How Pope Francis's Climate Encyclical Is Disrupting American Politics
The Republican reaction to Pope Francis's climate encyclical, juxtaposed to the Democratic congressional rebellion against President Obama on trade, suggest that climate and energy are powerfully disrupting the grid-locked orthodoxy which has dominated American politics for the last decade.
The Tea Party-Koch brothers wing of conservatism, (and the corporate wing of the Democratic Party), are clearly on the defensive.
The most significant “tell” is the flailing responses of reactionaries to the looming threat posed to climate denial by Pope Francis’s Laudato Si.
Jeb Bush’s latest flip-flop—first asserting in New Hampshire that he wouldn’t take his economics from his church, and then backpedaling in Iowa—was merely the most recent spasm of right-wing discomfort.
Earlier Rick Santorum’s sputteringly strove to explain—on Fox news—why he was scolding the Pope, who has worked as a scientist, for speaking on climate, while Santorum himself, as a politician, had both right and duty to his own climate pulpit.
The assault began when the Heartland Institute tried to bully the Pope—unsuccessfully—into withholding or water down the encyclical by arguing that some of the voices urging climate action—UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs—opposed the Catholic Church on abortion. Indeed the overriding, major chord of the conservative assault on the encyclical is that Christian values only govern sex and family—economics, geopolitics, and climate should be left to secular, capitalist ideology.
Pope Francis’s allies within the Church understand what this means better than outsiders. Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru warned that Francis “will have many critics, because they want to continue setting rules of the game in which money takes first place. We have to be prepared for those kinds of attacks.”
The Pope took his critics into account—making it clear within the text of Laudato Si that his approach to the environment is firmly rooted in traditional Catholic views of the uniqueness of human life and the need for a non-market based common good—drawing a line clarifying that he is not preaching a “new age” form of Catholicism.
(Reactionaries’ bewilderment that the Catholic Church’s option for the poor extends to concerns about protecting the poor from greenhouse enhanced droughts, heat waves and rising oceans echoes their glib assumption that a presumed “social conservatism” would fence in American Hispanic voters, override their communitarian economic and environmental attitudes, and allow Republicans to retain Hispanic voter loyalty while still promising to “self-deport” 11 million of their relatives).
It is more a gale than a fresh breeze when the most ground-breaking Pope since John XXIII links poverty and climate, in a way which leaves the far-right sputtering—(just as it was a powerful symbol when a daughter of the Church, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, broke with President Obama on trade citing climate concerns).
Indeed, something fundamental is shifting this summer in political and cultural attitudes around climate.
Compare this year to the summer that preceded Copenhagen; the dominant 2009 news on climate was the grinding failure of the U.S. Senate and the Obama Administration on climate and energy legislation. And the rest of the news was equally dispiriting—no progress, little ambition, cynicism about the prospects.
Six months out from Paris, a new dynamism is palpable. Hawaii just committed itself to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. The California Senate pledged the world’s seventh largest economy to a 50 percent emission cut by 2030—including petroleum. The first quarter witnessed a stunning 76 percent growth in U.S. residential solar installations over the previous year. Georgia joined the growing list of states that permit homeowners to generate their own rooftop solar electrons, while giant (and historically conservative) Georgia Power proclaims that it will promote and grow clean power just as aggressively as it previously dominated coal and nuclear.
Globally renewable energy was more than half of added capacity. Chinese emissions declined in the first quarter by an amount equal to the total carbon pollution of Great Britain, Mexico became the first major emerging market to pledge solid emission reductions, and Ethiopia offered to reduce its projected 2030 carbon pollution by 64 percent—if climate finance is made available. Alberta tossed out its pro-tar sands Conservative Premier and elected the first left-leaning government in its history.
Led by “Climate Chancellor” Angela Merkel, the world’s major industrial nations called for a binding climate treaty at the “upper end” of the ambition levels required by climate science, and agreed that the era of fossil fuels must end this century. The Saudi Oil Minister signaled that his kingdom fears the era of oil by end by mid-century. And 199 nations meeting in Germany reached a breakthrough agreement on how to curb deforestation and lay the groundwork for an eventual reduction—through forest and grassland sequestration—in atmospheric carbon concentrations.
The price of oil remained mired below $70; OPEC agreed again to keep pumping and fighting for market share; and the share value of coal companies, already down by three-quarters, just kept slumping. (Purchasers two months ago of Peabody junk bonds have already lost 18 percent of their money).
Sensing a change in the landscape, Europe’s six biggest oil and gas companies abandoned their fossil fuel common front with coal, and threw the black rock and its shareholders under the bus. Re-branding themselves as “almost gas” companies (shades of John Brown and BP’s “Beyond Petroleum” phase) Shell, BP, Total, Eni and British Gas called on the international community to levy a global carbon tax that would drive electricity generators from coal to gas.
This is exciting news for climate. But there are signs that this climate and energy revolution is also breaking apart the frozen tectonic plates which have locked American conservatism into an orthodoxy of inaction not just on global warming, but on almost every problem challenging our society.
No longer do all conservatives join Koch, Heartland and Republican Presidential candidates in dismissing conservative engagement with climate solutions. Not only are both libertarians (the new Niskanen Center) and business conservatives (American Enterprise Institute) alike debating the need for conservative solutions like carbon taxes, but the first conservative climate progress mega-donor, Jay Faison has surfaced, pledging to spend $175 million on encouraging his movement to come to grips with atmospheric reality.
Over the past decade—ever since the nascent Tea Party partly seized control of Republican politics, shutting down George W. Bush’s forgotten campaign promise to clean up carbon pollution, rebuffing his immigration reforms, and eventually thrusting his “compassionate conservatism” into the fiery abyss of conservative heresy—a new Republican orthodoxy locked down the primary fault zone in American politics, where new realities and social change forces collide with conservative political, cultural and economic habits.
