The Pope’s new encyclical on the environment, out on Thursday, is generating controversy and excitement, and some worry, even before it is published, let alone before it is read and studied.
Take this report from the Daily Telegraph, which is interesting enough, but which appears under the highly misleading headline: “Pope Francis to intervene in climate change debate”. It is this idea that some find rightly worrying.
The Pope can, and should, intervene in lots of debates that are concerned with faith and morals. Moroever, he can, should and does intervene in debates that deal with proximate truths, that is to say scientific or historical facts that impinge on the truths of faith and morals. Thus it is quite correct for the Church to teach about so called “gender theory”, as, secular as this idea is, it clearly has an impact on morality.
But the Telegraph headline (and yes, I know that the headlines in papers are never written by the author of the article, but by the editors of the paper) seems to suggest that the Pope is somehow going to come down one way or another in the debate on global warming: or to be more specific, he is going to endorse the position of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, and conversely rule out the views of those who do not accept this current orthodoxy. There is the prospect of a Galileo moment in the offing.
Except, of course, the Pope will not. He does not need to. He can stick to the theology. Regardless of your views on global warming, pumping huge amounts of dirty smoke into the atmosphere is clearly not a good thing in itself. Regardless of where you stand on conservation issues, it is pretty clear that the extinction of the dodo was not a good thing for any of us, least of all the dodo. Naturally, like everyone writing about this matter, I do not know what the contents of the encyclical will be, but I am pretty certain the letter will focus, as its title suggests, on the love we ought to have for Creation, and our duties of stewardship towards Creation.
Moreover, it is bound to suggest, as does St Francis’ Canticle of the Creatures, from which the title comes, that the human being is the most precious thing in God’s Creation, being the only animal that can reason and that can love. This last point will not please many ecologists, particularly those who follow the line of Peter Singer. But those people need to be taken on.
If the Pope has anything to say about the use of fossil fuels, I hope very strongly this will not be used as ammunition by the anti-fracking campaigners. Fracking is the future: it has already made the United States much less dependant on imported sources of energy. That, politically, and ecologically (cutting down the waste created by transport) is a good thing.