The Vatican’s Green Radical

Diplomatic soft power is the pope’s specialty.

Any pope’s. A bishop of Rome commands his own 2,000-year-old social media infrastructure. His word rolls out to 5,100 or so bishops, 415,000 priests, and, from there, the estimated 1.2 billion Roman Catholics. That’s 17 percent of the human population, scattered among 220,000 parishes. Such a following generates considerable sway that resonates far beyond the faithful.

Francis hopes to harness that sway to marshal people to his causes. By naming himself after nature-loving champion of the poor Saint Francis of Assisi, Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio tacitly promised to light up the Vatican’s vast global network with ambition and urgency, particularly when it comes to the environment, poverty, and the intersection of the two. Take Pope Francis’s 184-page encyclical letter “Laudato Si’,” or “Praised Be to You,” which he dispatched to his bishops in June. “The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air, and in all forms of life,” Francis wrote.

To Francis, climate change is a market failure, one stemming from the fact that the waste from fossil fuel combustion, carbon dioxide, imposes costs on society, such as heat, droughts, floods, and more-powerful storms, that aren’t reflected in prices over time. “What the pope is saying is the market economy needs to operate within a moral framework,” says Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Francis is attempting to do what no environmentalist, politician, corporate sustainability officer, or, for that matter, pope has previously been able to achieve. That is, to make climate change personal, spiritual, and moral.

(by Eric Roston, Bloomberg Business)