Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change could have a greater influence that the Paris talks. Photo credit: Aleteia Image Department/Flickr

With any luck 500 years of perfecting high politics in the Vatican will pay off for the entire planet with pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change this week.

A version of it was leaked early to an Italian newspaper L’Espresso, this week, in perfect synchronicity with the deals and double deals of Renaissance Italy that gave rise to Niccolo Machiavelli’s blueprint for effective political strategy The Prince. (Inspired by a notorious predecessor of the pope, Cesare Borgia).

What’s possible and what many hope for is that the words of the 191-page document will be so well crafted and effective that they will shift the course of history we are currently barrelling along. They need to revolutionise not only one billion Catholics on the planet but a good many other inhabitants as well.

A look at the various translations of On Care for Our Common Home reported around the globe show pope Francis might have nailed it.

Like the best political inspiration, the words are simple, the emotions powerful.

He gives the science the cursory attention it deserves. Apart from volcanoes, we’re to blame.

He calls on action from all of us – changes in lifestyles and energy consumption to avert the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem.”

“Humanity is called to take note of the need for changes in lifestyle and changes in methods of production and consumption to combat this warming, or at least the human causes that produce and accentuate it,” The Guardian reported.

“The attitudes that stand in the way of a solution, even among believers, range from negation of the problem, to indifference, to convenient resignation or blind faith in technical solutions.”

The scientific community is gobsmacked. For decades it’s been building the logical and evidenced based argument for change. It’s agonised over detail and precision and engaged in intellectual battles with its opponents, proving again and again they were wrong.

But scientists don’t do politics. And this is the art of narrative and persuasion.

USA Today said the pope’s message “could do more to slow global warming than international negotiations this year to limit greenhouse gas emissions.”

“The encyclical is going to go out to over 1 billion Catholics — that’s a way of getting a message across to a segment of society that the scientific community could never do,” said an excited Jeff Kiehl with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “I mean it’s just unbelievable.”

“The pope’s encyclical is probably going to have a bigger impact than the Paris negotiations,” NASA climatologist Gavin Schmidt said.

He gives short shrift to corporations and business behemoths.

These seek to “mask the problems or hide the symptoms, seeking only to reduce the negative impacts of climate change,” he says in The Wall Street Journal which focused on the business angle.

The timing of the encyclical ahead of the Paris talks on climate was “critical”, the WSJ said.

Oil companies were “turning increasingly vocal on climate change amid rising scrutiny from investors and governments. Many are looking to influence the debate by proposing remedies, including the imposition of a carbon tax, that might have a lesser impact on their business than more wide-ranging changes being sought by some”.

“Many of the industries’ largest players are advocating a shift away from coal to cleaner-burning gas—which they are producing in ever larger volumes—as a means to mitigate climate change while continuing to meet rising energy demand in the coming decades.

“Earlier this year, Exxon Mobil Corp sent a senior lobbyist to Rome in an attempt to brief the Vatican on its outlook for energy markets,” the WSJ said.

But the pope said there was an “urgent and compelling” need for policies that reduce carbon emissions, among other ways, by “replacing fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.”

Carbon credits won’t work

In an interesting clincher, the pope dismissed carbon credits.

They “could give rise to a new form of speculation and would not help to reduce the overall emission of polluting gases”. Instead they could lead to “support the super-consumption of certain countries and sectors”, The Guardian said.

He also focused on water scarcity and the loss of biodiversity, especially in Africa and other poor regions and said environmental problems “strike in a special way the weakest on the planet.”

On pollution he says the Earth “is protesting for the wrong that we are doing to her, because of the irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has placed on her. We have grown up thinking that we were her owners and dominators, authorised to loot her. The violence that exists in the human heart, wounded by sin, is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things.”

“I want to address every person who inhabits this planet.”

The pope proposes “another style of life,” featuring more environmentally conscious behavior, such as reducing use of paper, plastic and water, separating trash, car-sharing and turning off unnecessary lights.

“One must not think that these efforts won’t change the world.”

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  1. Where does he find the time? Think of it. The organization he leads is under criminal investigation in seemingly every country on the planet. Then, there’s all the soul searching he must be doing about his actions during the military dictatorship in Argentina, when catholics were disappearing left and right, never to be seen again and his own priests were being tortured. Yet, he finds the time to lecture us about environmental stewardship. What a guy.