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The Pope's fateful vision of hope for society and the planet


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The Pope's encyclical challenges incremental approaches that have dominated climate change discourse, and brings a much needed moral vision to the environmental movement. Social scientists are required to join this effort.
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e Pope’s recent encyclical on climate
change was a landmark moment in the
conversation around this great societal
problem ( It
is admirable that the Pope has so publicly
walked the tightrope between science and
religion. But the statement should be seen
as a punctuating point in the dialogue
between the Catholic Church and the
climate change research community, not
the nal word.
e Pope ocially speaks for over a
billion Catholics around the world. At the
very least, his words may serve to motivate
some of the world’s more conservative
Catholic constituencies. Perhaps more
importantly, the Pope’s statement brought
climate change back into the limelight at
a critical juncture, shiing the debate in a
way that hasn’t been seen for many years.
e media was quick to praise the
statement’s audacity. e near 200-page
document was hailed as a “major,
authoritative statement of the moral
teachings of the Catholic Church1 in
the inuential Christian Science Monitor.
e New York Times said it “packed an
unexpectedly authoritative and condent
pu n c h” 2. e Guardian called it “perhaps
the most ambitious papal document of the
past 100years”3.
But the encyclical explicitly calls on the
Church to enter a “dialogue with all people
about our common home”, rather than
passively accept its message.
is Focus issue attempts to provide
a scholarly foundation for that dialogue.
It aims to acknowledge that the Pope has
worthwhile things to say about climate
change, while highlighting items that have
been overlooked.
Ecology and public health scholars
highlight the gaps in the Pope’s thesis,
questioning whether it satisfactorily
addresses the complex linkages between
sustainable development and a booming
population (p907). Economics and
governance researchers discuss the applied
policy implications of the encyclical,
highlighting the Pope’s reframing of
arguments around the global commons
(p904). Sociologists call for more
practitioners to join a collective eort
to utilize the social sciences to address
climate change (p900), reinterpret the
encyclical as a challenge to dominant
political and consumer cultures (p905),
and caution against relying on powerful
elites undergoing a Damascene conversion
regarding political solutions (p902). ese
pieces are exemplars of the social sciences
contributing to the climate change debate.
A recent publication from the American
Sociological Association oers a further
example of a social science discipline
setting out its stall4. e book clearly and
powerfully explains how the sociology of
climate change can be useful, while being
suitably critical of what has gone before.
In the same way that interested social
scientists may be expected to know the
headlines of the IPCC’s reports, so engaged
physical scientists should be familiar with
the top-lines of this volume.
Such works are part of a larger project
that serves to foster mutual understanding
between the physical and social sciences,
which still struggle to coexist.
It is increasingly accepted that the
social sciences play an important role in
climate research. On the one hand, they
can describe in a scholarly fashion what
society is, what it is doing, and what
feasible alternatives are available. On the
other, they can place scientic enquiry and
ndings in a social context, showing why
they matter, and how they can be applied
through good governance and policy.
But for that role to be executed, social
scientists must be included — and include
themselves — in existing institutions that
are expressly targeted at addressing this
problem. e social sciences need to be
woven into the fabric of such processes, but
that cannot happen until they formulate
themselves into a vaguely coherent thread.
is will be a mutual eort. Perhaps the
most prominent institution in this regard
is the IPCC, which has so far failed to
suciently engage with the social sciences
on a disciplinary basis. For instance, only
three of the 35 coordinating lead authors of
Working Group III report were from social
science subjects other than economics5.
at is not enough.
e IPCC must proactively reach out
to dierent disciplinary communities to
encourage and facilitate their participation.
e new IPCC chair, to be elected in
October, must from the outset engage
with a full spectrum of social scientists,
including them in scoping discussions for
the next assessment report. David Victor
has started a conversation regarding
practical steps to facilitate greater social
science involvement, and these ideas must
be taken seriously6.
But the IPCC is not solely to blame.
Social scientists of all stripes must engage.
at requires a shi in mentality to
encourage researchers to continuously
challenge the disciplinary silos that remain
the modus operandi of much climate
change research.
Social scientists must recognise that
participation does not entail conceding
ontological or epistemological ground
regarding the practices of science. Scholars
must be allowed to hold their critical
perspectives inside these forums. It is more
useful for them to challenge institutions
to move beyond the status quo from
within. But that will require scientists from
every discipline to approach institutions,
interdisciplinarity, and the inherently social
pursuit of scientically-grounded solutions
to climate change in a constructive manner.
Researchers cannot build bridges while
burning them at the same time.
In a way, the Pope’s encyclical oers a
model for how this can be done. It serves
as an example of how academic research
can feed into the social agenda, and hints
at the role the social sciences can play in
helping to shape, translate, and progress
the conversation. It draws on established
research to deliver a message that is at once
both conciliatory and motivating, bridging
a long-established divide between religion
and science in the process.
In this sense, at least, the Popes call for
action on climate change contains a lesson
for all.
1. Bruinius, H. Pope calls climate change a ‘moral imperative’: will
US Catholics listen? Christian Science Monitor (18 June 2015);
2. e Pope and Climate Change. e New York Times
(19 June 2015);
3. e Guardian view on Laudato Si’: Pope Francis calls
for a cultural revolution. e Guardian (18 June 2015);
4. Dunlap, R. E. & Brulle, R. J. (eds) Climate Change and Society
(Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).
5. Corbera, E., Calvet-Mir, L., Hughes, H. & Paterson, M. Nature
Climate Change (2015).
6. Victor, D. Nature 250, 27–29 (2015).
The Pope’s climate change encyclical is more than a call for action. It is an example of how disparate
communities, from religion, the physical and social sciences, can coalesce around a common goal.
Using my religion
© 2015 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved
The Pope’s fateful vision of
hope for society and the planet
Robert J. Brulle and Robert J. Antonio
The Pope’s encyclical challenges incremental approaches that have dominated climate change
discourse, and brings a much needed moral vision to the environmental movement. Social scientists are
required to join this eort.
powerful, poetic call for collective
action and major socio-cultural
change, the Pope’s climate change
encyclical, ‘Laudato Si’, makes an urgent
plea to address the twin problems of
environmental degradation and human
exploitation (
e encyclical makes a cogent case for a
cultural revolution” (§114) that would lead
to “profound changes in lifestyles, models
of production and consumption, and the
established structures of power which today
govern societies” (§5). It does this by tracing
such issues to a common driver based on
the dominant neoliberal, US-centric regime,
encompassing cultural beliefs of possessive
individualism, unrestrained markets,
technological xes, unlimited consumer
choice, and inviolate property rights. e
encyclical substantially expands the nature
of climate change discourse from a focus on
narrow technical and economic issues into
a public, moral, and political conversation
regarding the shape and future of human
societies, our ultimate purposes, and ethical
responsibilities to each other — and to
the other creatures with which we share
the Earth.
Much of what Pope Francis argues
for is not new. For example, his critique
of our current social order and sense of
urgency about climate change converges
with arguments made by more vocal
climate scientists1,2. Even the latest IPCC
Assessment Report (AR5) notes3 that an
eective response to climate change may
require a fundamental restructuring of the
global economic and social systems, which
in turn would involve overcoming multiple
vested interests and the inertia associated
with behavioral patterns and craing new
institutions that promote sustainability.
e encyclical is extraordinary because
it comes from the leader of the Catholic
Church, unusually popular even among
non-Catholics. Although some others have
posed similar sweeping critiques, they have
not been so well-located and oen have been
ignored or dismissed. Pope Francis’s moral
voice is especially important and hopefully
will resound among those nations, strata, and
political economic elites that bear the greatest
responsibility for climate change and have
been most shielded from its most harmful
impacts. Coming from such a prominent
public gure, it makes this message
impossible for political elites to ignore.
e Pope criticizes the eorts of climate
contrarians’ to distort, obscure or dismiss
scientic ndings4. He declares that: “ere
are too many special interests, and economic
interests easily end up trumping the common
good and manipulating information so that
their own plans will not be aected” (§54).
Rejecting the neoliberal faith in markets, the
encyclical notes: “e environment is one
of those goods that cannot be adequately
safeguarded or promoted by market
forces” (§190). Opposing the science of
anthropogenic climate change and fearing
regulatory interventions, ‘conservatives’ have
rejected the document and vigorously argued
that the Pope should address ‘moral issues’
(for example, abortion, same sex marriage)
and not ‘political’ ones.
ese critics not only reject climate
science and ignore the deeply moral
dimensions of climate change risk, but their
populist antiregulatory views depart from the
founding ideas of market-liberalism. Revered
by today’s neoliberals, even Friedrich Hayek
acknowledged that markets alone cannot
protect minimal human welfare and that
states must secure it when necessary4.
Because “the smoke and noise of factories” is
not conned within the limits of the factory,
he stated’ “we must nd some substitute for
the regulation by the price mechanism5.
