The Holy Influencer

Pope Francis Calls a Meeting to Discuss Climate Change

Pope Francis pulls up to the White House in his Prius. (Credit: CORBIS)

Far from the headline news this week, the Vatican is convening a potentially game-changing group of influencers, including BP, Exxon Mobil, Royal Dutch Shell, BlackRock, and others. The topic: climate change.

Why does this matter? Corporations like these, whose business model rests on the fossil-fuel economy, are uniquely positioned to lead on the global transition away from dangerous emissions — and in many ways they already are.

The Pope? The Pope is uniquely influential too, and you don’t have to be a Catholic to know this.

When Pope Francis published his Laudato Si encyclical, in 2015, climate researchers were impressed by the discernible “Francis Effect”: five months after publication, 17 percent of Americans and 35 percent of Catholics said his position on global warming influenced their own views of the issue. That’s a powerful 80-page paperback, and you can have one for ten bucks.

How does he do it? The Pope is gracious, doesn’t shout, and he is very very clear on the need for climate action. Laudato Si is a “blistering indictment of the human failure to care for Earth,” as James Carroll puts it in The New YorkerIt’s an unignorable quick read that articulates a momentous responsibility now confronting every government, corporation, law firm, university, and person on the planet. Think of your favorite strict professor who pushed you to do your best work, or your adorable and tough-as-nails grandfather. Pope Francis is like that.

It’s hard for the world to change, of course, when practically everything we do besides sneeze is based on a carbon-intensive system. The task before us is mind-boggling, but so are the increases in category 5 (category 6?) hurricanes, floods, drought, disease, wildfires, and so many other expensiverisks posed by a warming planet.

The human race has managed challenging transitions in the past, but the experts say we’d better hurry up with this one. This particular problem is on a rapid timeline. It’s good to know that the Pope and his team are all over it.

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