Jeffrey Simpson, the excellent but now retired columnist for The Globe and Mail would write at year’s end about what he got right — and where he had been wrong. I intend to try something similar with this blog posting. Continue reading Year-ender in which a humble scribe admits mistakes
I’ve been writing blogs for nine years now, and I receive the greatest response — much of it negative — whenever I write about climate change. I suspect that at least some of those who react are paid by the carbon industry to sow doubt. I accept the scientific consensus that that climate change is real, that it’s human-induced and that it’s already causing catastrophic damage. Taking my cue from organizations, such as the International Panel on Climate Change and NASA, I tend to be uncompromising whenever writing or speaking about the issue. Continue reading Katharine Hayhoe talks softly to Christians on climate change. Is there a better way?
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the premiers have appointed several task forces to propose ways in which Canada can reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This action follows last December’s Paris climate conference where leaders of 195 nations reached an accord committing them to lowering those although they did not say by exactly how much. Continue reading Climate change deniers sow doubt, muddy the waters
Prime Minister Trudeau called the first ministers together in Vancouver recently to begin mapping out a plan for Canada to meet commitments made at December’s Paris Climate Conference. The Paris meeting was a last ditch attempt to prevent the most dramatic impacts of global warming caused by the burning of fossil fuels whose emissions remain trapped in the atmosphere. At that gathering 195 nations reached an accord committing them to lowering greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) although they did not say by exactly how much. Continue reading Canada’s first ministers and climate change, no room for cynicism
Early in August, Prime Minister Stephen Harper set in motion a 78-day election campaign, the longest since 1872 when candidates traveled on steam-driven trains and horse-drawn buggies. Despite the early call, a number of faith-based groups have already published election kits. For example, the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) has prepared a 15-page summary of issues, which includes questions that people can ask of political candidates. The kit also contains information on how to organize and conduct all candidates’ meetings, and a guide for writing letters to the editor and using social media to talk about the issues. Continue reading Election 2015: Faith groups have lots of questions for candidates
In his recent encyclical, Pope Francis may succeed in ways that the earnest scientists of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have not. The world’s foremost climate experts have issued a series of ever more urgent reports about looming ecological catastrophe if we don’t mitigate human-induced climate change. Those reports are factual and credible, yet astute political observers tell us that most people act — and vote — on the basis of deeply held values rather than facts. Continue reading Pontiff’s ‘grand message’: Pope Francis calls for spiritual and environmental revolution
Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq wrote recently to the provinces, criticizing them for not providing enough information about how they will combat climate change. She says Ottawa needs that data in order to submit Canada’s emission reduction plans to the United Nations. This is politics at its crudest. Aglukkaq is a minister in a government that has earned a well-deserved international reputation as deadbeat, laggard and obstructionist when it comes to taking action on climate change – yet she chooses to criticize those who are trying to accomplish something.
Aglukkaq’s letter arrived just prior to a scheduled announcement by the premiers of Ontario and Quebec on April 13 that they would sign a cap and trade accord which will attempt to have industry in their provinces reduce carbon emissions. The ink was barely dry on that agreement when federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver opposed it as “negative for the economy . . . negative for consumers and taxpayers.”
Aglukkaq’s epistle also preceded a meeting of provincial and territorial premiers in Quebec City on April 14. They gathered to pool their various climate change initiatives into something resembling a unified plan. The premiers are doing this in the absence of federal leadership from the Conservatives, who oppose pretty well anything that would reduce Canada’s carbon emissions. Continue reading PM Harper a deadbeat on climate change
Fascination with Pope Francis continues as he approaches on March 13 the second anniversary of his election. The New York Review of Books carried a cover story on him recently and he also featured prominently in an article in Harper’s magazine. Time magazine named Francis as its Person of the Year in 2013 and early in 2014 Rolling Stone magazine published a lengthy cover story titled Pope Francis: The Times They Are A-Changin’.
The white smoke had hardly cleared after his election when Francis appeared on the balcony in St. Peter’s Square, not to lay down the law as his two immediate predecessors were fond of doing, but rather to ask the people assembled to pray for him. Soon after, he returned in person to the hotel where he had been staying during the conclave to pay his bill. He has eschewed the papal Mercedes limousine for a Ford Focus to ferry him around in Rome and he lives in a guest house for clergy adjacent to St. Peter’s Basilica rather than occupying the papal apartments. He even uses his land line to make cold calls to people, including some of his critics.
The pope’s behaviour has been deeply disturbing to some traditionalists among the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics who fear that he will undermine the power and prestige of his office. On the other hand, many liberal Catholics dare to hope that change and reform may be in the air but wonder if the pope’s gestures are perhaps a triumph of style over substance. That argument misses the point, according to Father Thomas J. Reese, a Jesuit and long-time observer of the papacy. “In the Catholic church, style is substance,” Reese told Rolling Stone. “We are a church of symbols.”
Francis, beneath his folksy exterior, is a highly focused individual who is attempting to do many things in the years remaining to him — he is 78 years old and lost one lung to an infection as a young man in his native Argentina. Several of his priorities stand out. He wants to move the institutional church and its clergy, including bishops, away from a mindset of privilege to one of service to the world, and particularly to the poor. It is for this reason that the symbolism embedded in his simple lifestyle is so potent.
Secondly, he wants to shift away from the monarchical papacy, where all wisdom and authority are vested in the bishop of Rome. Francis is scrupulous in avoiding any criticism of his predecessors but the message in his contrasting style is clear. He wants to share in decision making with the church’s 5,000 bishops. That is what the world’s bishops called for during Vatican II in the 1960s but Francis agrees that has not happened.
Francis is also especially concerned about the plight of the poor and marginalized in society. As the Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he was known for his solitary pastoral visits to people in the slums. To get there, he rode by subway to the end of the line and then trudged in his orthopaedic shoes along muddy and garbage strewn roads. He asked people there to pray for him too.
In November 2013, Francis devoted much of his first major written teaching (called an exhortation) to an unflinching criticism of unfettered market capitalism, describing it as “an economy of exclusion and inequality” based on the “idolatry of money.” Francis is also preparing an encyclical on climate change for release in 2015. In late 2014, he convened a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements. He told them: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.”
The pope’s economic and environmental critique has predictably annoyed economic conservatives. Peter Foster, a National Post columnist, dismisses Francis as an “economically challenged” progressive. “Obedience to the pope on contraception remains a controversial moral issue,” Foster writes. “Obedience on the climate agenda would be outright immoral.”
If economic conservatives are surprised by what Francis is saying about the economy, they should not be. Popes have been criticizing capitalism’s excesses since the time of Leo XIII in 1891 and both John Paul II and even Pope Benedict made similar exhortations.
Despite being kind, pastoral and economically progressive, however, Francis remains doctrinally conservative. There will, for example, be no ordination of women on his watch. “The church has spoken and said no . . . that door is closed,” he said in a news scrum in 2013.
In an otherwise exemplary address to the European Parliament in late 2014, the pope described Europe as becoming “a grandmother no longer fertile and vibrant.” That was a tone deaf remark from the leader of a church whose most fervent supporters are often older women.
Unfortunately, the pope appears to remain obstinately out of touch when it comes to his understanding of women beyond the role of nurturer and mother. He fails to see that the equality of women, too, is an issue of fundamental justice and inextricably linked to questions such as poverty, inequality and violence.
A somewhat shorter version of this piece appeared on my blog for the United Church Observer on February 26, 2015.