“My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness.” So thought Michelangelo and, having spent years painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, he probably had a clearer idea than most. Perhaps similar thoughts influenced Pope Francis as he prepared his encyclical on the environment. Due to be published on 18th June, an Italian magazine L’Espresso released a 192 page version yesterday which, although the Vatican claimed was not the final text, sees the Pope advocating a drastic reduction emissions while hitting out against economic powers that are opposing efforts to combat climate change.
With Poland ever sensitive to the thoughts of the Pope, Polish daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita has reminded its readers that Poland, as one of the largest producers of coal, is also a major source of carbon dioxide emissions. And while the encyclical suggests that those countries which produce large quantities of coal are destroying the environment, Francisan Stanisław Jaromi, head of the St. Francis Ecology Movement offered some comfort, saying that the encyclical is certainly not directed against hard working miners but is rather an attempt to turn the attention of governments to the sector, the promised restructuring and technologies to lower the emissions having not appeared and not much else having happened.
As we saw here in Red Line, coal remains a sensitive issue in Poland. Coal mining produces approximately 55 per cent of the primary energy consumption and 75 per cent of the electricity generation. As a coal producer, Poland is the second only to Germany in Europe, and is the ninth-largest coal producer in the world. Almost all the coal mined in Poland is used in Poland. In January the Polish prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, rescinded plans to restructure the industry in the face of strong opposition from mining unions, who have political clout and whom many see as an obstacle to genuine moves to alter Poland’s energy mix. And yet a new report by WISE (Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies – Polish Coal: Quo Vadis) concludes that coal mining is a dying industry which already has only marginal influence on the national economy.
There is no suggestion that Ewa Kopacz sought during her meeting with the Pope in the Vatican last Friday to draw the same red lines over emissions as she had earlier with the EU in Brussels. Instead she gave him a Polish seedling “from which grow a beautiful Polish apple” and an amber decorated silver plate. The Pope gave her a medal depicting Saint Martin, a defender of the poor, a reminder of the responsibility of those in positions of power to take care of the poor.
During the 30 minute meeting they discussed Ukraine, immigration and issues related to the antics of the self- styled “Islamic State” (that’s rampaging murderers and barbarians in reality) in Iraq and Syria. “I am very impressed by Pope Francis,” Kopacz said. “I asked the pope to pray for Poles and also took Poles’ best wishes,” she said. She also asked the pope to try to visit Warsaw in 2016 after the Global Youth Days in Kraków, which were also discussed.
While common sense dictates that we use the earth’s resources sensibly, one might wonder whether the Pope is entirely wise to wade into the great climate debate in this way. The Church has traditionally been slow to adopt positions on scientific matters and by taking the position which the encyclical appears to on anthropogenic global warming he risks involving the Church in unnecessary controversy when there are far more pressing matters, such as dealing with errant clergy, defending the Faith, protecting the dignity of man, fighting the extinguishing of Christianity in its ancient Middle East home, and so on. Already Rick Santorum, a candidate for United States President in 2016, has suggested that the Pope “stick to defending traditional morality.”
Be that as it may, Caring for the environment is the means to the end, not the end itself. It seems a rather gloomy view for a Pope to take, that God would have created human beings in the first place if all they were going to do is to muck up the planet. Perhaps he would have been wiser to have remembered the words of Cardinal Baronius: “The Bible teaches us how to go to Heaven, not how the heavens go.”