Pope Francis’ call to combat climate change got mixed reviews Thursday from Mainers, with some embracing the pontiff’s plea for a “worldwide ecological movement” to rescue the environment while others questioned his authority on the issue and his indictment of big business and climate deniers.
A chemist before he joined the priesthood, Francis became the first pope to issue an encyclical that explains the science of global warming and urges all people to address the “present ecological crisis” that threatens God’s creation.
“It’s guidance to make us think of taking care of others and Mother Earth,” Elizabeth Weber, a Great Diamond Island resident, said of the papal letter while on her way to noontime Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.
In the 90-page document, titled “On Care For Our Common Home,” Francis says he hopes to influence ordinary people in their daily lives and decision-makers at critical United Nations climate meetings to be held this year. But some Mainers balked at the pope’s effort to incite a “bold cultural revolution” that would answer “both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor,” who are often most susceptible to climate issues.
“Promoting revolution needs to be removed from his position,” Ellen Caswell Hawkins of Sanford wrote in a Facebook post on a Portland Press Herald story. “His job is to be a man of peace and truth, and global warming is a huge lie.”
On pressherald.com, some comments posted on stories about the papal encyclical questioned his political motivations, his perceived liberal stance on environmental and economic issues, his scientific authority and his attack on big business.
The pope’s letter, the contents of which were anticipated for weeks and sparked debate long before its Thursday release, has ignited a global discussion about climate change, economic justice, and the modern role and clout of the pope and the church. About 193,000, or 15 percent, of Maine’s 1.3 million residents are Catholic, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.
U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent and a member of the Senate Climate Action Task Force, took to the Senate floor Thursday to publicly endorse the pope’s message.
“Some of the reaction has been that the pope should stay away from science and stick to morality and theology,” King said. “I’m here this morning to say I believe that’s exactly what he is doing.”
FORCEFUL LANGUAGE FROM PONTIFF
King said he has always viewed climate change in an ethical and moral context. He pointed to visible and measurable effects of climate change on Maine’s coastal environment and fishing industry.
“We have an obligation to do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” King said. “So I welcome the pope’s words this week as a valuable voice in an important discussion.”
Through his encyclical, or teaching document, the pope addresses familiar topics with forceful language, saying that a “structurally perverse” economic system is allowing the rich to exploit the poor, promoting “throwaway culture” and turning the Earth into an “immense pile of filth.”
The pope says a “winner takes all” approach “has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful.” He says this business model conflicts directly with “the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus.”
He also calls climate change deniers “obstructionist” for ignoring the evidence of melting glaciers and dying coral reefs, and he charges politicians with listening to oil industry interests instead of Scripture and common sense.
A CALL TO IMPLEMENT SOLUTIONS
Bishop Robert P. Deeley, head of the Portland diocese, said the pope’s letter is an invitation to examine the concept of “integral ecology.”
“This notion teaches that our understanding of God and of ourselves is connected with our relationship with each other and the natural world in which we live,” Deeley said in a prepared statement. “Our actions and choices in life involve not only ourselves, but other human beings with whom we share the Earth.”
The pope’s letter is a road map “to respect our place in the universe and to understand our nature as created by God, so that we can live in peace with one another and with respect for the resources of our Earth,” Deeley said.
Data released Thursday supported Francis’ position. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a report showing that last month was the hottest May around the globe in 136 years of record-keeping. NOAA also calculated that the first five months of 2015 made it by far the hottest year on record, noting that a 10-day heat wave in India at the end of the month caused more than 2,200 fatalities.
In outlining solutions, the pope describes a “worldwide ecological movement” that favors a “less is more” approach to day-to-day living through reduced consumption, recycling and sustainable development.
Franck Kayembe, a Portland resident and a Catholic who hails from the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa, said he has seen the effects of climate change in his native country. Increasingly, people there struggle to grow crops and fight over limited resources. He said he likes what the pope is saying, but he’s not sure it will bring the desired change.
“It’s a good message,” Kayembe said. “It’s important to preserve the planet and the environment.”