy of those more interested in “the reckless pursuit of profits.” Both are well within the purview of theologians.

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