In June 2015, Pope Francis published his encyclical letter, Laudato Si, drawing on the inspiration from his namesake St Francis of Assisi to issue an appeal for the protection and conservation of the environment.
Climate activists were delighted, and convinced that this was going to transform the climate debate and lead to global climate action.
Pope Francis’ unequivocal call to arms will reverberate globally in acting on climate change, declared Climate Home.
The Guardian/Observer’s chief climate clown, John Vidal, announced:
One of the experts at the Conversation, Andrew Hoffman, was so convinced of the vital importance of the Pope’s message that he wrote at least four articles about it, with the usual “academic rigour” that the Conversation is so famous for. “His statement will have a profound impact on the public debate,” declared Hoffmann in the first of these, but by the time of the third article, this became a question: “Will Laudito Si’ [sic, there’s that academic rigour again] offer a similarly transformative way to understand the unprecedented confusion over global scale environmental and social changes that we are creating?”
Later that year, in September, the Pope visited the US and spoke to congress. In his speech, he didn’t mention climate change explicitly, but again enthusiastic self-deluding environment correspondents convinced themselves that he did.
But now, shocking news has emerged: Laudato Si did not, after all, revolutionise the climate debate and galvanise everyone into action, to the dismay of the Guardian:
A new paper published in Climatic Change surveyed US Catholics and non-Catholics, asking them how worried they were about climate change, what their political leanings were, and if they were aware of the pope’s encyclical. The results showed that the pope’s message had no overall effect on concern over climate change, either in Catholics or non-Catholics. But there was an effect: increased polarisation. Those on the left who were encyclical-aware became more concerned about climate change, while those on the right became less concerned. The key figure is here. So well done Pope Francis for increasing division in society.
There’s a sober write-up of the findings from the institute of one of the researchers here, and a less rational one here from climate activist Megan Darby who seems to have invented the idea that “Right-wing Catholics attacked Pope Francis’ credibility”.
So, who could possibly have foreseen that the pope’s article might not in fact “transform” or “have a profound impact on” the climate debate as anticipated by John Vidal or expert academic Andrew Hoffman? Well, quite a few people actually. The first comment on Hoffman’s first post is by Andy Revkin, very much in the climate-concerned camp but rather wiser than Hoffman, who issued the caution
“it’s important not to conclude that moral arguments for action on global warming, even conveyed by a pope, are a world-changing breakthrough.”
Later on in the comments I said that
“The wishful thinking of the climate activist wing of social science is a subject worthy of study in itself. A quick google confirms that this Pope and the previous one have already spoken out about climate change, but curiously no revolution in public opinion took place,”
while Geoff put it thusly:
“How in Gaia’s name is the Pope’s statement on climate change going to “have a profound impact on the public debate”? I mean, you don’t often hear people say: “This Pope Francesco seems a decent chap. I think I’ll change my religion / sexual proclivities / views on the ontological status of the Trinity.” So why should it work for people’s estimates of the climate’s sensitivity to CO2?”