The old conceit that the president has a “bully pulpit” needs updating; it’s clear that the pulpit at St. Peter’s Basilica is now the bulliest of all. Pope Francis may lack legions, but he has 6.3 million followers on Twitter, and for a week now the world has been following leaks of his new encyclical on climate change and the environment.
Donatella Giagnori/epa/Corbis Pope Francis at the Vatican, September 1, 2014
Laudato Si’, finally released Thursday morning in Rome, is a remarkable 183-page document, incredibly rich—it’s not dense, but it is studded with aphorisms and insights. It will take time to fully digest it, but a few things are immediately evident.
First, simply by writing it, the pope—the single most prominent person on the planet, and of all celebrities and leaders the most skilled at using gesture to communicate—has managed to get across the crucial point: our environmental peril, and in particular, climate change, is the most pressing issue of our time. We face, he says, “desolation,” and we must turn as fast as we can away from coal, oil, and gas. Most thinking people knew this already, but since dealing with global warming would mean standing up to the most powerful forces in the status quo, most world leaders have never fully engaged the question. (President Obama, for instance, the earth’s most powerful politician, made it to the closing days of his 2012 reelection campaign without mentioning climate change—until Hurricane Sandy finally made it impossible not to.) It’s been a side issue, but no more: Francis has made it clear that nothing can be more important.
Global Climate Change