"I think the human race is being encouraged to grow up."
The Pope and the Planet
A week before the big release, this show had us excited about Pope Francis’s full-throated challenge to the status quo — the text in full of Laudato Si is now available on the Vatican’s website. But what he’s challenging (behavior that turns Creation, more and more, into “an immense pile of filth”) ended up sounding a lot like our guest Sally Weintrobe‘s psychoanalytic scolding of the wasteful parts of humanity:
It doesn’t go deep enough to say that this is a problem with capitalism. It’s a much, much older problem, the problem of the fantasy of the inexhaustible breast: that the earth is really a kind of a breast/toilet that provides endlessly in an ideal way and then receives all our waste. So I think the human race is being encouraged to grow up.
Meanwhile, our guest Naomi Oreskes got the celebrity-lightning-rod treatment in The New York Times — read more here.
In an encyclical letter, Pope Francis himself will intervene next week on the global story of climate change, bringing scientific and moral authority into alignment. The Pope will argue that human beings and high-tech capitalism have “slapped” nature and all creation “in the face.”
Trade deals and drilling permits are booming while the Kyoto spirit limps along. No wonder world leaders, eco-crusaders, and atheist scientists are all so hungry for some Good News. It’s time to kick the climate problem upstairs, but can a letter from Rome change things?
We’ll be speaking to Naomi Oreskes, who’s advising the Vatican on climate and turning scientific knowledge into a political message. Her 2010 book Merchants of Doubt indicted the tactics that oil companies cribbed from the tobacco titans and became a film phenomenon last year. As with tobacco smoke and acid rain, science isn’t enough to win an argument against opponents with a modest but dangerous specialty: getting people to question certain unpleasant realities.
Sally Weintrobe, our psychoanalyst of climate change, will put late capitalism on the couch and explain why we’re so eager to ignore the real world of droughts, floods, and our own climate change complicity. Dr. Weintrobe says a little more climate guilt is what we need in the global North, and maybe that’s where the church comes in.
But Francis is expected to take us back to bigger ideas than guilt. Awe of creation and care for “the least of these,” are the old values that welcome (even prefigure) the most complicated climate science. Dorothy Boorse, a biologist who combines love of nature with love of God — and who’s been pitching American evangelicals on climate as a moral issue for years — will let us in on a faith-science alliance that’s well underway and ready to save all of us gas-guzzling sinners.
We hear the most bracing telling, not in the skeptical speeches of Rick Santorum, even, but in the doomsaying of Paul Kingsnorth, a former eco-activist who has lost his faith in the ability of people to change. Here he is on the broken myths of our society too late to change:
Tell us: are you waiting to hear what the pope has to say about the environment and justice next week? And what will it take to move the needle toward real collective action on climate matters?
professor of the history of science, author of Merchants of Doubt and The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future, and a participant in the Vatican Environmental Summit in 2014.
professor of biology at Gordon College, marine ecologist, and lead author of Loving The Least of These, a report on climate change for the National Association of Evangelicals.
Myrna Perez Sheldon, Cosmologics Magazine
In an interview last year, Naomi Oreskes — fresh from a Vatican conference on climate change and social justice — was optimistic that the pope is making the right climate connections. For her presentation, Oreskes argued that scientists should meet his church halfway:
...it’s a new, and non-obvious idea that science should remain “pure” from policy recommendations. And scientists talk about this separation in a very absolutist, straight-forward way: as if they will lose their credibility if they give their opinions about policy. So in the paper, I begin with Niels Bohr, since Bohr’s open letter and his intervention with atomic technology is the most famous example of a prominent scientist coming forward to speak about the bigger social, political and existential issues that arise from his work as a scientist. But now we’re in a political context in which scientists have retreated from political recommendations; politics are messy and dirty, so they’ve pulled back.
Jennifer Weeks, Boston Globe Magazine
Last year, our guest Dorothy Boorse recounted her journey in the science academy and in a faith tradition — evangelical Christianity — that's often perceived as anti-science. Boorse told the Globe that there are two ways to read the apocalypse, and her crowd is following God by protecting creation:
Boorse recognizes that some evangelical Christians believe that the earth’s fate is already written and humans have no power to change it. But she disagrees. Even if you believe the world will end at a certain time, in her reasoning, that doesn’t dictate how you should act from now until then. And if you believe that God is sovereign and made the earth, “you should care about it even more,” she says. “Theology does not tell us to trash the world, although people can find ways to read it that way.”
John L. Allen, Jr., Crux
Allen, a long-time Vatican decoder, writes about what to expect when you're expecting a papal encyclical on the environment:
...Laudato Sii, the reported title of the encyclical (meaning “Praised Be”), will almost certainly be a work in moral theology. The chief concern will be the common good, asking how someone of conscience should behave both toward others and toward the environment… It will be a theological meditation taking its point of departure from biblical teaching on God’s creation, in which climate change is an important, but secondary, extrapolation.
Jeffrey Sachs, Project Syndicate
Economist Jeffrey Sachs, another Vatican climate adviser, lays out Francis's political task and calls out conservatives who say the pontiff should "stick to morality." Sachs says that the pope's opponents make a nonsense distinction; science and morality have always needed each other in order for either to do any good.
Francis’s purpose, of course, is to marry modern science, both natural and social, with faith and morality. Our hard-won scientific knowledge should be used to promote human wellbeing, protect the vulnerable and the poor, preserve Earth’s fragile ecosystems, and keep faith with future generations. Science can reveal the environmental dangers caused by humanity; engineering can create the tools to protect the planet; and faith and moral reasoning can provide the practical wisdom (as Aristotle and Aquinas would have said) to choose virtuously for the common good.