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What to Say to Catholics Who Disagree With The Church on Climate Change

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Many American Catholics don’t believe in climate change. Others don’t understand that the Church’s stance on protecting Creation is quite clear. The last three popes have spoken and written on the subject of protecting the environment. Polluting the environment is a sin in the Catholic Church (meaning that it requires confession). Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made the Vatican the world’s first carbon neutral state, and Pope Francis wrote an encyclical, Laudato Si, in part, about how human behavior is contributing to climate change. Still, many American priests don’t preach on the subject, and some news outlets treat concern for the environment as silly or overblown.

What’s more, a lot of American Catholics, on the left and the right, get their morality primarily from their political party, not from their faith.

So what to say to well-meaning Catholic friends and family members who insist that climate change is a hoax designed to destroy the U.S. economy, or who think that the Church should have nothing to say about matters of science or economics?

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First, remind them that faith and reason go hand in hand. The Church is not anti-science. This is a myth. If 97% of the world’s climate scientists agree that climate change is occurring and is made worse by human activity, if the Pentagon considers climate refugees a national security threat, and if flooding in coastal cities on sunny days is happening, then it’s safe to say something’s up.

Give climate change doubters some resources. Encourage them to watch the film, Before the Flood, which features Pope Francis, or to read Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si.

Don’t get angry. Accept that Christians are never going to agree on everything. We have free will, and we each must inform and follow our conscience. Some Catholics and Christians will never believe that climate change is happening. Consider, meeting them half way. Assume, for the sake of argument, that there is no such thing as climate change, that it is a hoax, and that the media, the scientific establishment, and the last three popes have all been duped.

Wouldn’t it still make sense for the US to begin to switch to and invest in renewable energy? Fossil fuels are finite. They will eventually run out, and we have to use ever more dangerous methods of extraction to get at the depositories that remain.

Wouldn’t it be great if our children and grandchildren had access to an energy source, like wind or solar that was renewable? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they weren’t dependent on foreign oil, or as entangled in expensive wars in the Middle East? And can’t we all agree that it would be better if we were able to drive cars, and power our businesses, without worrying about air pollution or smog? Imagine going to the beach without wondering if the water was safe after an oil spill (e.g. Deep Water Horizon). Imagine drinking water from the tap without fearing that it was contaminated with chemicals (e.g. Corpus Christi Texas).

Whatever we believe about climate science, we can all work together to gradually transition to renewable energy sources, to reduce, reuse or recycle, and to care for God’s good earth. And if your church community still isn’t on board, get to work in your own life by doing some small concrete thing. I know that I need to be more green, so I’m going to have to work on it.

– Anna Keating

For an introduction to Catholic Social Teaching read our book, The Catholic Catalogue: A Field Guide to the Daily Acts That Make Up a Catholic Life.