Pope Francis contends that dominant
technocratic, incrementalist, market-
centred strategies in the form of ecological
modernization are designed to work in
harmony with its growth imperative and
culture of consumption and, ultimately, to
sustain the regime of accumulation and the
political, economic, and cultural drivers
of climate change. By criticizing unbridled
faith in technological solutions, cost–benet
calculations, and associated carbon markets
and insisting on treating climate change as
a moral and political issue deeply rooted in
our way of life, he challenges the dominant
‘post-political’ attitude6 — that there is no
alternative to continuing our current growth-
oriented, consumerist market economy.
Some leading climate scientists pose
similar criticisms and warn that ‘business
as usual’ may produce a catastrophic
3–4°C increase in global temperatures
this century1,7. e Pope implies that these
market-centred strategies, which uphold
the current political economic regime, are
inadequate to deal with the speed and scale
of climate change processes. is inadequacy
is especially pronounced for the poorest,
most vulnerable peoples who contribute
little to climate change yet have already been
seriously impacted by it, and lack visibility
and voice in neoliberal global governance.
Low-lying island nations and other poor
vulnerable nations, with little adaptive
capacity, have called for a 1.5°C rather than
2.0°C ‘consensus’ limit to avoid catastrophic
impacts, a target now supported by some
key climate scientists. But powerful wealthy
nations have in the past deemed such a target
as impractical. e encyclical might echo in
future conversations about this target, which
is slated to be discussed at the Paris climate
talks in December8.
Moral visions
e encyclical urges a much broader,
ethically engaged public discourse about
climate change impacts and environmental
justice, which will require mediation
between the scientic and public realms.
Pope Francis suggests that science and
technocratic political economic management
are not sucient to develop and motivate
an alternative democratic vision of an
ecologically and socially sustainable
society9,10. Consequently, the encyclical
frames climate change as a deeply moral
issue and says that alternatives must be
considered that treat economic growth
not as an end in itself, but as a means to a
ourishing planet and society11.
e post-political framing, which holds
that there are no reasonable alternatives
to continuing an unplanned, exponential
growth-oriented economy, ignores that
addressing climate change involves
engagement of fundamentally dierent
visions of the good life and consequently
entails political decisions in choosing
dierent trajectories for our collective future.
e encyclical shatters this ideological
viewpoint and brings the issue of global
exploitation of the Earth and our fellow
human beings to the forefront of political
and cultural concern.
By connecting the issue of climate change
to moral and political concerns, Pope Francis
has provided inspiration for a long-missing
ethical vision for the environmental
movement12. ere is abundant sociological
research about how the discursive ‘framing’
is critical to the eectiveness of social
movements13. e research has shown that
this cultural resource can be as or even more
critical to the environmental movement’s
political eectiveness than its monetary
support and political alliances.
A fundamental component in building
social movements is the creation of a
compelling narrative of transformative social
change that provides an understanding
of our current situation and charts a path
forward14. An eective rhetoric of change
criticizes the limitations of the current
situation (for example, unaddressed
problems and unmet needs) and provokes
moral visions, conversations and
deliberations about where society needs to
go. is immanent critique has the potential
to give impetus to social movements and
other collective action necessary to eect
social change.
What next? In the encyclical, Pope Francis
calls for “a conversation which includes
everyone” (§14). Following through on this,
the Vatican convened a major conference
( immediately
following the issuance of the encyclical to
work out practical steps to realize the vision
of ‘Laudato Si. is conference tackled
questions regarding how to bring about
transformations to address climate justice,
multinational extractive industries, food
security, and a sustainable development
agenda. is is a welcome initiative aiming
to start the hard work to develop and
implement major restructuring of our
governance and economic institutions.
Here, the social sciences can contribute
important conceptual and methodological
resources for the necessary cooperative
activities along with the natural and
behavioural sciences. Recently, three leading
US social science associations have produced
major reports on climate change15–17. ese
represent the emergence of a series of
discipline-based intellectual communities
that can expand the range of ideas and
models considered for action by both the
IPCC and governments.
We need to muster all of our intellectual
capabilities to address our perilous ecological
situation and to realize a wider vision of
the aims of climate change research. e
Vatican and the IPCC need to reach out and
include these intellectual communities in
their eorts. Moreover, social scientists need
to engage in this eort more fully. e moral
task at hand demands it.
Like Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a
Dre a m’ speech, the Pope’s climate change
encyclical expresses a passionate vision
of our current predicament and aims to
inspire groups and institutions to come
to terms with the depth of the climate
problem and to act collectively and justly. It
provides a moral vision of a planet with its
ecological integrity restored, and a future
in which all peoples’ essential needs are
met, and their moral worth is protected and
maintained. Regardless of one’s faith, this
is an inspiring document that compares to
the best of the environmental visionaries,
such as those developed by Henry oreau
and Barry Commoner. e encyclical
provides a cultural resource that can serve
to reinvigorate our collective eorts to create
a planet that we want our children, and the
other species of the Earth, to inherit.
Robert J.Brulle is in the Department of Sociology,
Drexel University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104,
USA. Robert J.Antonio is in the Department
of Sociology, University of Kansas, Lawrence,
Kansas 66045, USA. e-mail:
1. Anderson, K. & Bows, A. Nature Clim. Change 2, 639–640 (2012).
2. Hansen, J. et al. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 15, 20059–20179 (2015).
3. IPCC Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change
(eds Edenhofer, O. et al.) (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2014).
4. Dunlap, R. & McCright. A. in Climate Change and Society:
Sociological Perspectives (eds Dunlap, R. & Brulle, R. J.) 300–332
(Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).
5. Hayek, F.A. e Road to Serfdom (Univ. Chicago Press, 1944).
6. Swyngedouw, E. eor. Cult. Soc. 27, 213–232 (2010).
7. Hansen, J. in Storms of My Grandchildren 140–171
(Bloomsbury, 2009).
8. Tolleson, J. Nature 520, 14–15 (2015).
9. Brulle, R. J. Environ. Commun. 4, 82–98 (2010).
10. Dobson, A. in e Politics of Nature: Explorations in Green Political
eory (eds Dobson, A. & Lucardie, P.) 190–206 (Routledge, 1993).
11. Jazkob, M. & Edenhofer, O. Oxford Rev. Econ. Policy
10, 447–468 (2014).
12. Brulle, R.J. in Global Perspectives on Environmentalism
(eds Doyle, T. & MacGregor, S.) 163–191 (Praeger, 2014).
13. Benford, R. D & Snow, D. A. Ann. Rev. Sociol. 26, 611–639 (2000).
14. Stewart, C J. Cent. States Speech J. 31, 298–305 (1980).
15. Swim, J. et al. Psychology and Global Climate Ch ange: Addressing
a Multi-Faceted Phenomenon and Set of Challenges (American
Psychological Association, 2009).
16. Fiske, S. J. et al. Changing the Atmosphere. Anthropology and
Climate Change (AAA Global Climate Change Task Force, 2014).
17. Dunlap, R. & Brulle, R. J. (eds) Climate Change and Society:
Sociological Perspectives (Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).
Sociological limitations of the
climate change encyclical
Erik Olin Wright
The Pope has articulated a need to change the way society thinks about economic growth, but it is
implausible to rely primarily on moral conversion to solve our environmental and social ills.
The Pope’s encyclical on climate
change (,
subtitled ‘On care for our common
home, accepts the scientic consensus that
human activity linked to the use of modern
technologies has signicantly contributed
to global warming in particular, and to
environmental deterioration more generally.
e sociological analysis embedded in the
encyclical attempts to explain why people
have behaved in this way, why they resist
altering their behaviour, and what it would
take to change the situation.
One common answer to these
questions revolves around economic
interests and power. While the encyclical
does acknowledge the role of interests,
especially those of powerful actors, it
argues that interests and power are not
the root explanation of the destructive use
of technology. Instead, the fundamental
explanation of environmentally destructive
human activity is found in certain distinctive
aspects of contemporary culture.
e basic argument goes like this:
contemporary societies, especially in the
richer regions of the world, are characterized
by a cultural conguration comprising
a number of interconnected elements:
rampant individualism, anthropocentrism,
consumerism, relativism, and what
the encyclical calls the technological,
technocratic or techno-economic paradigm.
What unies these disparate cultural
elements is instrumental reasoning — a
form of reasoning that focuses on the
most powerful means for achieving goals
rather than the ethical status of the goals
themselves. is kind of reasoning is a
pervasive feature of contemporary culture,
characterizing the mindsets of both ordinary
people and elites, and contrasts with ethical
reasoning anchored in concern about the
intrinsic moral qualities of actions.
e central sociological thesis of the
encyclical is that instrumental reasoning,
particularly because it is embodied in the
technological paradigm, makes people
indierent to the negative environmental
side eects of economic growth and
technological development. It also makes
people indierent to social injustice and
the deterioration of the social environment:
“e same mindset which stands in the way
of making radical decisions to reverse the
trend of global warming also stands in the
way of achieving the goal of eliminating
poverty” (§175). When instrumental
reasoning becomes the overarching
cognitive orientation of a culture, people
develop attitudes that lead them to engage in
practices that systematically harm both the
natural environment and social environment
in which they live. is mindset becomes
particularly destructive when it is combined
with concentrations of economic and
political power.
