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Heaven belongs to us all – the new papal encyclical

Filed under: — stefan @ 18 June 2015

Guest post by Brigitte Knopf

With his encyclical “Laudato Si” the Pope has written more than a moral appeal without obligation. He has presented a pioneering political analysis with great explosive power, which will probably determine the public debate on climate change, poverty and inequality for years to come. Thus, the encyclical is also highly relevant to me as a non-Catholic and non-believer; the implications of the encyclical are very apparent through the eyes of a secular person.

The core of the encyclical makes clear that global warming is a “global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods” (25 – where the numbers refer to the numbering in the encyclical). The reasons identified are mainly the current models of production and consumption (26). The encyclical emphasizes that the gravest effects of climate change and the increasing inequality are suffered by the poorest (48). Since we face a complex socio-ecological crisis, strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty (139). So far, however, governments have not found a solution for the over-exploitation of the global commons, such as atmosphere, oceans, and forests (169). Therefore, the encyclical focusses on actors, such as non-governmental organizations, cooperatives and intermediate groups (179) and calls for a dialogue between politics, science, business and religion.

The encyclical is, with 246 individual points, too extensive to be discussed in here in its entirety, but three aspects are particularly noteworthy:

  1. it is based unequivocally onthe scientific consensusthat global warmingis taking placeand that climate changeis man-made; itrejects thedenialof anthropogenicwarming;
  2. it unmasks the political and economic structures of power behind the climate change debate and stresses the importance of non-state actors in achieving change; and
  3. it defines the atmosphere and the environment as a common good rather than a “no man’s land”, available for anyone to pollute. This underlines that climate change is strongly related to the issues of justice and property rights.

1.     The Pope and science

The statements of the Pope concerning the scientific basis are in principle nothing new. The scientific consensus is recognized in the encyclical at the outset:

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. […] A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases […] released mainly as a result of human activity (23).

Moreover, the Pope refers to the scientifically long-established fact that the use of fossil fuels and deforestation are the main causes of climate change (23).

What is now a commonplace in Europe is not uniformly accepted in the US. A turbulent debate surrounding the encyclical began even before its official publication. This is understandable, given that there are many in the US who still cast doubt on the scientific basis of climate change. Even Jeb Bush, the presidential candidate, does not deny climate change itself, but says that the human role in climate change is “convoluted“. Rick Santorum, also a Republican presidential candidate, has actually rejected the right of the Pope to comment on the scientific basis of climate change. There is no doubt that there will be a heated argument on this part of the encyclical especially in the US which will also frame the American debate on the future international climate agreement that is expected to be negotiated by the end of this year in Paris.

2.     The Pope and politics

Although the encyclical puts a focus on the poor it is not merely a moral scripture. It is also no ordinary appeal to governments to act. On the contrary, it explicitly states that international negotiations have so far not made significant progress (169) and accuses international politics of its weak response (54). In addition, the Pope unmasks in very clear terms the political interests of those who deny climate change and hinder mitigation:

Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change” (26).

While the Pope does not address governments as main actors, nor does he frame the climate problem only as the responsibility of each individual. Instead, the encyclical underlines the importance of collective actors such as cooperatives, non-governmental organizations and civil society (179).

However, the encyclical remains rather unspecific concerning concrete recommendations for action to prevent climate change and overcome poverty. The Pope does not comment on whether the 2°C temperature limit is adequate or whether 1.5°C would be more appropriate from the perspective of the poorest. Concerning energy sources, the Pope often refers to renewable energy (26, 164) and explicitly states that coal, oil and gas “needs to be progressively replaced without delay” (165). But he does not provide any further details on transformation scenarios or requirements for specific technologies. This is for good reason; it is not the task of the Pope to intervene in the detailed mechanics of politics. In this sense, the Pope also recognizes the different areas of competence of religion, politics and science.

3.     The Pope and the global commons

Much more important than the choice of energy sources is the question of ownership of the global commons. Here, the encyclical states:

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all (23).

Several times the Pope refers to the common good and stresses that the “global commons” (174), such as the atmosphere, oceans, forests, and biosphere, belong to us all.

The encyclical thus implicitly describes the core problem of climate policy: we currently use the atmosphere as a disposal space. Everyone is allowed to pollute the atmosphere without paying for the negative externalities. Science has shown that we are limited to atmospheric emissions of around 1,000 GtCO2 in order not to exceed the 2 degree temperature limit (see Figure 1). However, substantial fossil resources are still stored in the ground, and these would give rise to emissions of about 15,000 GtCO2 due to combustion. If, due to climate policy, these fossil fuels may no longer be used, the resources would necessarily be devalued. The owners of coal, oil and gas would in fact be expropriated. In this context, the encyclical stresses the principle of “subordination of private property” (93-95, 156-158). This means that private property of fossil fuels can only be ethically justified if it serves the common good. Therefore, the devaluation of assets is not an unjustified disenfranchisement, but is legitimate because it serves the common good, namely the reduction of the risks and consequences of climate change.