The Supreme Court’s “money is speech and corporations are people” jurisprudence weakened the ability of business elites to buffer Tea Party pressures on elected Republicans. Even such routine public business as the reauthorization of infrastructure spending or the Export-Import Banks ground to a halt. Nothing, it seemed, was possible.
Tectonic drift isn’t dangerous when the plates glide and rub against each other, releasing their energy gradually. But when they freeze up, the “thrust fault” that results accumulates energy until it cracks, relieving stored up stress in a few seconds, and creating new landscapes and mountain ranges. And when three moving “oceanic” plates (demography, globalization, and climate) converge on the stationary continental plate of American conservatism, the eventual outcome, while unpredictable, is certain to be spectacular.
The crack-up has begun—and surprisingly it seems that climate, not Hispanic voting blocks or global competition, may be the disrupter that shatters conservative orthodoxy.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
A tornado tore through a city north of Birmingham, Alabama, Monday night, killing one person and injuring at least 30.
- Tornadoes and Climate Change: What Does the Science Say ... ›
- Tornadoes Hit Unusually Wide Swaths of U.S., Alarming Climate ... ›
- 23 Dead as Tornado Pummels Lee County, AL in Further Sign ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By David Konisky
On his first day in office President Joe Biden started signing executive orders to reverse Trump administration policies. One sweeping directive calls for stronger action to protect public health and the environment and hold polluters accountable, including those who "disproportionately harm communities of color and low-income communities."
Michael S. Regan, President Biden's nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, grew up near a coal-burning power plant in North Carolina and has pledged to "enact an environmental justice framework that empowers people in all communities." NCDEQ
- Report Urges Biden to Reverse Trump's Environmental Rollbacks ›
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ›
- Biden's EPA Pick Michael Regan Urged to Address Environmental ... ›
- Biden Faces Pressure to Tackle 'Unfunded' Toxic Waste Sites ... ›
By Katherine Kornei
Clear-cutting a forest is relatively easy—just pick a tree and start chopping. But there are benefits to more sophisticated forest management. One technique—which involves repeatedly harvesting smaller trees every 30 or so years but leaving an upper story of larger trees for longer periods (60, 90, or 120 years)—ensures a steady supply of both firewood and construction timber.
A Pattern in the Rings<p>The <a href="https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/coppice-standards-0" target="_blank">coppice-with-standards</a> management practice produces a two-story forest, said <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Bernhard_Muigg" target="_blank">Bernhard Muigg</a>, a dendrochronologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "You have an upper story of single trees that are allowed to grow for several understory generations."</p><p>That arrangement imprints a characteristic tree ring pattern in a forest's upper story trees (the "standards"): thick rings indicative of heavy growth, which show up at regular intervals as the surrounding smaller trees are cut down. "The trees are growing faster," said Muigg. "You can really see it with your naked eye."</p><p>Muigg and his collaborators characterized that <a href="https://ltrr.arizona.edu/about/treerings" target="_blank">dendrochronological pattern</a> in 161 oak trees growing in central Germany, one of the few remaining sites in Europe with actively managed coppice-with-standards forests. They found up to nine cycles of heavy growth in the trees, the oldest of which was planted in 1761. The researchers then turned to a historical data set — more than 2,000 oak <a href="https://eos.org/articles/podcast-discovering-europes-history-through-its-timbers" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">timbers from buildings and archaeological sites</a> in Germany and France dating from between 300 and 2015 — to look for a similar pattern.</p>
A Gap of 500 Years<p>The team found wood with the characteristic coppice-with-standards tree ring pattern dating to as early as the 6th century. That was a surprise, Muigg and his colleagues concluded, because the first mention of this forest management practice in historical documents occurred only roughly 500 years later, in the 13th century.</p><p>It's probable that forest management practices were not well documented prior to the High Middle Ages (1000–1250), the researchers suggested. "Forests are mainly mentioned in the context of royal hunting interests or donations," said Muigg. Dendrochronological studies are particularly important because they can reveal information not captured by a sparse historical record, he added.</p><p>These results were <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-78933-8" target="_blank">published in December in <em>Scientific Reports</em></a>.</p><p>"It's nice to see the longevity and the history of coppice-with-standards," said <a href="https://www.teagasc.ie/contact/staff-directory/s/ian-short/" target="_blank">Ian Short</a>, a forestry researcher at Teagasc, the Agriculture and Food Development Authority in Ireland, not involved in the research. This technique is valuable because it promotes conservation and habitat biodiversity, Short said. "In the next 10 or 20 years, I think we'll see more coppice-with-standards coming back into production."</p><p>In the future, Muigg and his collaborators hope to analyze a larger sample of historic timbers to trace how the coppice-with-standards practice spread throughout Europe. It will be interesting to understand where this technique originated and how it propagated, said Muigg, and there are plenty of old pieces of wood waiting to be analyzed. "There [are] tons of dendrochronological data."</p><p><em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Katherine Kornei</a> is a freelance science journalist covering Earth and space science. Her bylines frequently appear in Eos, Science, and The New York Times. Katherine holds a Ph.D. in astronomy from the University of California, Los Angeles.</em></p><p><em>This story originally appeared in <a href="https://eos.org/articles/tree-rings-reveal-how-ancient-forests-were-managed" target="_blank">Eos</a></em> <em>and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.</em></p>
Earth's ice is melting 57 percent faster than in the 1990s and the world has lost more than 28 trillion tons of ice since 1994, research published Monday in The Cryosphere shows.
By Jewel Fraser
Noreen Nunez lives in a middle-class neighborhood that rises up a hillside in Trinidad's Tunapuna-Piarco region.