Cultural transformation
Given this diagnosis of the problem, the
encyclical argues that crucial cultural
transformations are needed: “e problem
is that we still lack the culture needed to
confront this crisis” (§53) and “[all] of
this shows the urgent need for us to move
forward in a bold cultural revolution
(§114). e heart of this revolution is a new
cultural conguration that subordinates
instrumental reasoning to ethical reasoning
and places the well-being of others and
the natural environment at the centre of
human concerns.
Without this new culture, eorts at
creating new public policies to deal with the
environmental crisis will fail because “If the
laws are to bring about signicant, long-
lasting eects, the majority of the members
of society must be adequately motivated to
accept them, and personally transformed
to respond. Only by cultivating sound
virtues will people be able to make a seless
ecological commitment” (§211). While the
encyclical also states that “Unless citizens
control political power — national, regional
and municipal — it will not be possible
to control damage to the environment,
(§179), this will only contribute to a just
world and a healthy environment if citizens
and elites have been liberated from the
technocratic paradigm.
Transforming culture, of course, is
no simple task. Two principle kinds of
obstacles are discussed in the encyclical.
First, elites actively obstruct eorts at
change both because they themselves
have a mindset trapped in the matrix of
instrumental reasoning and because their
privileges and power are sustained by the
cultural diusion of that mindset. Second,
ordinary people have been socialized and
educated into the instrumental attitude and
seduced by consumerism and individualism:
compulsive consumerism is one example of
how the techno-economic paradigm aects
individuals…. is paradigm leads people to
believe that they are free as long as they have
the supposed freedom to consume” (§203).
In spite of the strength of socialization
into the dominant culture and the powerful
interests opposed to change, the encyclical
still argues that a cultural revolution is
possible. e key idea in the encyclical
that opens up space for this possibility is a
proposition about two inherent properties
of human beings — their capacity for
moral reasoning and feelings, and their
capacity to reect on their own beliefs and
change them: “Yet all is not lost. Human
beings, while capable of the worst, are
also capable of rising above themselves,
choosing again what is good, and making
a new start, despite their mental and social
conditioning. We are able to take an honest
look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep
dissatisfaction, and to embark on new
paths to authentic freedom. No system can
completely suppress our openness to what is
good, true and beautiful, or our God-given
ability to respond to his grace at work deep
in our hearts.” (§205)
is capacity for self-transformation
enables people to hear messages and have
experiences that contradict their existing
mindset, and this opens the door for
strategies of cultural change. e basic idea
is to touch people in ways that challenge
the dominant attitude, provide them with
alternative understandings of the world, and
stimulate the kind of self-reection needed
to form a new mindset imbued with a spirit
of “tenderness, compassion and concern for
our fellow human beings” (§91). e process
by which this actually happens is referred
to in the encyclical as “profound interior
conversion” (§217).
e encyclical provides a powerful
indictment of the social practices that have
contributed to environmental and social
degradation, and a passionate call for radical
transformation of our relationship to nature.
However, its overall account is limited in
several important ways.
First, while the encyclical certainly
recognizes the ways in which markets,
business practices and state policies have
contributed to environmental degradation,
these are treated mainly as an expression
of the relentless operation of instrumental
reasoning and its connected cultural
forms. ese cultural forms are the critical
underlying social causes of the processes that
damage the environment and perpetuate
social injustice. An alternative view would
treat the capitalist structure of the economy
and the weakly democratic structure of
the state as not simply an expression of
some underlying cultural paradigm, but as
relatively autonomous causal processes in
their own right.
e fact that capitalist rms pursue
short-term prots in ways that ignore
environmental externalities is not simply
because the executives of those rms have
a particular mindset; it is because of the
dynamics of competition and the nature of
power relations within a capitalist economy.
Similarly, the absence of eective state actions
is mainly due to the deep intertwining
of economic power and state power. e
mindsets of capitalists, managers and
political ocials are to a signicant extent a
consequence of the structure and operation
of a capitalist economy and political system
rather than an autonomous explanation for
that operation. e implication is that in
order for the aspirations of the encyclical
to be realized, the fundamental task is to
transform these systems.
Second, once it is recognized that
to solve the environmental crisis the
structures of power within the capitalist
economy and state need to be transformed,
it becomes implausible that this can be
accomplished by a cultural revolution of the
mindsets of elites. e powerful interests
that are opposed to genuinely restoring
ecological balance and seriously dealing
with global poverty need to be defeated
through political confrontation, rather than
simply converted to a more compassionate,
ethically grounded mindset. Even if some
individual rich and powerful people do
reject the dominant culture, the hope for
such conversion on a wide scale within
the elite is not a credible strategy. Political
mobilization needs to be part of the
strategy, and as part of such mobilization
one can expect fairly sharp conicts to
occur, with winners and losers. Except for
a few passing references to citizen pressure
(§179, 206), and eorts of the ecological
movement (§166), the encyclical is silent on
the need for mobilized confrontation.
Finally, if the moral goals of the
encyclical require challenging the power
structures of capitalism and the state,
then eective forms of collective capacity
to carry out such challenges must be
developed. e encyclical says nothing
on this issue. e implicit theory in
the encyclical is that cultural change, if
widespread, more or less automatically
gets translated into the necessary
collective action for institutional change.
e encyclical states “there needs to be
a distinctive way of looking at things …
which together generate resistance to the
assault of the technocratic paradigm.
(§107). ere is, however, no discussion
of the necessary political vehicles for
translating new ways of thinking into
eective collective action. No theory of the
capacity for struggle is presented, only the
desire for alternatives.
is is a classic gap in social analyses — a
description of grievances is seen as sucient
to explain conict. In such accounts, the
problem of aggregating grievances of
individuals into a collectively eective form
of struggle disappears. But as we know
from countless studies, grievances oen
fail to generate action for many reasons. In
particular, in the world today, changes in
public opinion are not smoothly translated
into public policy because of failures
to solve the organizational problems of
political action even in relatively democratic
political systems. What we need is a
theory of collective organization — social
movements, political parties, unions — and
how these mobilize (or fail to mobilize)
people for collective action.
e challenge of our age includes
the themes articulated in the encyclical:
cultural transformation to raise awareness
of the ethical issues in our relationships to
nature and society, eorts to undermine
the power of consumerism and rampant
individualism to dene the horizons of
action, and so on. But if we are to eectively
realize the emancipatory values of social
justice, democracy, community and
sustainability, we also need to challenge
dominant structures of power and privilege
in capitalist society. For this to succeed, we
need more than moral conversion.
Erik Olin Wright is in the Department of Sociology,
University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison,
Wisconsin 53706, USA. e-mail:
Biophysical limits, women’s
rights and the climate encyclical
Paul R. Ehrlich and John Harte
The Pope has made a strong call for action on climate change, but it fails to address the complex
linkages between sustainable development and demographic growth.
The Popes recent encyclical on climate
change is a passionate and compelling
call for dramatic changes in society to
match the global changes in the environment
that threaten the future of human civilization
as we know it (
But it overlooks a crucial incompatibility
at the heart of the climate change
problem: marrying shared and sustainable
development with demographic growth.
e encyclical’s narrow perspective is
revealed in the following excerpt: “Instead
of resolving the problems of the poor and
thinking of how the world can be dierent,
some can only propose a reduction in the
birth rate. At times, developing countries
face forms of international pressure which
make economic assistance contingent on
certain policies of ‘reproductive health’. Yet
while it is true that an unequal distribution
of the population and of available resources
creates obstacles to development and a
sustainable use of the environment, it must
nonetheless be recognized that demographic
growth is fully compatible with an integral
and shared development. To blame
population growth instead of extreme and
selective consumerism on the part of some, is
one way of refusing to face the issues” (§50).
A close look at the full complexity of the
interconnected demographic, biophysical,
economic, and social dimensions of the
global environmental situation suggests
that demographic growth is not compatible
with either shared development or with a
sustainable environment. e encyclical
portrays a world in which a real choice exists
between confronting population growth on
the one hand, and avoiding that option by
more equitably distributing resources on
the other.
Attempts to frame the issue as solvable
by either more equitable distribution or by
restricting the number of people miss two
essential factors that link these diering
viewpoints. One is the ever-dwindling pool of
resources and ecosystem services as a result
of the demands of a growing population
on the environment. e second is the
increasing diculty of achieving the forms
of governance needed to more equitably
distribute resources on an ever more
crowded planet.
Population growth
Demographic trends along with rampant
consumption by the rich are the major
drivers of environmental degradation.
More people using more fossil fuels means
more climate change; more people eating
more food means more land conversion
(with associated loss of biodiversity), more
overdra of groundwater for irrigation,
and more pressure on threatened marine
resources; and more people consuming more
material goods potentially means more toxic
waste products and more mining.
People today and their children, no
matter where they are born, will put even
more pressure on the environment than in
the past due to demand for virtually every
resource, from agricultural land and water
to copper and oil. Human beings are smart
and pick the low-hanging fruit rst: they
farm the richest soils rst, drink the cleanest
and closest water rst, and tap the shallowest
pools of oil rst. ey exploit the resources
that are cheapest and that generally result in
the least environmental impact rst.
