On Friday morning, Pope Francis addressed the United Nations General Assembly with an assertive call for world leaders to fight for environmental justice. Chiding world powers on their greed and exploitation of natural resources for “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity”, the pontiff carried out a stern provocation for leaders to act as stewards of the earth.
Yet despite the Pope’s powerful call-to-action, will global powers join together to eradicate our “culture of waste”? Political history speaks for itself in that powers will fight to the death for economic self-interests yet throw away defense for the environment. Several powers and leaders have spoken out with grand statements and gestures but their underlying message, unfortunately, highlights again more of their self-interests than humanity’s.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tried to liken herself to Pope Francis in an op-ed with the National Catholic Reporter. Again to capitalize on the Pope’s immense popularity and win favor with Catholic Democrats and environmentalists, Clinton praised his teachings on climate change and expressed a deep urgency to answer Pope Francis’ call to act.
“Pope Francis is right. All countries and all people are responsible for preventing the worst impacts of climate change,” Clinton writes. “But countries like the United States have a particular role. We are rich, powerful, and blessed with many advantages. We must lead the charge.”
Yet her message wrestles with sincerity, becoming more of a campaign pitch than a heartfelt response to battle climate change.
China —the world’s largest polluter — took more of a practical, hands-on approach in answering the Pope’s call for environmental stewardship, unveiling a new climate policy initiative to help poor countries fight global warming. Combining with the pontiff’s radical message to eradicate poverty, China plans to commit $3.1 billion to help poorer countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and better adapt to climate change. The environmental plan seems, at first glance, impressive, but China is known more for their enticing plans yet failing to chuck out much in terms of performance. So while the agenda seems dauntingly admirable, the details remain unclear and the results uncertain.
"There's all these accounting questions. First: 'What counts?' Then: 'How do you add the numbers up?' It's hard to know exactly what $3.1 billion means until you know the details." For climate economists, "There's no consensus around those things," Billy Pizer, a fellow at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, said in an interview with Mother Jones.
Clinton, China and the astounding mass of politicians and countries yet to speak out will certainly come forward with their environmental support, but their actions speak louder to the exaggerated image they hope to typify and thus exploit for self-gain rather than genuinely instituting effective change. These are words and ideas but the solutions hang heavy.