The Pope on Climate Change

A thoughtful appreciation for Pope Francis' stance on Climate Change:


I've been watching the progress of climate science for most of my professional life. My first real science job (as a post-undergrad in 1985) was at a climate research institution. Since then, I've seen the scientific case for a warming planet grow inexorably from "maybe" to "yes" — and then to "absolutely."

In other words, the science has been settled for a long time....

It's no longer really about the science — and that is why Pope Francis' encyclical matters.

By taking on climate change, the leader of one of the world's major religions is injecting something into the debate that has mostly been missing: the question of values. Pope Francis appears ready to argue that since the science is long settled, it's now time to turn the discussion about climate change in a much different direction. Now we must ask ourselves what — based on our deepest values — are we obliged to do about it?

Human values are not the domain of the physical, chemical or biological sciences — the fields at the heart of climate studies. In fact, from the perspective of the natural laws governing those sciences, the cosmos does not care if Earth's climate changes or not. But while the universe may not care, as individuals and as a collective society we humans most certainly do. And, as of today, the pope appears poised to challenge both Catholics and the rest of the world to ask exactly why we care. What is it that is valued in our caring, and what are its consequences. To that point, he is poised to remind us about one value that almost all human beings hold to be worthwhile, whether they are religious or not: The suffering of others must not be ignored.