As more people consume more resources,
humanity is le with poorer quality, more
expensive resources, the exploitation of which
causes more harm. For example, when people
rst became interested in copper it was lying
around on the surface — almost pure in some
places. Now, using much more commercial
energy, it is mined at depths of almost two
miles where ores are three per cent copper or
less, with greater consequent environmental
impacts per pound produced.
Moreover, as population and consumption
degrade air, water and soil quality, as well
as climate and biodiversity, the damages act
upon each other in a manner that reinforces
the deterioration1,2. us global warming
threatens forests and biodiversity, while
forest degradation and biodiversity loss alter
climate and threaten water supply, air quality
and soil fertility. Soil loss and desertication
force farmers to exploit more marginal
lands, resulting in yet more erosion, greater
need for irrigation water, fertilizers, and
herbicides, and more clear-cutting of valuable
habitat, all contributing to further loss of
biodiversity. More energy intensive methods
of compensating for any of the above damage
results in greater disturbance of the climate
and pollutes the air and water.
But those kinds of destructive linkages
arise not only from biophysical factors.
Demographic, environmental and
institutional factors are deeply interconnected,
further adding to the dilemma. From villages
to nations, egalitarian systems of governance
and resource distribution do not ourish
when communities lack basic resources. Great
inequalities in wealth or income can aect
governance systems, leading (for example),
to the nutritional needs of the poor not being
properly met. Well-nanced attempts to
reduce or terminate programs to feed the poor
in the United States demonstrate how sound
governance can be undermined by the rich.
Resource scarcity
Human numbers are overwhelming critical
infrastructure, in many, if not most, areas,
as ecological deterioration and even
devastation is simultaneously reducing many
peoples’ means of subsistence. Under such
circumstances people have less time to seek
social justice because they must spend more
time focusing on survival. Inundated island
nations in the Pacic and Indian Oceans,
and the rising ood of refugees crossing the
Mediterranean, provide just a tiny preview of
how these pressures will play out.
e prospects for future global food
security exemplify this situation. Contrasting
insucient food versus inequitably
distributed food may seem a caricature but
as the encyclical reminds us, discussions
on sustainability oen polarize into these
seemingly opposing viewpoints.
Despite the general agreement on many
of the ecological challenges, discussions on
sustainability oen divide experts about
whether the solution lies in dealing with
population growth and consumption, or
making food distribution more equitable.
is is also true of those who argue that it is
consumption alone that results in excessive
carbon emissions. Focusing on only half the
source of, or half the potential solution to, a
complex problem can be nearly as ineective
as ignoring the problem altogether, when both
factors jointly determine the outcome.
Policymakers and the academic
community must recognize that equity
issues make adequately feeding everyone
extremely dicult. But they must also
recognize that biophysical constraints limit
our ability to feed more than a certain
number of people, even under the most
equitable of distributional arrangements.
Most importantly, they must acknowledge
that our biophysical and social dilemmas
are tightly linked, and that as population
grows the capacity of social systems to
deal with the tightening biophysical
constraints shrinks.
e basic task of supplying the
populations needs for calories and
nutrients is not being met now. Some
800 million of today’s 7.3 billion people are
undernourished and perhaps half of the
world’s people — most, but not all, in poor
and middle-income nations — lack access to
one or more essential nutrients3,4. Even when
adequate calories are available, diets are
oen far from ideal, increasing the burden
of disease. Indeed, inadequate consumption
of fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables makes a
major contribution to ill health worldwide.
In short, current struggles to feed humanity
make the prospects seem slim for the
expected 9.7 billion people in 2050 to be
healthy and have adequate nutrition — and
perhaps billions more beyond that5,6.
As abhorrent as our current resource
inequities are, they could pale in comparison
with the impending inequity between
those alive today and those who will
be born tomorrow. Future populations,
under current trends, will inherit a rapidly
deteriorating planetary life support system.
We envision no quick xes or shortcuts.
ose who champion increased equality as
a means of achieving global food security
must team up with those who urge curbing
over-consumption and humane transitioning
to a much reduced and thus sustainable
population. Otherwise, the new political and
economic institutions desperately needed
to redirect humanity toward sustainable
food security and away from the ction of
perpetual growth will not evolve.
Pope Francis needs to heed his own
comments7 on the Church’s “obsession” with
contraception and abortion, and assume a
leadership position in support of women’s
rights and family planning. ere is little
chance that the existential challenge facing
humanity will be met if the call for dramatic
change in society is not expanded to embrace
the global demographic dilemma.
Paul R. Ehrlich is in the Department of Biology,
Stanford University, Stanford, California 94305, USA.
John Harte is at the Energy and Resources Group,
University of California, Berkeley, California 94720,
USA. e-mail:
1. Barnosky, A. etal. Nature 486, 53–58 (2012).
2. Harte, J. Biodivers. Conserv. 5, 1069–1083 (1996).
3. Myers, S. etal. Nature 510, 139–142 (2014).
4. Tilman, D. & Clark, M. Nature 515, 518–522 (2014).
5. Ehrlich, P. & Ehrlich, A. Proc. R.Soc. B 280, 20122845 (2013).
6. Ehrlich, P. & Harte, J. Int. J.Environ. Stud. (2015).
7. Goodstein, L. Pope says Church is ‘obsessed’ with gays, abortion
and birth control. e New York Times (19 September 2013);
The Pope’s encyclical as a call
for democratic social change
Anabela Carvalho
The climate change encyclical represents a decisive democratic act. It calls on citizens to challenge
dominant politics, power, and consumer culture in the name of tackling one of the world’s great
socio-environmental issues.
The Pope’s climate change encyclical
injects democratic politics into the
environmental crisis by showing how it is tied
to wider sociocultural processes at the heart
of modern societies. rough an integrative
critical analysis, the encyclical reclaims
climate change from the exclusionary realm
of technocracy and political–economic elites
and calls for an “honest and open debate so
that particular interests or ideologies will not
prejudice the common good” (§188).
e words dialogue, debate and
discussion are found throughout the
document: from the Popes expressed aim
of inclusive conversation (“I would like to
enter into dialogue with all people about
our common home” (§3)), to his call for
collective inquiry into decision-making
processes (“I urgently appeal … for a new
dialogue about how we are shaping the
future of our planet” (§14)). He makes his
goal explicit: “I will advance some broader
proposals for dialogue and action which
would involve each of us as individuals, and
also aect international policy” (§15).
Power and politics
By addressing the ideologies and practices
of the social dynamics entwined with
climate change, the encyclical exposes the
profoundly political character of global
environmental change and its connection
with economics and culture.
e publication of the encyclical is
action in the public space via language
oriented to persuasion which, in
Hannah Arendt’s terms1, is the very essence
of politics. is is the head of the Catholic
Church writing, of course, so contra
Arendt, he claims “indisputable truths…
guide our lives” (§15). But in a somewhat
agonistic fashion, he acknowledges and
validates the clash between opposing views:
“‘there is no one path to a solution. is
makes a variety of proposals possible, all
capable of entering into dialogue with
a view to developing comprehen sive
solutions’” (§60).
e encyclical has an important
democratic political value because of its
analysis of climate change drivers and
responses. Several scholars have recently
analysed the depoliticization of climate
change and its implications2–4. In contrast
to discourses that conceal the values,
power issues, and choices embedded in
proposals addressing climate change (for
example, the Green Economy5), reducing
it to a techno-managerial matter and
excluding non-elite voices, the encyclical
highlights multiple related factors,
structures and systems — including
the current models of production of
consumption, from nancial and economic
organizations to ideas about technology,
labour and employment.
Unlike mainstream economists and
others that obscure the political nature
of capitalism, the Pope expressly turns
the economy into a political domain:
economics without politics cannot
be justied, since this would make
it impossible to favor other ways of
handling the various aspects of the present
crisis” (§196). He calls for alternative
visions of the future and values the
conditions of possibility of plural voices
co-constructing it6.
Apart from allusions to the ‘power’ of
God, there are around 50 references to
power in the encyclical (for example, “the
myopia of power politics” [§178], “‘the
absolute power of a nancial system’
[§189], and “‘forms of power derived
from technology’” [§16]). e Pope thus
draws attention to today’s various forms of
domination and brings oen-marginalized
social inequalities and tensions to
the foreground.
e encyclical’s proposal for an ‘integral
ecology’ highlights connections between
social and environmental issues: “we have
to realize that a true ecological approach
always becomes a social approach; it must
integrate questions of justice in debates
on the environment” (§49). Referring to
the disproportional impacts of climate
change on the poor and associated global
inequities, the Pope shares concerns
expressed by diverse critics, including state
ocials from the Global South, individuals
and organizations from the North, and a
variety of civic movements, such as Climate
Justice Now!, Climate Camps, and Rising
Tide. ey have had little impact on the
‘realpolitik’ pursued by the most powerful
states and the UNFCCC regime, however.
