Pope, President, Prices and Paris. That covers just about everything you need to know about the next step in the battle to prevent what has come to be called climate change, the title now preferred to “global warming” by those who worry that CO2 emissions are causing, er, global warming. The Pope has issued his encyclical, President Barack Obama has issued his executive orders, myriad countries have already filed their goals and plans with the United Nations as agreed in Peru last December, and representatives of some 200 countries and myriad organizations have lined up hotel rooms for an early December in Paris. That meeting might well be dubbed an environmental synod, given the lead role Pope Francis has chosen to play in ridding the world of fossil fuels, the cheapest source of energy and economic growth available to the poor nations for which he professes the greatest concern.
The individual plans will form the core of the agreement that all nations are expected to sign in Paris. Most observers feel that this bottom-up approach is far more likely to produce tangible results than past efforts that relied on the handing down of rules and quotas by experts and politicians, a set of rules known as the Kyoto Protocol. The US signed on in 1998, but then-President Bill Clinton dared not send it to the senate for the confirmation necessary to convert the Protocol into a treaty after that body voted unanimously to reject it, given the opportunity. That stripped the Protocol of practical meaning, and sent vice president Al Gore on an international tour to proclaim impending doom.
President Obama anticipates similar opposition in the senate, which must approve all treaties, and has decided to treat the Paris deal as just that, and not elevate it to treaty status. Which means that the next president can simply walk away from it, either formally or by refusing to follow through on any measures to which Obama agreed. But Obama feels he is on a roll. Buoyed by his success in by-passing congress on immigration, environmental regulations, important features of his health care plans, and the de facto legalization of marijuana in several states, Obama is taking the lead in Paris, backed now by the moral authority of the Pope. Which is no small thing. Several Catholic institutions here, including universities and religious orders, have begun divesting themselves of holdings in coal and other greenhouse-gas-emitting energy sources. The “Pope of Rome” might not have any divisions, as Stalin pointed out when asked by the French to ameliorate the condition of Russia’ Catholics, but as Churchill later noted, The Holy Father has “a number of legions not always visible on parade.”
Environmental groups are hoping that the Pope’s encyclical will put pressure on contenders for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination -- Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum, Chris Christie and Bobby Jindal are Catholic -- to moderate their opposition to regulations to curtail the use of fossil fuels. But Jeb Bush, the current favorite in the race for the nomination, told an audience “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”
The American plan submitted by Obama provides for the Environmental Protection Agency to issue regulations to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and power plants by 28% from 2005 levels by 2025. He has also persuaded China to agree to halt the increase in its emissions by 2030, and then begin reducing them. There is irony here: America is basing its emission reduction program on command-and-control regulations. Don’t blame Obama. Adam-Smith-reading conservatives in congress shot down the President’s original market-based plan, called cap-and-trade, which allowed polluters to trade permits so that the lowest-cost reductions carry the burden of reducing emissions.
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.
Last week, Pope Francis hosted a Vatican summit on global warming where one of his cardinals called for a “full conversion of hearts and minds” to the fight against the “almost unfathomable” effects of fossil fuels on the environment. The pope will soon issue an encyclical on the subject, which—according to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon—will “convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience.”
“Oh, Khatcher agha, the killers have come.” Those words were spoken to my grandfather, Khatcher Matosian, with a tap on the back so that he would redirect his gaze. He and relatives had been peering from the rooftops of their Armenian village in central Turkey after hearing about the Ottoman government’s orders to deport Armenians from neighboring villages.
The scene from that summer of 1915 continues in my grandfather’s memoirs:
The White House has just released details of President Obama's upcoming Europe trip, which includes a visit with the pope in Vatican City on March 27. "The President looks forward to discussing with Pope Francis their shared commitment to fighting poverty and growing inequality," says the White House press secretary in a statement.
Here's the full statement:
Statement by the Press Secretary on the President's Travel to the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy in March 2014
Everybody has an opinion about the pope these days and, what’s worse, feels compelled to express it. Rush Limbaugh has an opinion about the pope. He says he finds the pope “upsetting.” And he’s not even Catholic!
Even though it’s only April, the New York Times may already have run the most embarrassing correction that will appear in any major newspaper in 2013. In their story on Pope Francis’s first Easter message, no less than the Times’s Vatican reporter informed readers, “Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus, three days after he was crucified, the premise for the Christian belief in an everlasting life.”
A commentator on CNN dubbed Pope Francis "the hope and change pope" earlier today:
"He hasn't actually done much in the way of real policy changes of initiatives, and he certainly is the hope and change pope, but he's at the head of a body, the Vatican, that's very resistant to change," said the CNN commentator. "I've read, for instance, that observers say that you don't change the Vatican, the Vatican changes you."