Figure 1: The Global Commons and the fundamental problem of climate policy: there are still plenty of fossil resources in the ground, but only a limited disposal space in the atmosphere left. Data: Atmosphere: IPCC AR5 Synthesis Report, Table 2.2.; Resource: IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy, Figure 1.7. Source: Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC).

To frame the climate problem as a “global commons” problem has far reaching consequences. This became clear when the term was relegated by the governments from the main text into a footnote in the report of the IPCC Working Group III. Some countries feared legal and distributional consequences. If the atmosphere is accepted as being a global commons, this immediately raises the question of who owns the atmosphere and who is allowed to pollute it. The encyclical is very clear about this:

The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone (95).

Ownership thus goes hand in hand with a responsibility to take into account the principles of justice. The currently prevailing “law of the jungle”, causing the atmosphere to be overused in terms of the deposition of carbon ad infinitum, is thus de-legitimized by the Pope.

Implications for the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris

The encyclical is only expected to have an indirect effect on the UN climate change conference – but it will probably be long-lasting. Its timing may have a positive impact on the negotiations in Paris, but more importantly, it is timeless and emphasizes the fundamental question of solving the intertwined problems of climate change, poverty and inequality. Providing an answer to these questions is becoming globally ever more pressing. The encyclical does not address the governments directly but refers to a global “ecological movement” (166). For the Pope it is clear: without pressure from the public and from civic institutions there will be no progress (181).

With this analysis the encyclical describes a phenomenon that has now become global. While the nations of the G7 commit to decarbonization but do not agree on corresponding joint policy measures, there are many positive signs of movement in the climate carousel aside from the international climate negotiations: a new study by UNEP shows that a substantial contribution can be made to reduce emissions by cities and other subnational actors; the Norwegian sovereign wealth fund has decided to sell its coal investments and sends a strong signal for a global divestment strategy; and six large oil companies get together begging for pricing CO2 emissions.

Individual actions alone will achieve little, but together they can make a difference; they could well contribute to an international climate agreement serving as a foundation for the governance of the global commons.

The fact that the commons can indeed be successfully managed has already been proven at the local level: Elinor Ostrom has shown that communities can develop diverse institutional arrangements for managing the commons without overexploitation. For this finding, Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize for economics in 2009. It is now time to show that the management of global commons is collectively possible.

Perhaps this is the overarching message of the encyclical: the fair management of the global commons is one of the most important tasks of the 21st century. This can only be successful if a large number of actors across different levels of governance, ranging from global, to regional and local, link up together. This convinces also me as an atheist: heaven belongs to us all.

Dr. Brigitte Knopf is Secretary General of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) and an expert on European energy and climate policy and one of the Editors of the Book “Climate Change, Justice and Sustainability”. She is on Twitter as @BrigitteKnopf


The encyclical in several languages on the Vatican website

Paper by climate scientist John Schellnhuber, presented at the Vatican press conference for the encyclical today

85 Responses to “Heaven belongs to us all – the new papal encyclical”

  1. 1
    Ben Palmer says:

    “Science has shown that we are limited to atmospheric emissions of around 1,000 GtCO2 in order not to exceed the 2 degree temperature limit.”
    Since the climate sensitivity for CO2 is still under debate, I doubt that we can reduce the “problem” to such a simple equation. The 2° limit is a political limit and is a rather hypothetical value without scientific basis.

  2. 2
    Digby Scorgie says:

    As an atheist, I too am nevertheless greatly encouraged by the general thrust of the Pope’s encyclical on climate change. As for solutions, well, looking at Figure 1, the answer to averting the worst effects seems obvious:

    Step One. Immediately cease searching for new sources of fossil fuel.

    Step Two. Every fossil-fuel producer on the planet reduces production by a fixed amount every year for a mandated period until global production is near zero.

    As an example, if the period in question is 50 years, the annual cut in fossil-fuel production would be 2% of current production. That should give the free market plenty of time to find alternatives.

    I would of course be utterly astonished if any such proposition were to be implemented.

  3. 3
    Theo van den Berg says:

    If our lord wants us to fight climate change, who are we to disagree ? This Encyclical should put many millions on the right path. Would be even better if we can persuade the leaders of other religions to do the same.
    Thanks for the article !

