Pope News: Humans Are Causing Climate Change. Have We Crossed a Tipping Point?
A Sri Lankan cyclist rides a bicycle past a billboard carrying the image of Pope Francis in Colombo. (source; AFP PHOTO / ISHARA S. KODIKARA).
by Gaius Publius
The pope thinks humans are causing climate change. Have we now crossed the tipping point for climate change awareness?
I've written several times about various tipping points — changes beyond which there's no turning back — related to climate change. All of those have been about physical tipping points. For example:
- A tipping point for water in the American Southwest
- A tipping point for extreme weather events
- A tipping point for polar ice disappearance
There's another tipping point, however, I've also been considering which is not physical — a tipping point in attitude, in climate change acceptance:
[T]hree progressive issues have turned the corner in public acceptance, not at the same time, but in series, one after the other. Those three are:Elizabeth Kolbert pointed out in the New Yorker recently that (as Robin Darling Young puts it) "while few in our country—of any political persuasion—are ready to accept the discipline required to slow climate change, most Americans do believe that the atmosphere is warming rapidly, and that we are already observing the consequences of this warming."
▪ Marriage equality for same-sex partners
▪ Marijuana legalization
▪ Acceptance of the fact of human-caused climate change
Each is further along than the issue listed below it, but in all three cases, the train has left the station, never to return. ...
The third item listed above, acceptance of human-caused climate change, has also crossed a line toward inevitability, but only recently. Yes, the polls are mixed, but if you talk to people, actual people of all stripes and beliefs, it's clear they're starting to "get it." They don't yet know what to do, but they're coming to acceptance in greater and greater numbers. With each new super-storm and the inevitability of the next, with each new challenge to water resources, each new dramatic shot of disappearing glaciers and ice sheets, I'm certain there will never be more doubters than there are today. The doubter population, loud and well-financed though it be, is a doomed species. Climate is making its case.
All the noise — the literal noise, the manufactured interference and confusion — is, and will continue to be, What do we do? That battle, what to do, will be huge, but it's not the same battle as acceptance.
I still agree with that assessment and offer two related pieces of evidence. The first piece is the coming papal encyclical on climate change, "Laudato si’, on the care of our common home". The encyclical text is embargoed for a time (however, see below), but its announcement has already created a stir, partly because of the genre. An encyclical is an "authoritative form of magisterial communication" in the words of Fordham professor of Theology Christiana Z. Peppard. Encyclicals are automatically important, if not always agreed with.
So What Will the Pope's Encyclical Say?
Embargo notwithstanding, here's a preview of the encyclical, via Chris Mooney at the Washington Post (my emphasis):
Draft of the pope’s encyclical blames climate change on human activityMore at the link. Also more here.
A draft of a major environmental document by Pope Francis says “the bulk of global warming” is caused by human activity — a perspective aligned with most climate scientists but still highly controversial to some Americans.
In the draft, portions of which were translated by The Washington Post, the pope takes climate change deniers to task and calls on “humanity” to take steps — including changing manufacturing and consumption trends — to turn back the clock on global warming. He backs the science behind climate change, citing “a very considerable consensus that points out we are now facing a worrisome warming of the climate.”
Although he states that there may be some natural reasons for global warming, he blasts those who claim it is unrelated to human activity, saying “plenty of scientific studies point out that the last decades of global warming have been mostly caused by the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) especially generated by human action.”
Is The World Ready for the Papal Message?
Yes, the world is more than ready. The world is eager. My second piece of evidence relates to how the encyclical is being seen by the welcoming (non-denying) part of the world. Consider this (h/t Adam Siegel):
The welcoming part of the world is, I think, the larger part by far, and the reaction to this encyclical will demonstrate that. The denier and delayer side will offer much fire from a very small number of flame-throwers.
Most of the rest of the world, however, will cheer his leadership. I'll have more to say about the place and benefit of actual leadership in fighting climate change. Bottom line: It's huge and the people are hungry for it. Stay tuned.