Pope Francis, Groundhog Day, and Hot Times

Posted on by Mark Nykanen

Honestly, reading climate news is a lot like watching Bill Murray repeatedly pound his alarm clock in Groundhog Day, with, of course, a painful twist:  global warming isn’t precisely the same each time we read the latest reports.  It just keeps getting hotter.

That’s the word from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research arm, which Republicans on Capitol Hill are intent on defunding in their ongoing bid, I suppose, to cut off the head of the messenger.  They’ve also been taking aim at NASA’s Earth Science budget for the same reason.  (Why stick your head in the sand when you can simply blind yourself entirely?)  So here’s NOAA’s news, released just yesterday:  May was the warmest on record, which now makes this spring the hottest ever.  But as Bugs Bunny used to say, “That’s not all folks!” because this hot streak is making it likely, according to NOAA, that 2015 will be the warmest year on record.  What year was the previous “winner?”  Last year, 2014.

NOAA’s news comes as Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change.  For starters, it’s safe to say Republicans on the Hill would defund the pope, if they could.  And it’ll certainly be interesting to see the wily responses to Francis’s telling words from all the Catholic candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.  Their contortions should be interesting.  After all, when they could no longer use science to dismiss the warming, they began issuing the mantra “I’m not a scientist.”  Which was clearly no bulletin.  Will “I’m not a Catholic” soon follow for Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Mark Rubio, et.al.?  Unlikely, given the number of Catholic voters.

There’s been tremendous and largely favorable coverage of Pope Francis’s 200 page document.  No need to recap here, except to say that to many of us who have been writing about climate change for years, he stated the obvious:  the warming is triggered largely by humans; it’s increasingly a product of a rapacious form of capitalism that has squeezed the world’s poor, while endowing the fractional and mostly idle rich with ever greater concentrations of the planet’s wealth; and the warming, left unchecked, will eventually bring ruin to Earth as we know it.

Francis also dissed the leafy notion that we’ll geoengineer our way out of this looming catastrophe.

Although my church going days as a Catholic–or “mackerel snapper,” as I called myself for those “fish on Friday” meals way back when–ended decades ago, I applaud the pontiff for his encyclical and the force with which he presented it.  Would it have been better if he’d offered a mea culpa for the church’s antediluvian proscription on birth control and a woman’s right to choose?  Of course.  But we can carp about that only if, in addition to a compelling encyclical, we expected a miracle.  Let’s take Francis’s words for what they were and not confuse them with what we might have wanted.  His words were plainly spoken and to the point:  we’d better get clear on climate change and think hard and fast about the world we are leaving to our children and grandchildren.  To do otherwise would be a sin in sectarian terms, if you’re a believer; and in the secular sense, if you’re not.


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