Iowa bishop to presidential candidates: It’s time to talk climate change

This story appears in the Francis: The Environment Encyclical feature series. View the full series.

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Presidential hopefuls arriving in Iowa should expect to engage in “an open and honest conversation” about climate change, according to one of the state’s bishops.

Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines, writing Thursday in an op-ed piece for the Des Moines Register, said that Iowans have already begun to feel the effects “of worsening droughts alongside heavier downpours and flooding,” and that in his former role as chair for the U.S. bishops’ Committee for International Justice and Peace, that he saw firsthand the suffering of others around the world having to leave their homes due to severe weather and food and water shortages.

He stated that Pope Francis in his environmental encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” affirmed the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and largely human-driven, and that the pope repeatedly called for dialogue on addressing “one of the principal challenges facing humanity” (Paragraph 25).

According to Pates, that includes those pursuing the White House in 2016.

“Pope Francis is challenging us all to have an open and honest conversation about the problem and available solutions. As presidential candidates make their way across our great state during the political caucus season, we want them to be part of the conversation, too,” he wrote.

Of the 18 declared candidates, seven are Catholic. They include Democrat and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, and among the Republican field: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former New York Gov. George Pataki, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

While O'Malley has called for phasing out fossil fuels by 2050, the Republican field has largely dodged the climate question, denied or downplayed the existence of the problem, or challenged the human contribution or potential solutions. Days before the encyclical’s release, Bush told a town hall event in New Hampshire that “I don't get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.” He later backed away from the comments and said he tries to follow church teaching.  

Pates was set to appear later Thursday morning alongside Davenport, Iowa, Bishop Martin Amos at a press conference in front of a wind turbine at the Des Moines Area Community College, whose curriculum includes a wind turbine program.

In the op-ed, Pates said that about a quarter of Iowans rely on wind-generated energy and that the wind industry is growing, “providing jobs and proving a critical consideration that it's possible to have successful business development while protecting the environment.”

But the bishop said that an honest conversation about climate solutions first requires acknowledgement of the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring and human-caused. He even pointed to a NASA illustration of the consensus that exists among 97 percent of climate scientists.

“The dialogue we need is not about whether to act on climate change, but how to act,” Pates said.

The Iowa wind turbine event -- which also brought together interfaith leaders, farmers, and clean energy advocates -- was one of several events across the U.S. planned by the Catholic Climate Covenant in coming months. Similar events are set for August in Cincinnati and Norfolk, Va., and others are expected in Miami and Sacramento, Calif.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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A version of this story appeared in the July 17-30, 2015 print issue under the headline: Time to talk climate, says Iowa bishop.

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