Praise has been lavished internationally on Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change (Laudato Si'), both among Catholics and across interfaith lines.
However, strong conservatives and climate change deniers (they should actually be called "science deniers") have criticized either its content or the fact that the pope ventured into this realm in such a big way -- as if preserving the natural world were not a moral concern.
Of course, many political leaders who hold public office have been leading critics because the encyclical offends their friends (and donors) in fossil fuel industries, and some worry about job losses in coal- and oil-producing states. But unfortunately, these politicians can't imagine anything other than continuing those extractions.
What we need are political leaders with new imaginations, leaders who can redefine political leadership not as protecting jobs in fossil fuel industries, but as discovering new job opportunities (and business opportunities) in manufacturing materials needed for renewables: solar, wind, geothermal.
U.S. Catholics (and others) need to begin to scrutinize the environmental positions (or lack thereof) of the growing list of presidential candidates. No organization does a more thorough job of providing the facts than the League of Conservation Voters. Their website does not make political judgments; it simply posts quotations from all the leading candidates of both parties.
Sadly, it is impossible to find a Republican on that list who is not (at best) an equivocator on this issue. Many use the handy phrase "I am not a scientist." There are differences in approach, but almost no one advocates new public policies to cope with this as a national and international crisis.
The Democratic candidates, on the other hand, all accept the reality of climate change. But their solutions differ. Some are stronger than others.
Whatever one's political affiliation, we have a moral obligation to size up candidates on this critical issue for 2016. It's an important way to follow the call of Laudato Si'.
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