  4. 4
    Steve Fish says:

    The more influential voices that speak up in opposition to the fossil fueled science deniers the better.

  5. 5
    Pete Dunkelberg says:

    Thank you and RC very much for this post. I agree with you and surely many others that one does not have to Catholic nor indeed supernaturalist at all to love this Pope. He has restored ethics to a central place in public discourse where it has been missing for too long. Let us all strive to keep it there. This completely clears away for the majority the idea that you have to be a scientist to discuss climate issues. The Pope has Bishops and all the other clergy around the world to carry his message forward, but we need not leave to them alone. I expect the force of ethics to make a real difference, even if not instantly.

  6. 6
    Mathieu says:

    In the “About” section of Realclimate it is very clearly stated what the website aims at – to “provide the context sometimes missing in mainstream commentary”, and what it is not: “The discussion here is restricted to scientific topics and will not get involved in any political or economic implications of the science”.

    While the previous post, “Debate in the noise”, is a nice example of putting the former aim into practice, providing some perspective to a hyped-up media story by means of a technical discussion, I have difficulty reconciling this post with the latter statement. As a regular reader of Realclimate, I could have complained about some earlier posts as well, but the sudden appearance of not only politics and economics, but even religion – which history has not shown to be a friend of science -, in this one, really saddens me.

  7. 7
    wili says:

    Thanks for this. Particularly the mention of Elinor Ostrum.

    Much to consider here. I do wonder, even though there isn’t much in the way of specific policy recommendations, will it nonetheless have an effect on policy, and what kind of effect might it have?

    If nothing else, it seems to me that this further legitimizes those of us who have a deep concern about this issue–a very public world leader had now clearly stated that it is a top priority. We can all now turn and challenge ourselves, our families, our workplaces and our institutions to do more to face up to the fundamental threat to our society and to creation.

  8. 8
    Dendrite says:

    As an atheist, I was delighted and impressed by the Pope’s words. I’m grateful to RC for this post, even if it is a bit of a departure from the normal scientific content of the site.
    What particularly struck me was that he not only acknowledged the scientific reality and urgency of climate change, but he put in in the context of human inequality and biodiversity loss. I despair when I read comments to the effect that “We don’t have to worry ourselves about population, pollution, poverty or overconsumption provided we just de-carbonize our economies.” Climate change is not the only tragedy facing the world, and there is a lot more that needs to be done before we can claim to have created a world we should be proud of.

  9. 9
    patrick says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s very helpful. Thanks for your leadership.

    I like John Schellnhuber’s paper, which you link. Video of his twenty minute talk at the encyclical launch is here, at 1:00:04:

    His framing of the matter is brief and brilliant, throughout.

    He continues to compare global mean temperature to human body temperature, for understanding what a rise of one degree means–or two–or five (“Now let me make a comment on the two degrees debate,” 1:14:02)

  10. 10
    Roger Albin says:

    Mathieu –

    I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed, that never sallies out and sees her adversary – Milton

  11. 11
    CM says:

    The link for “six large oil companies get together begging for pricing CO2 emissions” goes to a December 2013 NYT story about internal carbon pricing. You probably meant to refer to the 1 June announcement, e.g.:

    [Response: Thanks, I fixed the link. -Stefan]

  12. 12
    Edward Greisch says:

    1. Ben Palmer: Search “sensitivity” in the searcher in the upper right corner of this page. We know a sufficient amount about it. Uncertainty cuts both ways.

    Now there is a branch of religion we don’t have to fight. The Pope has said that we can’t just let god take care of it. This article is necessary here, so it is within the jurisdiction of RealClimate. Thanks for posting it. We need to know what is going on.

  13. 13
    Dan Bloom says:

    Sadly, and tragically, the Pope’s voice is not going to be heeded and the same old same old will continue for the next 100 years, perhaps 1000 years and then it will be over for the human species. We had our chance in the sunlight, but we blew it. Who to blame, what to blame? Maybe there is no blame. Maybe this was just fate. At any rate, it’s too late to do anything about AGW now and our time on the Third Rock from the Sun is coming to an end. The Pope means well and he said it well. But there is no God and there is no Messiah and that is why we are up a creek without a paddle. And believe it or not, I am an optimist and wake up every day here in Taiwan full of positive energy and optimism. But I can see the future, and I see dead people. I been saying this here since 2008 and nobody ever replies to me. Which means I am getting through, I guess. Sigh.

    QUOTE: “Humans will be extinct in 100 to 1000 years because the planet will be uninhabitable, according to Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner, 95, one of the leaders of the effort to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. He blames overcrowding, denuded resources and climate change.

