Pope Francis Takes on Big Oil & Big Coal

Posted on by Mark Nykanen

Even for a collapsed Catholic like me—“lapsed” just doesn’t quite cover my retreat from the church—Pope Francis provides some encouraging moments, whether he’s championing the interests of the forgotten poor or urging people to care for the environment. I’m not going to go all gaga on him, but he’s using his powerful pulpit for some excellent purposes. So naturally he’s got the marionettes run by the billionaire Koch brothers frothing at the mouth.

You may have heard that Pope Francis plans on issuing an encyclical this summer on global warming and environmental degradation, with special attention to the impact of climate change on the poor. Well, that just doesn’t cut it with the Heartland Institute, which has emerged as a leading voice in the highly competitive field of climate change denial, fueled (pun intended) largely on the strength of Koch brothers’ contributions.

The Institute has been elbowing its way into news media with its patronizing warnings to the pope that ideologues at the UN are misleading him. Perhaps the pope simply hasn’t been taking money from the Koch brothers.

The latest actual science on the subject of the warming came out yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change, which reports that the moderate warming we’ve seen since the start of the Industrial Revolution—the “Industrial Rotisserie” as one wag has put it—has quadrupled the frequency of heat waves.

Now this doesn’t mean days when temps rise to merely uncomfortable levels. This means getting grilled to death by extreme heat, which happened to hundreds in Chicago in 1995 and 70,000 Europeans in 2003.

Continued failure to significantly lower the rate of greenhouse gas emissions could lead to “a 62-fold increase in such heat blasts,” as reported in The New York Times this morning. That would occur with a 5 degree Celsius increase, which very sober members of the international financial community say is a distinct possibly by the end of this century. A “mere” 3 degree increase Celsius, which is highly likely and widely predicted, would lend itself to a 14-fold increase in those extreme heat events.

The Navajo Nation knows plenty about rising temps and water shortages. Indian Country online reports that the majority of Navajos must import water. What does that mean, exactly? That families must make regular trips to fill barrels of water that they transport back to their homes. Imagine doing that on a weekly basis to subsist.

The Navajo Nation is the largest reservation in the U.S. with a population of about 175,000. For years tribal members have been decrying the warming of its climate. Less rain, less snow, and more hot days have all contributed mightily to a drought now well into its second decade.

Poverty on the reservation remains endemic. I first glimpsed it driving through northern Arizona in 1965 on my family’s move to Tempe. I’d seen grim urban poverty in the Bronx, New York, where I’d gone with my father, a lieutenant in the NYCFD, on a visit to his firehouse, which was the busiest in the nation at that time. I got to slide down the pole from the second floor to the first, but a far more vivid memory was the broken windows in the tenements we walked by as we left. But the rural poverty of northern Arizona was new to me and deeply disturbing.

I saw more of it as a reporter when I covered the American Indian Movement, AIM, armed takeover of the Fairchild semi-conductor plant in Shiprock, New Mexico in 1975. Working for the underground press, we were the only reporters AIM let into the plant. The access provided an opportunity to review the company’s deplorable hiring—and firing—of Native Americans. I later co-authored a piece about that for The Progressive magazine.

In one of my earliest investigations for a public television station, I was back on the rez for a report on construction fraud in the building of homes for First Nations people. They didn’t need me to tell them that they’d been cheated since colonization but I thought my largely white audience in Phoenix might want to know.

But nothing may cause greater grief for Native Americans of the Southwest—at least since the arrival of the colonizers—than global warming. For more on their plight I’d urge you to check out Indian Country online. There are ample stories about the drought’s impact on tribes, along with a great deal about native life, but the following will get you started.  I’m having trouble activating the links this a.m.  Please excuse the lack thereof.


And here’s the link to this morning’s New York Times report on extreme heat and global warming:


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