To: Detroit Workers' Voice mailing list
September 21, 2015
RE: Pope Francis, global warming, and carbon pricing
On Sept. 24 Pope Francis will visit Washington, D.C. and address the U.S. Congress. A mass rally on the National Mall is planned for that same day in support of environmental goals, and organizers of the rally are hoping the pope will recognize and possibly address them. The pope's visit became a reason for a "green" rally after mid-June when Pope Francis issued an encyclical (a major statement) on environmental issues titled "On Care for Our Common Home." There he plainly stated, "humans are contributing to unprecedented destruction of ecosystems." After that a number of environmental organizations joined together to express support for the pope's encyclical and planned a demonstration on the occasion of his visit. These groups include Moral Action on Climate Network, Earth Day Network, the League of Conservation Voters, and Sierra Club. But many establishment environmentalist organizations like these also support carbon pricing schemes like the ones Francis denounces in his encyclical.
In his statement Pope Francis chided world leaders for not coming to agreement on effective measures to combat global warming, and he criticized climate change "deniers." He says warming "… has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved absolutely devastating for farming." And further, "…recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment." This sums up the failure of the Kyoto Protocol, which relied on market methods to reduce carbon emissions and was a big flop. Kyoto set up a system of cap-and-trade where supposedly the countries that signed would cap their carbon emissions and trade carbon credits in order to gradually reduce their output of CO2 into the atmosphere. The pope correctly notes this was a failure in section 171 of his encyclical:
"The strategy of buying and selling 'carbon credits' can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors."
Many establishment environmentalist organizations and media (New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, etc.) have tried to gloss over this statement of the pope's and the failure of Kyoto. Liberal politicians of the Democratic Party take it as gospel that we must have carbon pricing schemes in order to control CO2 emissions. They try to force environmental reform ideas into the straitjacket of market fundamentalism, and this includes their proposals for a carbon tax. But the carbon tax, like other market-oriented schemes, is based on the idea that the market will solve any problems that arise; the only thing that needs to be adjusted, they say, is for the government to impose a tax on carbon to raise its price. After that the "invisible hand" of Adam Smith will take care of carbon emissions and global warming. They say this policy would hasten the transition to renewable energy, but the only thing for sure it would do is anger many people and turn them against environmentalism. Francis' encyclical does not talk explicitly about the carbon tax, but his denunciation of market methods goes against the logic of the carbon tax:
"The principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy. As long as production is increased, little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment; ... ." (Section 195 of the encyclical.)
Although the church has never accepted socialism and has backed capitalism in practice, it has also never accepted the capitalist market as the end-all solution to life's problems. Francis continues this when he says, "... by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion." But he also speaks out more topically and forcefully about the failures of market fundamentalism, for example: "Our care for the environment is intimately connected to our care for each other. … We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. ... The rich and powerful shut themselves up within self-enclosed enclaves, compulsively consuming the latest goods … while ignoring the plight of the poor. The poor find themselves on the run from natural disasters and degraded habitats ... with decreasing access to natural resources." On a recent visit to Bolivia Francis denounced unequal multinational trade deals and said, "Unbridled capitalism is the dung of the devil." These are the sorts of statements that get ignored by the American media even as they report on Francis' concern for the environment.
Francis' encyclical is part of his attempt to make the church more relevant to modern life. He's known for being more accessible than previous popes, for having a human touch and sympathy for the poor. Since taking office Francis has adopted a more liberal attitude towards abortion and annulments and called on Europe to be more welcoming to migrants. He's also asserted that access to safe drinkable water is "a basic and universal human right," something all those in charge of water utilities -- including the water bureaucrats in Detroit, who continue to threaten thousands of people with cutoffs -- should bear in mind.
But while recognizing present political stalemates Francis does not draw out the implications, that to change the situation we need a movement of ordinary working people that combines the two questions, social and environmental. And the method of class struggle, so successful in the social realm, needs to be brought into the environmental movement. Francis instead tries to appeal to the rich to have sympathy for the poor and regard for nature; but this is a vain attempt. He says structural injustices require political will and sacrifice to overcome, but he doesn't say whose political will, or whose sacrifice; he doesn't try to describe what methods should be used or what sections of the population can be mobilized. Francis calls on people to carpool, recycle, etc. and practice other "simple daily gestures." These are nice, but what's needed to avert environmental disaster is a complete revamping of the economy, to make a rapid transition to non-carbon technology with extensive economic planning.
Francis tries to maintain a broad humanistic outlook that embraces the energy billionaires as people and exhorts them to care for the poor. But we know how far that will go. Look at the hundreds of thousands of decent, ordinary human beings they have massacred in the past 20 years in oil wars in the Mideast. Does this look like the record of humanistic beings with a care for the poor? Look at the thousands of people they cut off from heat every winter, or the people in Detroit who have their water cut off. Is this a system of concern for the poor?
Francis is correct that we need a rapid transition to a non-carbon economy "without delay." What he doesn't note is this will require massive economic planning. This must include planning to maintain and expand the welfare of the poor and the working millions. To make sure decisions are taken correctly, we need mass influence on government planning and decision-making similar to what people demanded to end segregation and racist institutions in the 1950s-60s. Ordinary working people must have oversight over corporate compliance with environmental regulations just as corporations could not be depended upon, on their own, to provide equal pay, benefits and promotional opportunities to black and white employees. Under the present system corporations report their own use of chemicals, their own oil spills, etc., and frackers don't even have to report what chemicals they use. This is a system of the fox guarding the henhouse.
Pope Francis rejects the anti-scientific "deniers" and urges people to have concern for the world they leave behind them. He's right to connect this to social issues and to oppose "dung of the devil" market fundamentalists. He's wrong, however, to overlook the political movement needed to overcome present stagnation. We need a mass movement for the urgent measures needed to preserve the environment and our livelihoods. <>
For more on the environmental crisis and the fight against global warming, see
Back to main
how to order CV,
Posted on September 21, 2015