Following introductory remarks from President Obama, Pope Francis praised the president’s initiative to reduce air pollution at the White House’s welcome ceremony Wednesday morning.
“Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to our future generation,” the pope said.
“When it comes to the care of our common home we are living at a critical moment in history,” he added, noting humans still have time to affect change that will bring about a sustainable future.
“To use a telling phrase of the Rev. Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it,” he said.
The pope’s remarks were met with applause.
“Holy Father, you remind us that we have a sacred obligation to protect our planet—God’s magnificent gift to us,” President Obama said prior to the pope taking the stage. “We support your call to all world leaders to support the communities most vulnerable to a changing climate and to come together to preserve our precious world for future generations.”
In June, a 180-page encyclical regarding the state of the environment was released by the Vatican. In it, Pope Francis calls climate change “one of the principal challenges facing humanity,” which, if not allayed, will impact developing countries the worst. These areas are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services, like agriculture and fishing, which are subject to whims of the climate.
“Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change,” the pope writes. “However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced.”
In August, the president unveiled the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets the first standards limiting carbon emissions from U.S. power plants. The plan’s goal is to reduce carbon emissions by 32% by 2030, with 2005’s emissions used as a basepoint.
The Guardian on Tuesday reported the pope’s U.S. visit “has reinforced hopes that one of the last great bastions of climate change denial—the U.S. Congress—may be on the verge of crumbling.”
Just a week prior to the pope’s visit, 11 House Republicans signed a resolution calling for action on climate change, breaking with Republican leadership.
Thursday morning, the pope will address a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress. But not all will be present. Congressman Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), a Catholic, wrote an editorial piece for Townhall.com explaining his boycott of the pope’s address. He opined that if the pope “stuck to standard Christian theology” he would be the first in line to attend the address. However, if the brunt of the address focuses on “a climate that has been changing since first created in Genesis,” Rep. Gosar wrote he will not attend.
“More troubling is the fact that this climate change talk has adopted all of the socialist talking points, wrapped false science and ideology into ‘climate justice’ and is being presented to guilt people into leftist policies,” he writes.
Thursday’s address is scheduled for 9:20 a.m.