    Fenner’s prediction is not a sure bet, but he is correct that there is no way emissions reductions will be enough to save us from our trend toward doom. And there doesn’t seem to be any big global rush to reduce emissions, anyway. When the G7 called on Monday for all countries to reduce carbon emissions to zero in the next 85 years, the scientific reaction was unanimous: That’s far too late.

    And no possible treaty that emerges from the current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, in preparation for November’s United Nations climate conference in Paris, will be sufficient. At this point, lowering emissions is just half the story — the easy half. The harder half will be an aggressive effort to find the technologies needed to reverse the climate apocalypse that has already begun.

    For years now, we have heard that we are at a tipping point. Al Gore warned us in An Inconvenient Truth that immediate action was required if we were to prevent global warming. In 2007, Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the British government, declared, “Avoiding dangerous climate change is impossible – dangerous climate change is already here. The question is, can we avoid catastrophic climate change?” In the years since, emissions have risen, as have global temperatures. Only two conclusions can be drawn: Either these old warnings were alarmist, or we are already in far bigger trouble than the U.N. claims. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case.

  14. 14
    Omega Centauri says:

    Thanks Pete D. That was a good summary of how I think about Francis. While an atheist I do pay serious attention to religion, since like it or not, it is a huge force in our world. This Pope has taken on the task of being the focal point for the world for both the less fortunate humans and the environment. He makes it clear that you don’t have to be a believer to join him.

  15. 15

    We should welcome the strongest voices speaking for the sanctity of the biosphere. It’s up to everybody, now.

    And the science now “includes” this, as follows. It is not climatology proper, of course. But the religious, political, and economic aspects of drastic climate change were inevitably going to be an adjunct part of the science, and they deserve to be:

    TEN YEARS AGO, I pointed out to the RealClimatologists, in these very comments, that they would be drawn into the economic and political aspects, despite their own intentions to keep this website to the pure science, because, as I wrote to them, “you are going to be inevitably drawn into the wider discussion precisely through the public’s lack of understanding of the philosophy and methodology of science”. It turns out that there is a second, very different reason why they would be drawn into it, but please read my little comment first:

    I was admonished by other commenters. I respected the wishes of the scientists here, and did not comment on this aspect further. But perhaps they started to get some glimmer of the stakes when, A YEAR LATER, the scientists themselves were directly attacked in a bald-faced episode of intellectual incompetence and intellectual dishonesty in the United States House of Representatives. My little comment begins with a telling excerpt from Wegman’s bafflegab. Here it is:

    Two months later, certain interests in the Senate backed-up the same public message with another half-baked hearing. (I will always wonder if Michael Crichton came to regret being a part of that.)

    And that was still THREE YEARS before “Climategate”, which was an even bigger “mountain out of a molehill” that was trumped-up to cast further public doubts on the results in climatology.

    As we all know. And so on.

    So there is the second hitch. Scientifically speaking, there are TWO very different things at the root of this, related to: 1. scientific methodology in general, and 2. some results from political science over the last few decades. Briefly:

    1. The climate is a complex system. Complex systems are never deterministically predictable. This uncertainty always allows the entry of vested interests into the policy conversation, to argue against the scientific results. (Several other commenters here have also noted this.)

    (Footnote. And clearly, the uncertainty allows the the vested interests to employ many different tactics, from confusing the science, to smearing the personal character of scientists, to bringing phony lawsuits, etc. It also appears that comments on major blogs are inundated by paid hacksters, perhaps off lunch-break from deep in the bowels of K Street public relations mega-firms, who are revealed by: their repetitive phraseology, their repeated simple mistakes, their inability to follow an analytical argument, and their sudden disappearance when confronted with the facts. Now, we can watch them come out against the Pope!)

    2. Also, there is a “cognitive bias” which is partly functional at the SOCIAL level. This is an important component. It is sensed by many of us, but not well formulated, although political science researchers have found some touchstones over the years. And the very new subdiscipline of “climate change communication” has taken a look at these findings, and is adding some of its own. I collated some of the research in a comment at Crooked Timber. Lots of people have liked this list, and so you may find it worth your time:

    I am rather astonished to note that the encyclical is one of the very few documents which addresses, in its own way but quite clearly, BOTH of these fundamental aspects, i.e. 1. the uncertainty of the complexity and the fact that this is no excuse for inaction, and 2. the social cognitive bias which keeps reverting to the status quo.

    Well I won’t bore you with much more, but I promise to come back, in TEN MORE YEARS, to remind you of the truth of the following:

    The issue is NOT whether you are religious or believe in Christian theology. The issue is sanctity or sacredness. Here is the logic:

    Science, pure, holds “sacred” that which can be tested by its rational criteria. And that very process now indicates that there will be climate change drastic enough to endanger much of life on earth, or at least civilization as we know it.

