Pope Francis cooled his rhetoric on climate change and the need to de-industrialize the world in order to help the poor in his three speeches to political bodies during his first trip to the United States this past week. Francis and his Vatican entourage arrived direct from Cuba on 22nd September at Andrews Air Force Base, where he was greeted by President and Mrs. Obama.
Appearing the next morning on the White House lawn with the President, the Pope said, “I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation.”
On Thursday morning, Francis became the first Pope to address a joint meeting of Congress. He didn’t mention climate change once, although he did call on Congress to exert itself to “to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”
In his address to the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit at UN headquarters in New York City on 24th September, Pope Francis spoke at length on the connection between protecting the environment and “putting an end to exclusion.” Francis uses “the excluded” as a catchall term for various categories of downtrodden people.
His argument is convoluted, but here is perhaps the key passage:
“The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged…. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing ‘culture of waste’.”
In an indication of his charming naivete, the Pope continued: “The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.”