Editorial: Pope stands with science in call to action on global warming

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Pope Francis greets the crowd at the end of his weekly general audience at St Peter’s square on June 17 at the Vatican. (AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLIALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)

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Pope Francis turned up the heat Thursday on anyone who thinks climate change is someone else’s problem.

In a profoundly important encyclical, Laudato Si — Blessed Are You — the pope took a stand with mainstream science, saying the world no longer can dare to shrug as ice sheets melt, species vanish, coral reefs die, forests disappear, weather gets more extreme, agriculture is ruined and the poor suffer. We must be a part of “a new and universal solidarity” to save the planet, and ourselves.

Francis’ message infused with moral authority an issue that for too long has been politicized by secular leaders who would rather duck and deny. He reached out to everyone — religious or not — with a call to action that transcends politics.

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Francis’ encyclical was published just as more than 190 nations are preparing proposals to take to a UN climate summit in Paris in December. But he wasn’t addressing governments only.

Reach into ourselves, he told us, and we can be the answer, the solution to “one of the principle challenges facing humanity” and one of the great moral issues of our times.

The pope rebuked climate change doubters who argue that the costs of switching to renewable fuels would fall heaviest on the poor. “Those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms,” he wrote.

Rather, he said, wealthier nations — having contributed most to climate change by burning fossil fuels — owe a debt to poorer countries, which should be repaid by supporting “policies and programs of sustainable development.”

In a particularly blunt passage, Francis wrote: “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. . . . Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.”

Nobody is likely to agree with the pope on every point. Unlike Francis, for example, we believe a cap-and-trade system is worth pursuing to reduce greenhouse emissions, and we believe unchecked global population growth is part of the problem.

But what matters here is the pope’s clarion call. As the 2016 presidential election moves forward, we hope all candidates will embrace the pope’s message. His words are not “rhetoric” or “alarmist,” as some members of Congress said Thursday. His facts are supported by science, his sense or urgency morally appropriate.

But Francis also held out hope.

“All is not lost,” he wrote. “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

There is still time, the pope said.

Let’s hope he’s right about that, too.

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