    The fact that the timing of this cannot be precisely predicted, means that the INJUNCTION to change course must be addressed by a universal, system-wide social agreement.

    But the enormous psychological and economic inertia against change (including the momentum which is exerted by vested economic interests), in the face of uncertainty, means that the general cognitive address of the injunction must be to that which is FUNDAMENTAL. Whatever you think is fundamental; that’s what’s now at stake.

    In anthropology, this is formally analogous to sacred tribal ritual, where the social-cognitive address is to sanctity. This formal analogy (expressly including its contemporary ecological relevance) was, I believe, first identified and developed by both Gregory Bateson and Roy A. Rappaport. They were scientists.

  16. 16
    Rob Quayle says:

    Thank you, RealClimate. Any time denial of science influences climate policy, the topic is appropriate for review in your forum.

    Sadly, the pontiff still seems to deny (in paragraph 50) the scientific biological fact that overpopulation does and will exacerbate the tragedy of the commons.

  17. 17
    Susan Anderson says:

    Ben Palmer @1,

    The vexed argument about the actual amount of sensitivity does not remove the danger, and, in fact, many estimates are on the high end and even the smaller ones are dangerous (the preferred experts of this line of talk misquote their sources as well) unless you somehow think times stops when a doubling is reached (which it appears will be sooner rather than later).

  18. 18
    Radge Havers says:

    Time will tell, but I think that this is really important. By posing a moral challenge that will be hard for people to ignore, the Pope’s voice is filling a particular vacuum in the public sphere and has the potential to affect the working environment of scientists and the regard in which they’re held:

    “Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.” h/t

    Some food for thought from Aeon Magazine on the moral environment in which we live, (if you’re willing to stretch a point and include menacing hostility as bleeding into violence):

    “By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.” aeon


    Re: @ ~ 6

    “…the sudden appearance of not only politics and economics, but even religion…”

    Well, this language seems to echo a talking point of the far right’s objection to the encyclical –to which I can only reply: Is this where we want to take our cues for how we discuss AGW? In a way it’s not telling us anything we don’t already know, it’s just making it OK to acknowledge what we know, and that it’s serious enough that we should cut the damned crap when we talk about it.

  19. 19
    wili says:

    Mathieu (named after the evangelist?), would you prefer that the Pope come out in support of Exxon?

    Do you think it is insignificant and not worth commenting on when the head of one of the most powerful and one of the richest institutions in the world comes out with a very strong statement on the most important issues in our lifetimes?

    For my part, I would like to express my deep gratitude to RC for including this thoughtful analysis of this very important document.

  20. 20

    I appreciate this post. It is part of “science” in the same sense that any ethical issue is also part.

  21. 21
    Hank Roberts says:

    > Mathieu … saddened
    Concern noted, but read again (fixed the spacing): the main point, the relevance to the scientific conversation:

    … particularly noteworthy:
    it is based unequivocally on the scientific consensus that global warming is taking place and that climate change is man-made; it rejects the denial of anthropogenic warming

    Being understood, for scientists, is remarkable.

  22. 22
    Jim Bullisj says:

    Of course it is possible to improve on the amount of CO2 associated with a human being, but it seems likely that population increase will drive CO2 emissions increase.

    This is particularly true if you accept the notion that those who do not enjoy the living standards that we have in the developed world are particularly interested in acquiring such quality of life. For some years now the Chinese leaders have said that they intend to advance their country to give their people the kind of life that those in the developed world have, and that coal fired power plants are needed for that purpose. I have long regarded that as an obvious fact of how the world will evolve.

    To me, this has been a satisfactory explanation for lack of progress in cutting back on world use of coal. When we hear reports that Chinese are slowing the growth of the number of coal fired power plants, some say this is a sign of progress in reducing CO2. But I say that it is a sign of a faltering economy. Improving the economy will be prioritized over reducing emissions. At least they are doing something about population.

    It seems that the Pope and others do not share my view of how population goes hand in hand with emission growth.

  23. 23
    nigelj says:

    Ben Palmer @ 1 quotes the Pope “Science has shown that we are limited to atmospheric emissions of around 1,000 GtCO2 in order not to exceed the 2 degree temperature limit.”

    And Ben Palmer responds “Since the climate sensitivity for CO2 is still under debate, I doubt that we can reduce the “problem” to such a simple equation. The 2° limit is a political limit and is a rather hypothetical value without scientific basis.”

    Ben is wrong. It doesn’t matter if the climate sensitivity is low or high, there is still a 2 degree limit. The only question is how quickly we get there. The climate sensitivity issue may be debated, but the weight of evidence also suggests climate sensitivity is in the middle range.

