There’s going to be a sea change in the debate over whether or not countries should take bold and aggressive action to combat man-made climate change. That's because the Vatican is about to make some serious waves.
Pope Francis is about to weigh in with a widely anticipated encyclical on the moral imperative to act on climate change. This pronouncement from the Holy See isn’t just another special interest entering the fray – this represents a seismic shift in how political leaders in predominantly Catholic countries are going to have to manage their own constituencies. Because when the Church issues an encyclical – the world listens.
As a reminder of the power of the Catholic Church, there are approximately 1.1 billion Roman Catholics around the globe. Large populations exist throughout the developed world of course, but increasingly sizeable flocks are to be found across the developing world, including Africa, Latin America and South America. This is important because it’s these countries that will see some of the worst impacts from climate change and they have yet to consolidate their voices at the international negotiations into a clear and concise choir. Pope Francis’s encyclical, among other things, has the power to unite these voices behind a leader who is proving to have an outsized influence on world events.
Should you doubt the power of the Pontiff, it’s useful to look back at other encyclicals to see the impact they had. The rise of the workers’ rights movement and the fall of communism can both be traced directly to encyclicals from the Vatican that changed the course of history.
Of course, the political and industrial forces arrayed against taking action to combat climate change are some of the strongest in history. Fighting these forces is like David battling Goliath. But just as that story has its roots in the Bible, this battle may prove to have its roots there too. Because so far in the fight against global warming, the religious constituencies have been underrepresented; their message of moral imperative subdued. This is about to change.
It’s no small thing that Pope Francis took his name after Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment. Could it be that the Saint’s legacy lives on in the form of this humble, yet extraordinarily powerful Pope?