Echoing defenders of climate justice,
the encyclical calls for addressing auent
states’ unmet responsibilities, redressing
damages done to poor and indigenous
communities, and rejecting futile market
‘xes, such as carbon trading. e
climate justice perspective, particularly
as enacted ‘from below’7 has brought
the socio-political character of climate
change to the fore and thereby opened
the debate to democratic struggles. is
transformational approach (as opposed
to reformist ones) posits that only with a
‘system change’ can we eectively address
the climate challenge, and is in tune with
the Pope’s plea for radical change (§171).
Consumer culture
e Pope’s systemic outlook is at odds
with neoliberal views on consumers and
consumption (another core theme in the
encyclical), which focus on the private
sphere rather than the public domain.
In the discussion of consumerism and
related throwaway culture as sources of
environmental degradation, the encyclical
inserts consumption into wider arenas
of economic and symbolic power, such
as markets and media. It suggests that
consumption has to be viewed as part
of ‘culture’, an all-encompassing tier that
permeates all aspects of human life.
e Pope’s analysis converges with many
critical social theorists and philosophers,
especially from the Frankfurt School. e
most relevant member is Herbert Marcuse
who argued in One-Dimensional Man8 that
the capitalist system of production and
consumption, helped by the entertainment
and information industry, generated a
one-dimensional universe of thought
that subsumed logic and behaviour and
eliminated the critical power of reason.
Similarly, Jean Baudrillard9 spoke of a
growth system that innitely creates needs
whose satisfaction is (falsely) lived as
individual happiness and liberation while
in fact people are coerced by the “structure”
and “morality” of consumption.
In some passages, the encyclical closely
resembles Marcuse’s8 reections on
consumerism, technology and publicity
media as forms of social control that keep
people in a state of “unfreedom”: “Since
the market tends to promote extreme
consumerism in an eort to sell its products,
people can easily get caught up in a
whirlwind of needless buying and spending.
Compulsive consumerism is one example of
how the techno-economic paradigm aects
indi viduals” (§203).
Marcuse maintained that in contrast to
the dominant universe of thought that erases
alternative discourses, two-dimensional
thought is oppositional and allows for
imagining radically dierent futures,
something the Pope claims has become
unthinkable: “e idea of promoting a
dierent cultural paradigm … is nowadays
inconceivable. (§108). Against the “assault
of the technocratic paradigm” (§111),
the encyclical pleads for a “bold cultural
revolution” (§114) built on a liberating
and “happy sobriety” (§224), and on care
for others and Mother Earth. Here, the
focus shis away from macroprocesses and
structures and onto individual “conversion”
(§217) to an “ecological culture”
(§111), making the encyclical’s message
more ambiguous.
Giving primacy to spirituality could
only be expected from a publication of
the Catholic Church. But the radical
change required by the environmental
crisis entails more than a new awareness.
e challenge is enormous and the road
ahead is unavoidably bumpy. Society needs
to embark on a creative destruction and
reconstruction of multiple socio-political
arrangements and institutions. Long-
established discourses, which appear natural
and inevitable, have to be problematized
and replaced. Ingrained practices have to be
questioned. e encyclical itself touches on
some of those thorny matters, which may
involve “[imposing] restraints … on those
possessing greater resources and nancial
power” (§129) or “accept[ing] decreased
growth in some parts of the world” (§193).
Democratizing climate politics
Truly democratic change will require
making room for those 99% that dominant
narratives about the politics of climate
change construct as spectators of (inter)
governmental negotiations while hiding
their mess. e encyclical is a highly
signicant appeal to citizen engagement
with environmental and social change.
Appreciating the ecological movement’s
historical role, the Pope repeatedly urges
individuals and civic groups to engage with
the politics of climate change and pressure
governments to develop eective measures.
In its reading of the interconnectedness
of environmental and social matters and
in the vision it advances, the encyclical
proposes a social ecology that will
hopefully inspire many to go beyond ‘green
romanticism10 and push for structural social
and political transformation.
Anabela Carvalho is in the Department of
Communication Sciences, University of Minho,
Campus de Gualtar, 4710-057 Braga, Portugal.
1. Arendt, H. e Human Condition (Univ. Chicago Press, 1958).
2. Swyngedouw, E. eor. Cult. Soc, 27, 213–232 (2010).
3. Machin, A. Negotiating Climate Change: Radical Democracy and
the Illusion of Consensu s (Zed Books, 2013).
4. Maeseele, P. in A e Routledge Handbook of Environment
and Communication (e ds Hansen, A. & Cox, R.) 389–401
(Routledge, 2015).
5. Kenis, A. & Lievens, M. e Limits of the Green Economy
(Routledge, 2014).
6. Couldry, N. Why Voice Matters: Culture and Politics Aer
Neoliberalism (Sage, 2010).
7. Bond, P. e Politics of Climate Justice (Univ. of KwaZulu-Natal
Press, 2012).
8. Marcuse, H. One Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of
Advanced Industrial Society (Beacon Press, 1964).
9. Baudrillard, J. La Société de Consommation (Gallimard, 1970).
10. Dryzek, J. e Politics of the Earth: Environmental Discourses
(Oxford Univ. Press, 1997).
Science and religion in dialogue
over the global commons
Ottmar Edenhofer, Christian Flachsland and Brigitte Knopf
The Pope’s encyclical makes unprecedented progress in developing scientific dialogue with religion by
drawing on research, and encouraging further discussion about the ethical challenge of governing the
global commons.
In a year critical for international eorts
to address climate change and sustainable
development, Pope Francis has published
an encyclical on climate change, poverty and
inequality ( It
is the rst time in the history of the Roman
Catholic Church that a Pope has addressed
an encyclical not only to all Roman
Catholics or to “all people of good will”, but
also to all “people living on planet Earth.
Pope Francis’ call for a global dialogue
on the twenty-rst-century challenges of
climate change, poverty and inequality
has resonated with scientic communities
in particular, with major journals such as
Nature and Science dedicating editorials
to the subject1,2. is is unprecedented in
the Western history of dialogue between
religion and science.
Since enlightenment, the relationship
between science and religion has generally
been characterized by conict rather than
cooperation. Religion has struggled to
identify a division of labour on questions
related to cosmology, evolutionary theory,
socio-biology, economics or reproductive
medicine. In this struggle, it can be said
that religion has been losing epistemic
authority to science in one territory aer
another. Perhaps the most striking aspect
of the encyclical is that Pope Francis seems
unwilling to continue this conict —
instead, he chooses to embrace science while
pointing out that ethical questions cannot
be resolved by science alone. He asks for a
dialogue between religion and science to
meet the fundamental global challenges that
mankind is collectively facing.
As its starting point, the encyclical
adopts the scientic nding of the
anthropogenic causes of climate change
as established by Working GroupIof the
IPCC. Without explicitly citing the IPCC,
the encyclical recognizes the human
risks from the impacts of climate change,
which are summarized in the Working
GroupII report.
e encyclical puts particular emphasis
on the risks of climate impacts for the
poor, which include reduced productivity
of agriculture, increasing water scarcity,
rising sea levels, and increasing intensity
and frequency of extreme weather events.
e Pope is also concerned about other
adverse global environmental challenges,
such as air pollution, the loss of biodiversity
and increasingly limited access to clean
water. He fears that climate change and
other environmental pressures will force the
poor to migrate and that critical resource
depletion might even lead to wars (§25, 57).
e position of climate ‘contrarians
is also clearly refuted (§54, 135, 188) and
identied as being driven by economic and
ideological interests, echoing the analyses of
the “merchants of doubt” by Eric Conway
and Harvard historian of science
Naomi Oreskes3.
Building on scientic consensus about
the physics and impacts of climate change,
the encyclical also reects mainstream social
scientic analyses on responses to climate
change. In particular, the encyclical suggests
that the twin challenges of climate change
and poverty need to be tackled together and
cannot be prioritized over each other. As
succinctly put by economist Nicholas Stern:
“If we fail on one, we fail on the other”4.
Other social scientists have similarly
argued that the impacts of climate change
threaten to eclipse any progress made in
eradicating poverty in the mid- and long-
term, and that without attractive low-carbon
development pathways, poor societies will
refuse to maintain low emissions levels or to
reduce them further5. e Pope’s encyclical
endorses this view.
Global commons
If the poor are going to be protected from
the impacts of climate change, emissions
must be limited. Although the encyclical
does not discuss specic stabilization
objectives, the international community
has established an objective to limit the
increase of global warming to 2°C above
pre-industrial levels, which corresponds to
limiting future cumulative CO2 emissions
to roughly 1,000Gt (ref.6). Access to the
global atmospheric sink for depositing CO2
has historically been open to all, however,
and in most regions today this is still the
case. e encyclical criticizes the resulting
overconsumption, in particular by the global
rich. To protect the poor from the adverse
impacts of climate change, Pope Francis
asks the world’s community to establish an
eective governance regime for the climate
by declaring it “a common good, by all and
for all.” (§23, 174)
Economic analyses have shown that
limiting the use of the atmospheric carbon
sink would have signicant consequences
for the global distribution of wealth7.