    This limit is not political, it is based on the best understanding of what constitutes dangerous climate change. Of course it is hard to be certain 2 degrees is correct, but the evidence suggests if anything it is likely too high. The following link is from the Carbon Brief and covers the history of the 2 degree limit, and discussion of it.

    While I’m an atheist, I feel the Pope has made a very worthwhile and intelligently considered contribution.

  24. 24
    sidd says:

    Disclaimer: I am not Catholic, although they did attempt valiantly to educate me

    I am surprised that the encyclical refers to Guardini more than once but not to Ellul at all, e.g.

    “Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.”

    and this quote from Guardini seems to echo Ellul:

    Romano Guardini had already foreseen this: “The gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself. To either a greater or lesser degree mass man is convinced that his conformity is both reasonable and just.”

    The reference is to Das Ende der Neuzeit, 9th edition, Würzburg, 1965, 66-67 (English: The End of the Modern World, Wilmington, 1998, 60).

    Another quotation that remains with me after a first reading is:
    “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast.” from Pope Benedict in 2005

    The passage on individual effort strikes close to heart. I don’t plant trees and turn out lights because it will save the world. I do it to save my own soul. So if you will excuse an extended quote:

    “211. … Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment. A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes, shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment. There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings. Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity.

    212. We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to live more fully and to feel that life on earth is worthwhile”


  25. 25
    patrick says:

    John Schellnhuber took a question on the subject of the Carbon Brief Blog post (Sophie Yeo) linked in the guest post above: whether 2 degrees is an adequate limit, etc.

    Schellnhuber’s response is at 1:54:30 in the event video (linked @9).

    Carbon Brief shows a most helpful Carbon Countdown graphic (Rosamund Pearce):

  26. 26
    Alpo says:

    Even atheists and agnostics should welcome this contribution of the Pope on behalf of the Catholic Church. Millions of Catholics around the world expect the Pope to provide them with guidance on very many different matters concerning their lives. Many of those Catholics are politically right-wing but others are politically left-wing, if the words of the Pope can get some previously global warming sceptics, who were mainly politically-motivated in their views, to think harder and reconsider their position, that would be a massive contribution.

  27. 27
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    I was greatly encouraged by the Pope’s encyclical to the world. I’m Buddhist by nature and therefore a holistic and sustainable viewpoint of the earth is quite natural to me, but it must have come as a bit of a surprise to the over 1 billions Catholics out there who have been indoctrinated over the centuries to ‘go forth and multiply’ and didn’t know when to stop. That Man has divine dominion over the beasts etc and natural resources. To be told that the earth is increasingly resembling a pile of filth and that out exploitation and abuse of our natural treasures has got to come to an immediate halt must have quite deservedly shocked many. I believe had the Pope not come from a scientific background (he is a trained chemist) he, like all the pope’s past would have failed to truly appreciate the sheer magnitude of the imminent catastrophe, not just on our doorstep but now without the sacred confines of our very house.
    I really hope this to be a global game changer and that those numbers who accept the truth behind anthropogenic climate change will now have reached the critical mass required to bring about a rapid de-escalation in our uncontrolled use of fossil fuels.
    At present all I’m seeing logically is a wretched future, I wish to be proven wrong and this influential man can instil hope and vision of a better future in all of us.

  28. 28
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    6: Matheiu. Still can’t see the bigger picture can you Mathieu.

  29. 29
    Lawrence Coleman says:

    I’ve just scanned the 2015 Encyclical. WOW! That is THE most comprehensive and holistic document I have ever read. It squarely removes human beings from their self appointed pedestal in the universe once and for all. I’ll read it in full at a later date, but WOW! it will be one hell of a read (pardon the pun).

  30. 30
    Paul Collins says:

    “Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation”. Para. 8 of ‘Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis. So is it now time for an apology for climate change? Green repentance if you like

  31. 31

    Thanks for this commentary. It is true that it diverges from the main focus of the site, yet this appears to be an extremely important development in the cultural evolution of climate policy, and more than merits consideration here as a result.

    I was particularly struck by this bit:

    To frame the climate problem as a “global commons” problem has far reaching consequences. This became clear when the term was relegated by the governments from the main text into a footnote in the report of the IPCC Working Group III. Some countries feared legal and distributional consequences. If the atmosphere is accepted as being a global commons, this immediately raises the question of who owns the atmosphere and who is allowed to pollute it. The encyclical is very clear about this:

    The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone (95).


