That’s the upshot of my op-ed in the New York Times today.
For those who are wondering, these things are really hard to write — you have to cram so much into such a tiny space, there really is no room for nuance. The Times asked for 1000 words, I delivered 1250, they wound up having space for 850, so 400 words had to go!
Part of what went were the sections where I expressed my appreciation for the encyclical, which I actually think is an incredibly positive contribution to the current debate. If one thinks of how much damage the Church has done with respect to the population issue (and it’s important to remember that, back in the ’60s, the Church really could have gone either way on the contraception and abortion question), it’s absolutely wonderful that Pope Francis has positioned the Church on the right side of the climate change issue. It’s also been great hearing U.S. Republicans taking a firm line against the intrusion of religion conviction into the realm of public policy…
Here is some of what got chopped out:
This skepticism about market-based solutions to climate change is, in my view, unwarranted. But the sentiment that it expresses is a rather common one, and since Francis has provided an unusually detailed presentation of the reasoning underlying his version of it, it is worth examining.
I should note, at the outset, that I find nothing objectionable about the most widely remarked-upon feature of the encyclical, which is the moralizing tone that Francis brings to the discussion of climate change. The language of “sin” strikes me as perfectly appropriate to describe the wilful blindness or obstinacy of those who refuse to make any changes to their lifestyle, despite the enormous cost that our consumption of fossil fuels is imposing upon future generations.
After all, what are we to make of politicians who rage against government deficits, condemning them as immoral because of the burden that they impose upon our grandchildren, but then refuse to even acknowledge the far more serious problem of climate change?
Rest assured, future generations will most certainly curse us, and probably spit on our graves. But which are they most likely to be upset about, the fact that we left them a slightly larger debt to service, or the fact that we changed the composition of the earth’s atmosphere in a way that makes the planet less suitable for human habitation?
So no, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to talk about “sin” in this context
Finally, for those who like to come here for the “Straussian” reading of my work, here it is. A major part of my objective in that op-ed was to create cognitive dissonance among conservatives who oppose taking action on climate change. I’m happy to serve as the Times’ “right-wing” critic of the Pope’s encyclical, if it helps to show just how far outside the scope of reasonable disagreement people like Stephen Harper or the current contenders for the Republican leadership in the U.S. are. Also, I enjoyed using the term “liberal” in its correct sense in an American publication. Again, more cognitive dissonance.
I also just wanted to emphasize that, in order to understand the positions that Pope Francis takes, whether it be concern for the global poor or suspicion of the market, you don’t need to have any exotic theories about his background or motivation. All you need to do is recognize that he is a Christian who takes his faith seriously enough to think through its moral and logical implications.