Heartland Institute Seeks To Enlighten Pope Francis

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Enlightenment visits Rome today and tomorrow. At least, that’s how the Heartland Institute bills it. This week we’ll see a match between the Voices of Climate Change Denial and Pope Francis, spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics and a big guy in a white hat to many in the rest of the world.

Pope Francis meets with the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on climate, 2014 (

The US denial propagandists, funded by conventional energy companies and a foundation controlled by conservative petrochemical billionaire Charles Koch, will try to persuade the Vatican that global warming does not exist. They have chosen this week because the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is holding a summit tomorrow called “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development.”

As well as secular leaders, representatives from all the world’s major religions will attend the meeting. Speakers will include UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon and Columbia University economist and author of The Age of Sustainable Development Jeffrey Sachs.

From the conference website:

Organised by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, SDSN and Religions for Peace, the goal of this summit is to raise awareness and build a consensus that the values of sustainable development cohere with values of the leading religious traditions, with a special focus on the most vulnerable; to elevate the debate on the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical; and to help build a global movement across all religions for sustainable development and climate change throughout 2015 and beyond.

As John L. Allen puts it on Crux, the Catholic blog, “One way you know a gathering is a big deal is when activist groups start putting on rival counter-events.”

Heartland, which routinely bashes established science on climate change, is sending a team from the dissenting 2.9% of the world’s total climate scientists to Rome “to inform Pope Francis of the truth about climate science.” Joseph Bast, Heartland’s president, issued this statement:

The Holy Father is being misled by ‘experts’ at the United Nations who have proven unworthy of his trust. Humans are not causing a climate crisis on God’s Green Earth—in fact, they are fulfilling their Biblical duty to protect and use it for the benefit of humanity. Though Pope Francis’s heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations’ unscientific agenda on the climate.

The science is not settled, and global warming is not a crisis. The world’s poor will suffer horribly if reliable energy—the engine of prosperity and a better life—is made more expensive and less reliable by the decree of global planners.

Americans' views on global warming (Gallup)This perspective flies in the face not only of science, as shown for decades, but also of public opinion. People worldwide — among them, most Americans — think the climate is changing and believe what their own eyes tell them about drought, wildfire, and unprecedented storms. US polls, including Gallup’s recent environment survey published several days ago, show that even in this nation of mercilessly loud unbelievers, almost all elements of society believe global warming is a fact and will happen (if it is not happening already) within their lifetimes. The only exception in the American political framework is the arch-conservatives in the Republican party (see graph).

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Bast’s statement also ignores the huge strides made by sustainable development and “unreliable energy” — presumably, a dig at low-cost, quickly assembled, and locally feasible power from renewable sources. These have already begun to power many remote and less developed areas of the world and to address the sores of poverty, all at lower cost than building more power plants and sipping out more oil.

Heartland people reportedly also seek an audience with the Pope, who is fresh from prayers and urgent calls to action for Nepal, epicenter of Saturday’s massive earthquake (7.8 magnitude). It’s unclear what the outcome of such a meeting would be. I believe it very unlikely that such a meeting would deter Pope Francis from a mission so important to the world’s poor and disenfranchised, already the first victims of the human-disturbed climate. I rather hope His Holiness will give the denialists a pass.

Later this summer, the Pope will issue specific spiritual guidance on the issues in the form of an authoritative encyclical on the moral duty of humans to God’s creation, which encompasses both humanity and the natural world people inhabit. Observers expect that his official guidance will center on the following perspective, declared at a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences last May (photo above).

Human action which is not respectful of nature becomes a boomerang that creates inequality and extends what Pope Francis calls ‘the globalization of indifference’ and the ‘economy of exclusion’ (Evangelii Gaudium), which themselves endanger solidarity with present and future generations. …Market forces alone, bereft of ethics and collective action, cannot solve the intertwined crises of poverty, exclusion, and the environment.

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