    …substantial fossil resources are still stored in the ground, and these would give rise to emissions of about 15,000 GtCO2 due to combustion. If, due to climate policy, these fossil fuels may no longer be used, the resources would necessarily be devalued. The owners of coal, oil and gas would in fact be expropriated.

    From numerous interactions with denialists, this conflict is at the heart of most climate denialism. For some, it is a matter of interest; for others, emotion; for others ideology; and in a great many cases, two or more of the three will be mixed together. And if you accept the formulation given, the perspective of the denialist is in fact valid. Maybe that’s necessary–that is, this formulation reflects ‘the way it really is.’

    But I rather feel that the “devaluation” of a particular asset is not the same as “expropriating” that asset. Valuations change all the time, for widely varying reasons, some regulatory, some driven by market factors of one sort or another. That’s simply a reality–a ‘danger of ownership’, if you will.

    By contrast, when the state acts to expropriate outright, there is generally some sort of compensation paid–though its adequacy seems frequently to be a matter of dispute, and that norm is not always and everywhere observed in practice.

    From this perspective, I think I’d prefer not to advocate that fossil fuel companies be compensated for the putative ‘expropriation’ of leaving their oh-so-addictive product in the ground. Mitigation costs are going to be high enough as is, and the companies have had ample notice of the need to revise their business models. On the whole, their response has not, IMO, been exemplary.

  32. 32
    SecularAnimist says:

    Related reading:

    What Did Actual Scientists Think Of The Pope’s Climate Encyclical?
    By Emily Atkin
    June 18, 2015


    ThinkProgress asked three climate scientists to weigh in on three specific passages in the encyclical that get wonky about the science of climate change, and got varied answers. However, all three said Francis (who himself has a technician’s degree in chemistry) was correct that humans are causing potentially catastrophic climate change via greenhouse gas emissions.

  33. 33

    “Sadly, and tragically, the Pope’s voice is not going to be heeded and the same old same old will continue for the next 100 years…”

    And you know this because–?

    I have no patience for such portentous claptrap. It’s very easy for gloomy self-indulgence to mask as realism–but realism doesn’t claim to have an infallible crystal ball.

    – See more at:

  34. 34
    Tom says:

    RSS + UAH + USCRN do not equal CO2 forcing as measured at Mauna Loa.

  35. 35

    comment #11 is right, indeed the link to the six oil companies is wrong. Here is the correct one:
    (perhaps somebody can exchange this?)

    There is an interesting post on the science (and the scientists) behind the encyclical here:

  36. 36
    patrick says:

    @19 sidd–on dignity, you’ve put your finger on a big key I think, and:

    “We feel happier and lead more meaningful lives, based on experiences instead of stuff. My goal is to share its incredible health, financial and time saving benefits!” –Bea Johnson

    This is unanticipated permaculture, so to speak. This is what happens when culture shifts. A culture leader emerges because of a personal experiment. The next Buckminster Fuller does not have to look like the last one.

  37. 37
    Mal Adapted says:

    While I understand Mathieu’s complaint, I’m pleased to see this post on RC. Getting the science behind AGW is important, of course, but the Pope’s encyclical did indeed address a domain beyond the boundaries of science. Simply put, although science can tell us how things got to be the way they are, and how they are likely to be in the future, it can’t tell us why we should care.

    Even if forced to admit the scientific reality of AGW, determined deniers have been able to say to climate scientists “I don’t care! I’m enjoying the benefits of fossil-fuel-enabled prosperity, I’m happy to let someone else pay the climate-change costs, and you have no authority to make me care.” The Pope, who for millions of his followers does have that authority, has now told them they must care.

  38. 38

    This is the most ridiculous turn of events, the Catholic church still refuses to admit the necessity for population control, still insisting on discouraging all birth control methods except rhythm. Since the Pope is the direct conduit from God to man you can now relax all scientific evidence is completely unnecessary. You can finally admit that AGW is now a religion and forget about labeling those that disagree as deniers, those will now be heretics or apostates.

    Emanuele Lombardi recovering Catholic

  39. 39
    Dan Lufkin says:

    Don’t forget that Francis is a Jesuit. an order that has long been the center of genuine science in the Church. There are plenty of Jesuits who have made solid contributions to meteorology (and astronomy and seismology and geology and zoology …).

  40. 40
    Russell says:

    The precautionary principle applies as well to present liberties as future fears.

    Aside from invoking papal authority, whence comes Mal’s right to erode the liberty of the living in the name of posterity ?

  41. 41
    SecularAnimist says:

    Emanuele Lombardi wrote: “You can finally admit that AGW is now a religion and forget about labeling those that disagree as deniers, those will now be heretics or apostates.”