Fossil fuel resources are estimated at about
15,000Gt CO2. Even with the use of carbon
capture and storage (CCS) technology,
achieving the 2°C objective would require
the majority of fossil resources to remain
unutilized. is would devalue the assets of
fossil fuel resource owners8. In this conict
between the interests of the poor and those
of fossil fuel resource owners, the Pope
weighs in for the former.
e Pope’s framing of the climate as
a global common good bears striking
resemblance with the IPCC Working
GroupIII approach to climate change in
its most recent Fih Assessment Report9.
Similarly striking was the reaction of
government delegates to this concept during
the nal approval session of the IPCC
Working GroupIII report in 2014, where
the Summary for Policymakers (SPM)
was negotiated between governments and
scientists. Several governments strongly
opposed any language dening climate
change as a global commons problem.
e underlying Working GroupIII report
remained unchanged, but in the nal
version of the SPM the reference to the
term “global commons” was relegated to
a footnote. e accompanying text in the
footnote tellingly reveals the concerns
of some governments over the potential
juridical implications of declaring the
climate a global commons: “…it has no
specic implications for legal arrangements
or for particular criteria regarding
eort sharing.
Elevating the status of the climate to a
global commons would entail protecting
the poor from climate change and a fair
global sharing of the costs of mitigation,
in particular by richer societies that are
capable of doing so. is is an idea that
some governments are obviously not keen to
endorse, but which the Pope’s encyclical puts
prominently on the table.
Another striking resemblance between
the IPCC Working GroupIII report and
the encyclical concerns the consideration of
political approaches to mitigating climate
change. Both documents put particular
emphasis on polycentric approaches to
climate governance, a concept promoted by
Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom10, to whom
the Working GroupIII report is dedicated.
According to this concept, international
cooperation via the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change
(UNFCCC), national and sub-national
public policies, as well as private business,
civil society and individual eorts to tackle
climate change, should act in tandem and as
complements to one another, not substitutes.
Moral authority and applied policy
Not all statements in the encyclical have been
endorsed by the scientic community. In
particular, the encyclical (§171) is concerned
about the eectiveness of emission trading
as a policy instrument — an analysis that
some environmental economists disagree
with. Also, the suggestion of using economic
de-growth as a tool for mitigating climate
change (§193) does not resonate well with
economists. However, researchers should
note that, unlike fundamental moral
considerations, the encyclical does not
claim particular authority on questions
of applied policy analysis; the Pope’s
concerns might rather be considered as an
invitation to discuss them in light of deeper
ethical concerns.
e Pope asks for a fundamental dialogue
between religions and science (§199201) on
the responsible use of the powers conveyed
to mankind by modern technology. Citing
the philosopher Romano Guardini11,
the encyclical emphasizes that modern
technology bears an immense potential
for improving the world if guided by
ethical behaviour. Without deliberate and
responsible design of technological systems,
however, there is a risk not only of global
environmental problems such as climate
change, but also many other forms of human
deprivation. is analysis resonates with
discussions of the use of instrumental reason
in modernity in the traditions of Max Weber
and sociological critical theory12,13, even
though the encyclical does not explicitly
refer to these.
Reminiscent of the general tenet of the
work by Elinor Ostrom, the central message
conveyed by the encyclical is that mankind is
not fatally trapped in an inescapable tragedy
of the global commons. Rather, the Pope
calls for a dialogue among “all people living
on this planet” to turn the alleged tragedy
of the commons into a drama, in which
dierent forces struggle but eventually make
progress towards achieving the common
good for all.
A dialogue between science, religions and
dierent worldviews can lead to an enhanced
and mutual understanding of the common
challenges that mankind is facing. is can
increase our freedom to choose among the
alternative future pathways on which we will
collectively embark.
Ottmar Edenhofer, Christian Flachsland and
Brigitte Knopf are at the Mercator Research Institute
on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC),
10829 Berlin, Germany. Ottmar Edenhofer is
also at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact
Research (PIK), 14412 Potsdam, Germany, and
Faculty VI, Technical University Berlin, 10623 Berlin,
Germany. Christian Flachsland is also at the Hertie
School of Governance, 10117 Berlin, Germany.
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Author contributions
e three authors cooperate on a daily basis. ey have
not achieved an agreement on all relevant metaphysical
claims and ethical judgements because one is Catholic and
an economist, one is Protestant and a social scientist, and
one is an atheist and a natural scientist. ey agree at least
on this text.
... The Pope's encyclical was widely praised by the international climate community, partly because the Pope has moral authority and his voice can reach a wide range of people, including non-Christians. However, the most significant part of the Pope's encyclical was that it framed climate change as a deeply moral issue rooted in our way of life and placed virtue and human dignity at the centre of climate discourse (Brulle and Antonio 2015;Hulme 2015;Jamieson 2015;O'Riordan et al. 2015). In particular, Pope Francis challenged dominant neoliberal views on consumerism (Carvalho 2015) and called for rethinking our 'post-political attitude' of that 'there is no alternative to continuing our current growthoriented, consumerist market economy' (Brulle and Antonio 2015). ...
... However, the most significant part of the Pope's encyclical was that it framed climate change as a deeply moral issue rooted in our way of life and placed virtue and human dignity at the centre of climate discourse (Brulle and Antonio 2015;Hulme 2015;Jamieson 2015;O'Riordan et al. 2015). In particular, Pope Francis challenged dominant neoliberal views on consumerism (Carvalho 2015) and called for rethinking our 'post-political attitude' of that 'there is no alternative to continuing our current growthoriented, consumerist market economy' (Brulle and Antonio 2015). Hulme (2015) argued that the encyclical was not so much about climate change; it was an invitation to the spiritual searching of 'what it means to be human' in an age of climate change. ...
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Since its inception, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has always been at the centre of the global climate debate. Its authoritative reports provide cultural resources for public understanding on the challenge of climate change. While the IPCC maintains its perception as a policy-neutral adviser, the IPCC in practice acts as a powerful discursive agent that guides policy debates in a certain direction by enacting influential scientific concepts. These concepts include three prominent metaphors—temperature threshold, carbon budget and climate deadline—that have been widely circulated across science, policy and advocacy. Three metaphors differ on ways in which the risk of climate change is expressed in terms of space and time. But they all constitute the discourse of climate scarcity —the cognitive view of that we have (too) little space and time to stay below a physical limit for avoiding dangerous climate change. This discursive construction of physical scarcity on climate change has significant political and psychological implications. Politically, the scarcity discourse has the risk of increasing a post-political tendency towards managerial control of the global climate (‘scarcity of politics’). Psychologically, however, scarcity has a greater risk of generating a ‘scarcity mindset’ that inhibits our cognitive capacity to imagine human life beyond managing physical scarcity. Under a narrow mindset of scarcity, the future is closed down to the ‘point of no return’ that, if crossed, is destined to be the end. To go beyond the scarcity discourse, a new discourse of emancipation has to be fostered. Climate change can be reframed not as a common single destination but as a predicament for actively reimagining human life. Such a narrative can expand our imaginative capacity and animate political action while embracing social losses.
... Models able to formalise such knowledge could then be used to explore Earth systemic consequences of a (stylised) spectrum of such decisions, ideally through data exchange with, or direct coupling to, conventional Earth system models . As a counterexample, the Laudato Si', published shortly before the COP21, is expected to provide a certain stimulus for a democratic cultural turn towards more sustainable and sufficient ways of living (Brulle and Antonio, 2015): this points to the possibility that declarations by religious leaders, or religious groups as civil society actors, may influence the formation and dynamics of new pro-environmental opinions and coalitions across countries and cultures (Bedford-Strohm, 2008). Modelling such dynamics would also be important to enrich or complement research on "social tipping points" -bifurcation transitions in societies (Bentley et al., 2014) -which are hardly predictable and currently ill represented in Earth system models despite being likely to produce crucial non-linear imprints onto the Earth system. ...
... Indeed, religious -and ethical and moral -questions belong to Earth system analysis in the broad sense. Earth system models could be used to imagine, and represent, alternative worlds beyond technocraticeconomic pathways, i.e. "fundamentally different visions of the good life" using a "compelling narrative of transformative social change" (Brulle and Antonio, 2015) while highlighting that "mankind is not fatally trapped in an inescapable tragedy of the global commons" (Edenhofer et al., 2015). This gives room for new questions that could be addressed quantitatively by enhanced or newly developed Earth system models, also contributing to the development of narratives about possible (mental, cultural) futures in the IPCC's Shared Socio-Economic Pathways (SSPs; O'Neill et al., 2017) -like the following, for example: ...
