Pope Francis Cools It on Climate Change Rhetoric

Pope Francis in his speeches at the White House on Wednesday morning and to a joint session of Congress on Thursday morning toned down his rhetoric on climate change and modern industrial civilization. Way down.

Here are the Pope’s key remarks on climate change at the White House:

Mr. President, 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. When it comes to the care of our “common home”, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them.

I don’t think many people are going to get excited about the Pope’s tepid support of President Obama’s energy-rationing agenda.

Francis didn’t even mention “climate change” when he addressed Congress. Here is what he told Members of Congress about addressing the generic environmental challenge:

It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable. “Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good” (Laudato Si’, 129). This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (ibid., 3). “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all” (ibid., 14).

In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” (ibid., 61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” (ibid., 231) and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature” (ibid., 139). “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology” (ibid., 112); “to devise intelligent ways of… developing and limiting our power” (ibid., 78); and to put technology “at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral” (ibid., 112). In this regard, I am confident that America’s outstanding academic and research institutions can make a vital contribution in the years ahead.

There are some worrying code words here, but the quotes from his encyclical that Pope Francis chose to repeat are among the mildest criticisms of free market capitalism and modern industrial civilization in the encyclical.

As for the “Moral Action for Climate Justice” rally, which was held on the Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets to coincide with the Pope’s address to Congress, it was a complete bust. The rally’s organizers got a permit for a rally of up to two hundred thousand people. Judging from the live-streamed video on the website of one of the organizations sponsoring the rally, there were closer to two hundred attendees than two thousand.

Perhaps the perfect early fall weather kept people away.

Pope Francis has restrained his rhetoric on climate change and capitalism so far during his first visit to the United States. Tomorrow he addresses the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in New York City. It will be interesting to see whether he continues to keep it cool when he talks to the much more receptive audience at the United Nations.