    Nonsense. The encyclical does not rely on the Pope’s religious authority to pronounce anthropogenic global warming a reality. It relies entirely, explicitly and unequivocally on climate science.

  42. 42

    Tom 34: RSS + UAH + USCRN do not equal CO2 forcing as measured at Mauna Loa.

    BPL: Of course they don’t “equal,” since CO2 is not the only thing that affects temperature. But you’ll find that 70-80% of the variance of temperature for the last 160 years is accounted for by CO2. Do the math. I did.

    EL 38: You can finally admit that AGW is now a religion

    BPL: Religions aren’t testable. AGW theory is. Which part of it do you think is incorrect? Do you even understand the physics behind it?

  43. 43
    Jim Eager says:

    Re Emanuele Lombardi, a classic attack the messenger and ignore the message post. The Bore Hole awaits.

  44. 44
    Phil Scadden says:

    Tom @34 – “RSS + UAH + USCRN do not equal CO2 forcing as measured at Mauna Loa”

    Where would you get the idea that it would? Some fake skeptic site raising a strawman argument? The consensus position is that climate (ie the 30 year averages) will respond to total forcings, not just CO2, and many papers have shown just that. Furthermore, the climate system has a large amount of internal variability, including at decadal scales, where heat is moved around an unevenly heated water-covered planet.

  45. 45
    freetoken says:

    “Laudato Si” can, and has been, read by many people to include all sorts of causes, including anti-abortionists, anti-transgender campaigners, and the like.

    I find it very difficult to take the Vatican seriously about climate change when they are so opposed to stabilizing the human population.

  46. 46
    Mal Adapted says:


    whence comes Mal’s right to erode the liberty of the living in the name of posterity ?

    I understand “liberty” to be distinct from the existential freedom to externalize the costs of one’s actions. Under my personal creed, freedom without responsibility is mere license. You are, of course, existentially free to define “liberty” otherwise, even to encompass enslavement to a neurotransmitter agonist.

  47. 47
    Jim Eager says:

    Tom, CO2 forcing is not measured at Mauna Loa, its concentration in the atmosphere is. And as others have already pointed out, CO2 is not the only climate forcing. It is only those setting up strawman arguments who claim that it is.

  48. 48
    Solar Jim says:

    RE: “whether 1.5°C would be more appropriate”

    If survival matters, then this goal seems to indicate a so-called carbon budget of zero. Unless. that is, the planet itself has already begun it’s own “greenhouse gas” outgassing, in which case the “budget” is negative.

    Shouldn’t we see what the two trillion tons of carbonic acid gas already released will do (in our global “experiment”) before releasing ANOTHER trillion tons?

    What type of response is appropriate for an emergency? Perhaps fossil forms of matter should no longer be economically defined (via trillions of dollars of public subsidies) as “forms of energy,” since they are not “energy” but matter. The word “fuel” implies something good to ignite, which seems hardly appropriate any longer.

  49. 49
    Mal Adapted says:

    Emmanuele Lombardi:

    Since the Pope is the direct conduit from God to man you can now relax all scientific evidence is completely unnecessary. You can finally admit that AGW is now a religion and forget about labeling those that disagree as deniers, those will now be heretics or apostates.

    The Pope acknowledges that his acceptance of the reality of AGW is based on his own scientific training and the advice of his scientific advisors; it’s his moral authority that obtains from his followers’ religious beliefs. I’m aware that there are devout Roman Catholics whose scientific training is insufficient for them to understand the evidence for AGW. For them, the Pope’s pronouncement has made understanding unnecessary for acceptance. While I’d prefer that they understand it, I won’t reject their support in the political struggle for effective mitigation.

    And yes, science is distinct from religion: if “Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself” (Feynman, who else?), then religion is a way of allowing yourself to be fooled. You call yourself a “recovering catholic”, but what initiated your recovery? While I recognize everyone’s right to fool themselves, I call myself an atheist because the evidence for the existence of a deity (that is, a supernatural entity with attributes of mind such as purpose, love or anger) is insufficient for me to accept it, and I’m fortunate to live in a society in which theistic belief is unnecessary.

    OTOH, the scientific case for AGW is sufficient for me to label those who explicitly reject it, without making a sufficient case for their rejection, as deniers. Fortunately for you, our society hasn’t required you to accept responsibility for your share of the costs, and it isn’t necessary for you to accept the evidence. You’re still a denier, though.

  50. 50
    Hank Roberts says:

    > right to erode the liberty of the living in the name of posterity ?

    Russell, anticipating future need — “protecting, not eating, the seed corn” — is sapience, fitness for civilization.

    Using up everything is animal behavior; forethought constrains that. Or not.