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While humanity is altering planet Earth at unprecedented magnitude and speed, representation of the cultural driving factors and their dynamics in models of the Earth system is limited. In this review and perspectives paper, we argue that more or less distinct environmental value sets can be assigned to religion – a deeply embedded feature of human cultures, here defined as collectively shared belief in something sacred. This assertion renders religious theories, practices and actors suitable for studying cultural facets of anthropogenic Earth system change, especially regarding deeper, non-materialistic motivations that ask about humans' self-understanding in the Anthropocene epoch. We sketch a modelling landscape and outline some research primers, encompassing the following elements: (i) extensions of existing Earth system models by quantitative relationships between religious practices and biophysical processes, building on databases that allow for (mathematical) formalisation of such knowledge; (ii) design of new model types that specifically represent religious morals, actors and activities as part of co-evolutionary human–environment dynamics; and (iii) identification of research questions of humanitarian relevance that are underrepresented in purely economic–technocratic modelling and scenario paradigms. While this analysis is by necessity heuristic and semi-cohesive, we hope that it will act as a stimulus for further interdisciplinary and systematic research on the immaterial dimension of humanity's imprint on the Earth system, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
... Models able to formalise such knowledge could then be used to explore Earth systemic consequences of a (stylised) spectrum of such decisions, ideally through data exchange with, or direct coupling to, conventional Earth system models. As a counter-example, the Laudato Sí, published shortly before the COP21, is expected 20 to provide a certain stimulus for a democratic cultural turn towards more sustainable and sufficient ways of living (Brulle and Antonio, 2015): This points to the possibility that declarations by religious leaders, or religious groups as civil society actors, may influence the formation and dynamics of new pro-environmental opinions and coalitions across countries and cultures (Bedford-Strohm, 2008). Modelling such dynamics would be also important to enrich or complement research on 'social tipping points' -bifurcative transitions in societies (Bentley et al., 2014) -which are hardly predictable and currently 25 ill-represented in Earth system models despite being likely to produce crucial nonlinear imprints onto the Earth system. ...
... Indeed, religious -and ethical and moral -questions belong to Earth system analysis sensu latu. Earth system models could be used to imagine, and represent, alternative worlds beyond technocratic-economic pathways, i.e. "fundamentally different visions of the good life" using a "compelling narrative of transformative social change" (Brulle and Antonio, 2015) while highlighting that "mankind is not fatally trapped in an 15 inescapable tragedy of the global commons" (Edenhofer et al., 2015). This gives room for a new sort of questions that could be addressed quantitatively by enhanced or newly developed Earth system models -like, for example: ...
Full-text available
While humanity is altering planet Earth at unprecedented magnitude and speed, representation of the cultural driving factors and their dynamics in models of the Earth system is limited. In this review and perspectives paper, we argue that more or less distinct environmental value sets can be assigned to religion – a deeply embedded feature of human cultures, here defined as collectively shared belief in something sacred. This assertion renders religious theories, practices and actors suitable for studying cultural facets of anthropogenic Earth system change, especially regarding deeper, non-materialistic motivations that ask about humans' self-understanding in the Anthropocene epoch. We sketch a modelling landscape and outline some research primers, encompassing the following elements: (i) extensions of existing Earth system models by quantitative relationships between religious practices and biophysical processes, building on databases that allow for (mathematical) formalisation of such knowledge, (ii) design of new model types that specifically represent religious morals, actors and activities as part of coevolutionary human-environment dynamics, and (iii) identification of research questions of humanitarian relevance that are underrepresented in purely economic-technocratic modelling and scenario paradigms. While this analysis is by necessity heuristic and semi-cohesive, we hope that it will act as a stimulus for further, interdisciplinary and systematic research on the immaterial dimension of humanity's imprint on the Earth system, both qualitatively and quantitatively.
... ecological encyclical Laudato Si' was a landmark document that expanded existing Catholic teachings on the urgent need to address climate change. Many scholars hoped it would catalyze robust climate action (Brulle and Antonio 2015, Carvalho 2015, Editors 2015, McNutt 2015. Much of this optimism was rooted in assessments by scholars that religion can uniquely catalyze climate action (Veldman et al 2014) and Catholicism is distinctively positioned to address the climate crisis (Dasgupta et al 2015) through many powerful institutional features. ...
Full-text available
The Catholic Church recognizes climate change as a moral issue, has called for social action, and has the institutional potential to meaningfully address climate change. Many hoped Pope Francis’s 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ would spark widespread climate action. However, our quantitative and qualitative content analyses show that U.S. Catholic bishops responsible for leading the Church were silent and denialist about climate change around Laudato Si’. Using a newly constructed dataset of 12 077 columns published by U.S. Catholic bishops in the official publications for 171 of the 178 U.S. Catholic dioceses between June 2014–June 2019, we find that (a) as a group, U.S. Catholic bishops were generally silent about climate change and (b) as a group, when U.S. Catholic bishops did mention climate change, they often: (a) diminished and distanced themselves from Church teaching on this issue; (b) downplayed parts of Laudato Si’ that conflict with a conservative political identity/ideology; and (c) emphasized parts of Laudato Si’ that correspond to a conservative political identity/ideology. On climate change, our findings indicate individual U.S. Catholic bishops’ diocesan communications have collectively snuffed out the spark of Laudato Si’. Our findings suggest politics may trump religion in influencing climate change beliefs even among religious leaders, and that the American Catholic Church subtly engages in climate denialism even though its top religious leader (Pope Francis) has emphasized the scientific reality and urgency of climate change.
... It would come to incorporate state of the art contemporary research bearing on environmental crises and their attendant consequences, utilizing a depth of scientific information that marked a departure from previous encyclicals in both content and style. As evidence of this, the document has been widely praised by the scientific community (Brulle & Antonio, 2015). ...
... As noted by Tucker and Grim, 'With 1.2 billion Catholics on the planet, the potential for attention to the environment and climate change is unprecedented ' (2016: 261). Existing research by Catholic scholars has normatively connected Laudato si' to extant Catholic social teaching (Ahern et al. 2016;Dorr 2016;Gottlieb 2006;Hart 2006;Murphy 1989;Scheid 2016), and numerous researchers at the intersection of environmental and social research (Brulle and Antonio 2015;Carvalho 2015;Edenhofer, Flaschland, and Knopf 2015;Ehrlich and Harte 2015;Nature Climate Change 2015;Wright 2015) responded to the encyclicals in short order. This analysis contributes to both conversations by developing a descriptive framework within which to make sense of religious, environmental, and ethical change by drawing on 54 years of Catholic teaching on environmental issues. ...
The relationship between the Catholic Church and the world’s poor is complicated by the link between concern for the earth and concern for the poor. To historically situate this relationship, in this article I examine thirty papal encyclical letters and three other salient documents issued by six Popes, spanning a period between publication of Rachel Carson’s 1962 Silent Spring (a common starting-point for modern environmentalism) and Pope Francis’ 2015 Laudato si’ [‘Praise Be to You’]: On Care for our Common Home encyclical on climate change. Encyclicals were coded for changes in Catholic doctrine using a typology developed by sociologists of religion: from a ‘Stewardship Ethic’ rooted in individual sin, to an ‘Eco-Justice’ ethic, which bridges concern for the environment with concern for the poor, and finally, to an ethic of ‘Creation Spirituality’, which views humans and nature as inseparable. This analysis offered evidence of significant doctrinal shifts in Catholic social teaching toward a distinctively ‘greener’ reading of the tradition. Research on the religion–environment connection that focuses on describing and interpreting change over time offers robust means by which to assess whether, how, and to what extent religious organizations and their adherents engage with environmental issues.
Five years ago, Pope Francis published the encyclical “Laudato si”, a little before that the United Nations ratified the agenda for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The media pressure around this Papal document was intense to say the least, not only because the Catholic Church was clearly postulating itself in the face of the deep socio-economic and environmental crisis we are still experiencing, but also because of the possible “sustainable contributions” that the papal letter addressed. What has been its reflection in terms of sustainable politics and economics, as well as in sustainable social entrepreneurship? What strengths and initiatives does the academic community recognize in this document? What follows is a first review of academic documentation that makes this encyclical the most cited Catholic text in the highest ranked and most influential journals dealing with scientific, social, economic development, and theological issues from a socio-environmental perspective. Finally, some critiques and contributions to the encyclical are presented from a scientific perspective.
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Since the late 1970s, over 140 global environmental assessments (GEAs) have been completed. But are they any longer fit for purpose? Some believe not. Compelling arguments have been advanced for a new assessment paradigm, one more focussed on problem-solving than problem-identification. If translated into new assessment practices, this paradigm could prevail for the next several decades, just as the current one has since the late 1970s. In this paper, it is contended that the arguments for GEAs 2.0 are, in fact, insufficiently bold. Solutions-orientated assessments, often associated with a ‘policy turn’ by their advocates, are undoubtedly necessary. But without a ‘politics turn’ they will be profoundly insufficient: policy options would be detached from the diverse socio-economic explanations and ‘deep hermeneutics’ that ultimately give them meaning, especially given the very high stakes now attached to managing human impacts on a fast-changing planet. Here we make the case for GEAs 3.0, where two paradigmatic steps forward are taken at once rather than just one. The second step involves the introduction of political reasoning and structured normative debate about existential alternatives, a pre-requisite to strategic decision-making and its operational expression. Possible objections to this second step are addressed and rebutted. Even so, the case for politically-overt GEAs faces formidable difficulties of implementation. However, we consider these challenges less a sign of our undue idealism and more an indication of the urgent need to mitigate, if not overcome them. In a world of ‘wicked problems’ we need ‘wicked assessments’ adequate to them. This paper is intended to inspire more far-reaching debate about the future of GEAs and, by implication, about the roles social science and the humanities might usefully play in addressing global environmental change.
