Ever since the environmental movement began it has had a religious fervor: Like God, Earth is always capitalized, and there is an annual celebration, Earth Day, rather like holidays celebrated by other religions. Of course, the dogmas of green religionists have changed over time: Prophecies of a new Ice Age gave way to forecasts of global warming, and those to a more all-purpose fear of climate change. Fair enough. In order to survive, any religion has to adapt to changing times.
Which brings us to Laudato Si (Praise Be to You), the encyclical recently issued by Pope Francis, who, during a trip to the Philippines, told reporters that “man has slapped nature in the face” and that global warming is “mostly man-made.” He now warns, “If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us.” In preparation for the release of the encyclical, Pope Francis received U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon, who, according to the New York Times, arrived at the Vatican accompanied by “his own college of cardinals”—U.N. bureaucrats representing all major U.N. agencies. He then issued his encyclical, warning the world’s billion-plus Catholics that global warming, mainly created by man’s use of fossil fuels, is especially threatening to the poor.
The pontiff’s certitude aligns him squarely with President Obama, who proclaims the science of climate change to be settled, much as believers that the sun circled the Earth once claimed their science to be settled. And they knew what to do with that heretic Galileo. Obama doesn’t have such enforcement measures available to him, despite the elasticity with which he views his constitutional powers. But he does have the bully pulpit, congressional allies willing to demand that holders of unorthodox beliefs be excommunicated from universities, and now the support of a papal encyclical, a teaching document that is one of the most authoritative statements made by the Catholic church. Democrats are hoping the encyclical will put pressure on presidential hopefuls Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie, and Bobby Jindal, all Catholics, to moderate their opposition to regulations on the use of fossil fuels. But Jeb Bush, although expressing an interest in what the pope has to say, told an audience, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”
This merging of the Catholic and environmental faiths should come as no surprise. Pope and president, the respective leaders of the Catholic and environmental faiths, are as one in holding the “science” of global warming to be settled fact. Obama’s followers also tend to believe he is infallible and cheered in 2008 when he proclaimed his victory in the Democratic primaries as “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” Both warn of biblical-scale droughts, floods, storms, and pestilence in our future, owing to the use of fossil fuels. Some might reject Obama as a religious leader—his decades of study at the feet of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright notwithstanding—but none can doubt the stature of Pope Francis.
State-supported religions typically have state-supported schools. We have Common Core educational standards, not quite the same thing, but increasingly the impressionable young are taught that there is one truth, and it is that man’s activities are having a devastating effect on global climate. As the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, the new K-12 science curriculum recommends “that by the end of Grade 5, students should appreciate that rising . . . temperatures” will affect the lives of everyone. By Grade 8, they “should understand that the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels is a major factor in global warming.” And by Grade 12, that “global climate models are very effective in modeling” and managing the impact of climate change. Lest educators lack the ability to transmit this knowledge, the EPA and other agencies have prepared climate-change primers for instructors.
Like all religions, environmentalism has its factions and sects. I am not certain that pantheism is the right label for those environmentalists who believe that salvation is to be found in the sun and the wind, but both forms of energy have caused considerable concern among coreligionists who see abstinence, using less of this or that, as the preferred route to a better, greener world—a sort of “just say no” approach to big cars and fridges, cooling in summer and heating in winter.