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| 01/22/15

Pope Francis comes out swinging for climate


Pope Francis, leader of the Catholic Church, has come out swinging for climate change in a recent visit to the Philippines, and has been working for months on an encyclical – a kind of holy document – that will urge action on the issue. His goal, according to the Vatican, is to influence the United Nations climate talks in Paris this December. This is just the latest in a string of relatively progressive views that Francis has espoused including his acceptance of the theories of evolution and the Big Bang. But his talks on climate change are winning him still more devotees – while it further alienates hardline conservatives, especially in the United States where Francis has also requested to address the US Congress.

Why does this matter? Francis’ remarkable popularity and the fact that there are an estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world.  The Pope has unprecedented access in finding common climate ground with this traditionally conservative congregation. Pew Research polls show his popularity is very high except in the US where his progressive message has fallen on some deaf ears. But even in relatively secular BC, Francis carries cachet. A recent poll found that Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are both extremely popular religious leaders. And his fans aren’t just at the grassroots level. Pope Francis got special mention during President Obama’s State of the Union speech this week, as did climate change and the urgent need for action. If true global climate action is to happen, it needs leaders, like President Obama and the Pope. That someone of Francis’ stature – and popularity – is taking such leadership in an unexpected quarter is good news for enhancing climate awareness and ultimately, for building effective policy. His example may even be influencing other religious leaders, with climate change being a headline issue for a Pastors & Church Leaders Conference at UBC this May.

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