When Pope Francis releases his historic environmental encyclical this week, he will be preaching to the world, but the world will be looking to the United States to lead. The pope will deliver a practical message: Mankind created this problem of climate change, and now mankind must fix it. And as one of the world’s top emitters of the pollution that’s warming our planet, America has the moral obligation to act.
It should be no surprise that the Catholic Church is elevating the issue of climate change. By choosing Pope Francis as leader, the Church has given us a Jesuit trained in chemistry who is devoted to the poor and ensuring environmental justice.
The Vatican’s commitment was clear to me when I visited there last year as the only American representative in a group of six legislators from around the world who were working to address climate change in their own countries. My international colleagues shared the impacts of global warming on their people — the destruction by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the droughts that harmed Mexico and South Africa. I spoke of the impacts on coastal Massachusetts from record-breaking ocean temperatures and rising sea levels. We all agreed that the world’s poorest are suffering the worst consequences — extreme poverty, famine, and disease.
The science of climate change has been clear for decades. The economic and security costs are now dangerously evident. Climate change is aggravating tensions around the world, especially where food and water security are at the heart of conflicts. It is spawning new crises that are displacing millions and creating an era of refugees.
Climate change deniers may be the Doubting Thomases of the 21st century, but there is no doubting the science anymore when national academies of sciences across the globe, including the Vatican’s, all agree that burning fossil fuels is changing the Earth’s climate. Pope Francis’s encyclical will offer all people of conscience an opportunity to examine their own lives and their duty to take action.
The pope’s message comes at a critical time as the nations of the world come together to forge an international climate agreement in Paris this December. America must lead this effort. We must continue to improve the fuel efficiency of automobiles. We must deploy more wind and solar energy and renew tax breaks for these projects. We must implement and defend President Obama’s Clean Power Plan that will reduce carbon emissions from America’s power plants. The United States can be the leader in the technological revolution to reduce the pollution imperiling our planet, and then we can partner with other nations to share this technology and protect the most vulnerable.
The United States has the technological imperative to lead on clean energy. We have the economic imperative to engage in job creation that is good for all of creation. We have the moral responsibility to protect our planet for future generations. And with the pope’s encyclical, science and technology truly can be the answer to our prayers.
Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts is chairman of the Senate Climate Change Clearinghouse and a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.