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This Study developed a Framework for understanding the role of rhetoric in public policy processes, especially for wicked problems, using the case of the debate on climate change. The research analyzed how different actors, visible to the public and the press, employed and responded to various persuasion strategies concerning the climate problem and the actions to address it. The concept of rhetoric brings three key elements of persuasion: the character of the speaker (ethos); the emotions of the listeners (pathos); and the arguments themselves (logos). Any communication endeavor combines these elements, although the speaker may attribute different weights to each one. However, the notion of rhetoric remains mostly attached to logos. Hence, the study identified the relevance of persuasion strategies based not only on the predominant focus on scientific reasoning and logic (logos), but also on moral considerations, trust and credibility (ethos), and emotional appeals (pathos). The combinantion of the three elements can strengthen ideas, convince and position different actors about a wicked problem and the necessary policies to deal with it. The research contributes to fulfill methodological gaps regarding the application of rhetorical analyses by developing an Analytical Framework that acts as a tool to structure and organize rhetorical analyses for problems that require collective decisions and public policy responses. The Framework supports the construction and outlining of the rhetorical context; the identification and analysis of the elements of persuasion; and the examination of the effects stemming from a rhetorical intervention. The case selected for the application of the Framework was the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ by Pope Francis during the process of discussions about the Paris Agreement and national commitments on climate change. The encyclical Laudato Si’ sought to convince several audiences about the severity of climate change and the need for actions to deal with such a problem. The Framework allowed us to better understand the dynamics concerning the elements of persuasion and their roles in generating scenarios that help to legitimize (or delegitimize) political decisions in favor of advancing complex issues, such as climate change, in different agendas as well as fostering the progress of national and international policies on these issues. The study shows how rhetorical strategies using all elements of persuasion may have a larger impact over a broader audience of decision-makers and citizens. Therefore, the research furthers the understanding of the different persuasion strategies within agenda setting and public policy processes involving wicked problems, such as climate change. This research also offers contributions to approximate the fields of rhetoric, public policies, and wicked problems, as well as advances the literature concerning the role of rhetoric within the debates and public policy processes. - Esta tese desenvolveu um Quadro Analítico para melhor compreender o papel da retórica no processo de políticas públicas, especialmente para wicked problems, usando o caso do debate sobre mudança do clima. A pesquisa analisou como estratégias de persuasão foram empregadas e repercutidas por atores, visíveis ao público e à imprensa, no debate público sobre o problema climático e as respostas para tratá-lo. O conceito de retórica traz três elementos-chave de persuasão: o caráter do orador (ethos); as emoções dos ouvintes (pathos); e os próprios argumentos (logos). Qualquer ato de comunicação combina esses três elementos, embora o autor possa colocar pesos diferentes em cada um deles. A noção de retórica, no entanto, permanece mais ligada ao elemento logos. Nesse sentido, o estudo identificou e demonstrou a importância das estratégias de persuasão baseadas em considerações morais, confiança, credibilidade (ethos) e apelos emocionais (pathos), indo além de um foco predominantemente calcado em racionais científicos e na lógica (logos). A combinação desses três elementos pode fortalecer ideias, convencer e posicionar diferentes atores sobre um wicked problem e as políticas necessárias para enfrentá-lo. A pesquisa contribui para suprir lacunas metodológicas para a aplicação de análises retóricas ao desenvolver um Quadro Analítico, que serve como uma ferramenta para a estruturação e organização de análises retóricas para problemas que demandam tomadas de decisões coletivas e respostas no campo das políticas públicas. O Quadro oferece apoio para o enquadramento e construção do contexto retórico, a identificação e análise dos elementos da persuasão e o exame dos efeitos após uma intervenção retórica. O caso selecionado para aplicação do Quadro Analítico é o da Carta Encíclica Laudato Si’ do papa Francisco durante o processo de discussão sobre o Acordo de Paris e os compromissos nacionais sobre mudança do clima. A encíclica Laudato Si’ procurou convencer diversas audiências sobre a severidade do problema climático e a necessidade de ações para lidar com esse problema. O Quadro Analítico nos permitiu melhor entender as dinâmicas dos elementos da persuasão e seus papeis para formar cenários que tragam maior peso para legitimar (ou deslegitimar) decisões políticas que apoiem o avanço de temas complexos, como o da mudança do clima, em diferentes agendas e o progresso de políticas nacionais e internacionais na área. O estudo demonstra como estratégias retóricas, usando todos os elementos da persuasão, podem ter um impacto maior sobre um público mais amplo e sobre tomadores de decisão em geral. Portanto, a pesquisa avança na compreensão de diferentes estratégias de persuasão na formação da agenda e, de maneira mais abrangente, nos processos de políticas públicas envolvendo wicked problems, como a mudança do clima. Este estudo apresenta contribuições e progressos na aproximação dos campos de conhecimento da retórica, políticas públicas e wicked problems; e avança a literatura sobre o papel da retórica nos debates e nos processos de políticas públicas.
Conversations about climate change at the science-policy interface and in our lives have been stuck for some time. This handbook integrates lessons from the social sciences and humanities to more effectively make connections through issues, people, and things that everyday citizens care about. Readers will come away with an enhanced understanding that there is no ‘silver bullet' to communications about climate change; instead, a ‘silver buckshot' approach is needed, where strategies effectively reach different audiences in different contexts. This tactic can then significantly improve efforts that seek meaningful, substantive, and sustained responses to contemporary climate challenges. It can also help to effectively recapture a common or middle ground on climate change in the public arena. Readers will come away with ideas on how to harness creativity to better understand what kinds of communications work where, when, why, and under what conditions in the twenty-first century.
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A central responsibility of societies should be supplying adequate nourishment to all. For roughly a third of the global human population, that goal is not met today. More ominously, that population is projected to increase some 30% by 2050. The intertwined natural and social systems, that must meet the challenge of producing and equitably distributing much more food without wrecking humanity’s life-support systems, face a daunting array of challenges and uncertainties. These have roots in the agricultural revolution that transformed our species and created civilization. Profound and multifaceted changes, revising closely-held cultural traditions and penetrating most of civilization will be required, if an unprecedented famine is to be avoided.
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The volume is the report of the American Sociological Association's Task Force on Sociology and Global Climate Change, and the 13 chapters provide syntheses of sociological (and related) research on key aspects of climate change.
Technical Report
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“Changing the Atmosphere: Anthropology and Climate Change” is the final report of the American Anthropological Association’s (AAA) Global Climate Change Task Force. The report’s objectives are: to provide a guiding document on anthropology and climate change in its broadest sense, including anthropology’s contributions to, and concerns about, climate change and climate change policy and discourse; to provide commentary on interdisciplinary research and relationships; and to identify research frontiers for anthropology with respect to climate change. The audiences for the report are the AAA Executive Board and the anthropological discipline; interdisciplinary colleagues, organizations, and institutions; and ultimately and ideally, policymakers, the media, and the general public.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has completed its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). Here, we explore the social scientific networks informing Working Group III (WGIII) assessment of mitigation for the AR5. Identifying authors’ institutional pathways, we highlight the persistence and extent of North–South inequalities in the authorship of the report, revealing the dominance of US and UK institutions as training sites for WGIII authors. Examining patterns of co-authorship between WGIII authors, we identify the unevenness in co-authoring relations, with a small number of authors co-writing regularly and indicative of an epistemic community’s influence over the IPCC’s definition of mitigation. These co-authoring networks follow regional patterns, with significant EU–BRICS collaboration and authors from the US relatively insular. From a disciplinary perspective, economists, engineers, physicists and natural scientists remain central to the process, with insignificant participation of scholars from the humanities. The shared training and career paths made apparent through our analysis suggest that the idea that broader geographic participation may lead to a wider range of viewpoints and cultural understandings of climate change mitigation may not be as sound as previously thought.
For more than thirty years neoliberalism has declared that market functioning trumps all other social, political, and economic values. In this book, Nick Couldry passionately argues for voice, the effective opportunity for people to speak and be heard on what affects their lives, as the only value that can truly challenge neoliberal politics. But having voice is not enough: we need to know our voice matters. Insisting that the answer goes much deeper than simply calling for ‘more voices’, whether on the streets or in the media, Couldry presents a dazzling range of analysis from the real world of Blair and Obama to the social theory of Judith Butler and Amartya Sen. Why Voice Matters breaks open the contradictions in neoliberal thought and shows how the mainstream media not only fails to provide the means for people to give an account of themselves, but also reinforces neoliberal values. Moving beyond the despair common to much of today's analysis, Couldry shows us a vision of a democracy based on social cooperation and offers the resources we need to build a new post-neoliberal politics.