Re-reading Laudato Si' ahead of the Trump-Francis visit

  • Left: Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square May 17 at the Vatican (CNS/Reuters/Max Rossi); right: President Donald Trump signs an executive order on "energy independence" March 28 at Environmental Protection Agency headquarters in Washington, D.C. (CNS/Reuters/Carlos Barria)
 |  Eco Catholic

All eyes will turn Wednesday to the much-anticipated visit at the Vatican between Pope Francis and Donald Trump. The planet itself may pay heed, as well.

As media reports have illustrated in recent weeks, the two world leaders subscribe to near-polar-opposite viewpoints on a number of issues, among them the environment.

That includes the Paris Agreement on climate change, a topic that could arise in Trump's encounter with the pope the morning of May 24, but almost certain to be addressed in his subsequent meetings with NATO allies (May 25) and G7 leaders (May 26-27) — all among the nearly 200 nations that signed the deal to limit global warming by century's end below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

The president and his administration have debated over the past several months whether to pull the U.S. from the international climate accord, with Trump on the campaign trail promising "to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs."

The pope, on the other hand, has been among the chief supporters of the Paris deal, saying in November in a message to delegates of the COP22 climate talks in Morocco, "The Paris Agreement has traced a clear path on which the entire international community is called to engage. ... It affects all humanity, especially the poorest and the future generations, who represent the most vulnerable component of the troubling impact of climate change, and call us to the grave ethical and moral responsibility to act without delay, in a manner as free as possible from political and economic pressures, setting aside particular interests and behavior."

Web of Life.jpgExplore the rich biodiversity of Panama in a special eco-series from Global Sisters Report.


More: "Ambassadors advise Trump, Francis to mend fences in upcoming meeting" (May 17, 2017)


While Trump as president has yet to talk at length on the environment (and when he has, through the lenses of energy or regulations), Francis has preached about climate change and environmental issues in countless speeches and addresses — dating back to his first meeting with the press as pope. He most thoroughly took on the environment in his 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home."

A re-reading of Laudato Si' ahead of the looming papal-president convening offers some insight into what Francis may say should the conversation turn toward climate change or environmental degradation. As for Trump, several speeches and interviews from his campaign and the first few months of his presidency offer a few clues into his own thinking on the subject.

On the reality of climate change

Francis:

"The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witness­ing a disturbing warming of the climatic system."
Laudato Si', 23

"Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades."
Laudato Si', 25

Trump:

"Well, first of all, I'm not a believer in global warming. I'm not a believer manmade global warming. It could be warming and it's going to start to cool at some point. ... But the problem we have, we look at our energy costs, and all of the things that we're doing to solve a problem that I don't think in any major fashion exists. I mean, [President Barack] Obama thinks it's the No. 1 problem of the world today, and I think it's very low on the list. So I am not a believer."
Sept. 21, 2015, interview with "The Hugh Hewitt Show"

"Well, I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money."
"Fox & Friends," Jan. 18, 2016

"[Climate change is] a very complex subject. I'm not sure anybody is ever going to really know. I know we have, they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists. Where was that, in Geneva or wherever five years ago? Terrible. Where they got caught, you know, so you see that and you say, what's this all about. I absolutely have an open mind. I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important."
Nov. 23, 2016, interview with The New York Times

"Well, I think there is some connectivity [between climate change and human activity]. There is some, something. It depends on how much. It also depends on how much it's going to cost our companies. You have to understand, our companies are noncompetitive right now."
 —Nov. 23, 2016, interview with The New York Times

On addressing climate change

Francis:

"There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy."
Laudato Si', 26

"We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities. As the United States bishops have said, greater attention must be given to 'the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests.' "
Laudato Si', 52

"We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels — especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas — needs to be progressively replaced without delay. Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions."
Laudato Si', 165

"With regard to climate change, the advances have been regrettably few. Reducing greenhouse gases re­quires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most."
Laudato Si', 169

Trump:

"We are going to continue to expand energy production, and we will also create more jobs in infrastructure, trucking and manufacturing. This will allow the EPA to focus on its primary mission of protecting our air and protecting our water. Together, we are going to start a new energy revolution — one that celebrates American production on American soil."
March 28 signing of "Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth"

"We will unlock job-producing natural gas, oil, and shale energy. We will produce American coal to power American industry. We will transport American energy through American pipelines, made with American steel."
—March 28 signing of executive order on energy independence

"That is what this is all about: bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams — and making America wealthy again."
—March 28 signing of executive order on energy independence

On international efforts

Francis:

"It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected."
Laudato Si', 54

Trump:

"We're going to cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of U.S. tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs."
May 26, 2016, campaign speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, Bismarck, North Dakota

On addressing climate change, take 2

Francis:

"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."
 —Laudato Si'

"We should not think that political efforts or the force of law will be sufficient to prevent actions which affect the environment because, when the culture itself is corrupt and objective truth and universally valid principles are no longer upheld, then laws can only be seen as arbitrary impositions or obstacles to be avoided."
 —Laudato Si', no. 123

Trump:

"In a Trump Administration, political activists with extreme agendas will no longer write the rules. Instead, we will work with conservationists whose only agenda is protecting nature. From an environmental standpoint, my priorities are very simple: clean air and clean water."
—May 26, 2016, speech at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference, Bismarck, North Dakota

"My administration is putting an end to the war on coal. We're going to have clean coal — really clean coal. With today's executive action, I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations. ... And we're going to have safety, we're going to have clean water, we're going to have clear air. But so many [regulations] are unnecessary, and so many are job-killing. We're getting rid of the bad ones."
—March 28 signing of executive order on energy independence

On the politics of environmental protection

Francis:

"Here, continuity is essential, because policies related to climate change and environmental protection cannot be altered with every change of government. Results take time and demand immediate outlays which may not produce tangible effects within any one government's term. That is why, in the absence of pressure from the public and from civic institutions, political authorities will always be reluctant to intervene, all the more when urgent needs must be met. To take up these responsibilities and the costs they entail, politicians will inevitably clash with the mindset of short-term gain and results which dominates present-day economics and politics. But if they are courageous, they will attest to their God-given dignity and leave behind a testimony of selfless responsibility. A healthy politics is sorely needed, capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia. It should be added, though, that even the best mechanisms can break down when there are no worthy goals and values, or a genuine and profound humanism to serve as the basis of a noble and generous society."
Laudato Si', 181

Trump:

"I am, to a large extent, an environmentalist. I believe in it, but it's out of control and we're going to make [the permitting process for businesses] a very short process and we're going to either give you your permits or we're not going to give you your permits, but you're going to know very quickly."
Jan. 24 meeting with U.S. automakers

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is broewe@ncronline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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