Science and religion have not always been close allies, but climate science researchers who have so far struggled to convince world leaders of the urgent necessity of addressing global warming are about to gain a powerful clerical ally.
Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, will issue a major document known as an “encyclical” in March of next year. Several British newspapers reported that Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, the chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, spoke about the document during an address to a Catholic development agency in London last week.
Francis is scheduled to visit Tacloban, a Philippine city destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan in 2012. After that visit, he will publish the encyclical, which will be distributed worldwide through Catholic Churches. The document is expected to endorse the science behind the warnings about global warming, and to make a moral case for taking steps to reduce the production of greenhouse gases that contribute to the problem.
Francis has hinted at this position in the past, but the encyclical next year, amounting to an official statement of position, will carry much more weight than any single set of remarks.
Sorondo told his audience in London that the Pope does not intend to stop with the issuance of the document. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion,” he said, according to the Guardian newspaper.
“Just as humanity confronted revolutionary change in the 19th century at the time of industrialization, today we have changed the natural environment so much,” Sorondo said.
“If current trends continue, the century will witness unprecedented climate change and destruction of the ecosystem with tragic consequences.”
Francis will also address the United Nation’s General Assembly. Sorondo said that the overall aim is to influence the outcome of the UN’s December 2015 meeting on the climate in Paris. The international body has been debating climate change for two decades, and next year’s meeting is widely seen as pivotal in the effort to get governments worldwide to agree to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
How successful Francis will be in his effort is unclear. Some prominent Catholics in the U.S. and around the world publicly deny the existence of climate change due to human factors. In the U.S., evangelical Protestants who believe in intelligent design are strongly tied to denial of climate change. A spokesperson for one prominent group told the Guardian that Pope Francis needs to “back off.”
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