Monday, June 15, 2015

Pre-emptive attacks on the Pope's stance on Climate Change

Angry US Republicans tell Pope Francis to ‘stick with his job and we’ll stick with ours’

The US right will launch pre-emptive attacks on the pope’s stance on climate change

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent

Catholic and long-shot Republican nomination hopeful Rick Santorum.
Photograph: Chris Keane/Reuters

Leading figures on the American right are launching a series of pre-emptive attacks on the pope before this week’s encyclical, hoping to prevent a mass conversion of the climate change deniers who have powered the corps of the conservative movement for more than a decade.
The prospect that the pope, from his perch at the pinnacle of the Catholic church, will exhort humanity to act on climate change as a moral imperative is a direct threat to a core belief of US conservatives. And conservatives – anxious to hang on to their flock – are lashing out.
“The pope ought to stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours,” James Inhofe, the granddaddy of climate change deniers in the US Congress and chairman of the Senate environment and public works committee, said last week, after picking up an award at a climate sceptics’ conference.
Rick Santorum, a devout Catholic and a long-shot contender for the Republican nomination, told a Philadelphia radio station: “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re good at, which is theology and morality.”
A majority of Republicans in Congress deny the existence of climate change and oppose regulations to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Among the ultra-conservative Tea Party set, climate change scepticism reaches epidemic proportions, about 80% of those on the far right, according to the Pew research centre. Only one of the nearly 20 Republicans running for president will acknowledge the danger of climate change, another long-shot contender, Lindsey Graham.
The fossil fuel industry, including the American Petroleum Institute lobby group and Peabody Coal, has cast fossil fuels as a route out of poverty in the developing world. Ultra-conservative and climate change denial thinktanks, such as the Heartland Institute, which has been funded by the oil industry, have argued that climate change was the cure for drought and famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s.
“In the US for the past 10 years we have allowed climate change to become an ideological political issue instead of being the moral issue that it is,” said the Rev Mitchell Hescox, leader of the Evangelical Environmental Network. “The idea that climate change is a liberal issue has just permeated the thought of those in the conservative movement, and those in the denier campaign have taken advantage of that to continue to drive home the message that climate change is not a moral issue,” added Hescox, who identifies himself as a conservative.
But it gets much harder to dismiss climate change as a fringe concern of liberals such as Al Gore, and environmental regulations as a sneaky first step to sweeping regulations and a government takeover of private lives, once the pope becomes involved.
“If I were a Catholic climate denier, I would be worried about the pope,” said Patrick Regan, who teaches the politics of climate change at Notre Dame University. “And if I had a vested interest in not changing climate policy, the pope would be a threat to my political stance.”
In the case of climate change, conservatives face multiple threats to the world view.
This week, the pope will cast climate change as the moral cause of our times. Over the summer, Barack Obama will finalise new rules cutting carbon pollution from power plants. In September, the pope will be back to stir up talk of climate change again, in the first ever speech by a pope to Congress – just at a time when hard-core conservatives had hoped to be voting on long-shot legislation to block the power plant rules or cut climate aid to developing countries.

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