Oil Industry Allies Paint Pope As Bad Catholic For Acting On Climate Change

Does the pope's support for action on climate change contradict Catholic principles? Climate science deniers want you to think so -- and conservative media are running with their myths. Here are the facts:

Fossil Fuel-Funded Groups Attempt To Undermine Pope's Action On Climate Change

Vatican Held Climate Change Summit In Advance Of Papal Encyclical. On April 28, the Vatican held a climate summit between religious authorities and climate and policy experts that aimed to produce a “joint statement on the moral and religious imperative of dealing with climate change in the context of sustainable development, highlighting the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people - especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations.” The summit is a precursor to Pope Francis' forthcoming encyclical -- an authoritative papal teaching -- on climate change, which is expected to make similar connections between climate action and helping the poor. [Climate summit program, accessed 4/28/15; The Guardian, 4/28/15]

Climate Change-Denying Groups Attempted To Counter The Climate Summit.  In response to the Vatican's climate summit, the Heartland Institute sent their own delegation to Rome to “inform Pope Francis of the truth about climate science: There is no global warming crisis!” The Heartland Institute, joined by members of Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) and the Cornwall Alliance, attempted to dissuade the Pope from lending his moral authority to the climate change crisis. Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast said in a press release:

Humans are not causing a climate crisis on God's Green Earth - in fact, they are fulfilling their Biblical duty to protect and use it for the benefit of humanity. Though Pope Francis's heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations' unscientific agenda on the climate. [Heartland.org, 4/24/15; The New American, 4/25/15]

The Heartland Institute And CFACT Have Received Funding From Major Oil Companies. As Media Matters previously documented, the Heartland Institute received over $700,000 from Exxon Mobil. Heartland has also received significant funding from organizations with ties to the oil billionaire Koch Brothers, including the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation and Donors Trust, which has been partially funded by the David Koch-chaired Americans for Prosperity Foundation. Additionally, The New York Times reported that CFACT has received “hundreds of thousands of dollars from the ExxonMobil Foundation.” According to the Capital Research Center, CFACT has also received at least $60,500 from Chevron. [Media Matters, 2/3/15Media Matters, 3/8/15; The New York Times4/10/09; Capital Research Center, archived May 2005]

MYTH: Climate Action Violates Catholic Principles By Harming The Poor

  • The National Review published an op-ed by the Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels, who suggested that acting on climate change “can cause so much harm to so many, especially the poor and downtrodden.” [National Review, 4/27/15]
  • Breitbart's James Delingpole expressed support for those who argue that “the very last thing [Pope Francis] should be doing if he means to help the world's poor is to join the vainglorious mission to 'combat climate change.'” [Breitbart, 4/27/15]
  • In a column posted on Townhall.com, Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow's (CFACT) Paul Driessen asserted that “climate-related restrictions on energy harm poor families far more than climate change will.” [Townhall.com, 4/27/15]
  • Marc Morano wrote in his climate denial blog Climate Depot that “the Pope is aligning himself with a UN agenda that will limit development for billions of the world's desperately poor residents.” [Climate Depot, 4/24/15]
  • Heritage Foundation visiting fellow Steve Moore wrote in a Forbes op-ed: "[The] embrace of governmental action that underlies many of the Pope's statements would not lift up the poor, but condemn them to more poverty and less freedom. Consider the climate change fanatics' agenda. They seek cap and trade policies, carbon taxes, regulations against the use of cheap and abundant fossil fuels. These are all regressive forms of taxation that hurt the poor among us the most." [Forbes, 1/5/15]

FACT: Poorer Nations Are Least Responsible For Climate Change, But Most Vulnerable To Its Impacts

U.N. Report: Climate Change Impacts Amplified In Poor Societies. The Center for Global Development compiled some portions of the United Nations' report on the state of climate science that clarify the risks disproportionately faced by the poor (emphasis original):

  • Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence) [...] Risks are amplified for those lacking essential infrastructure and services or living in poor-quality housing and exposed areas
  • Until mid-century, projected climate change will impact human health mainly by exacerbating health problems that already exist (very high confidence). Throughout the 21st century, climate change is expected to lead to increases in ill-health in many regions and especially in developing countries with low income, as compared to a baseline without climate change (high confidence)
  • Climate-change impacts are expected to exacerbate poverty in most developing countries and create new poverty pockets in countries with increasing inequality, in both developed and developing countries. In urban and rural areas, wage-labor-dependent poor households that are net buyers of food are expected to be particularly affected due to food price increases, including in regions with high food insecurity and high inequality (particularly in Africa), although the agricultural self-employed could benefit. Insurance programs, social protection measures, and disaster risk management may enhance long-term livelihood resilience among poor and marginalized people, if policies address poverty and multidimensional inequalities [Center for Global Development, 4/1/14]

World Health Organization: Children Living In Poor Countries Most Vulnerable To Health Risks Of Climate Change. The World Health Organization highlighted the ways that climate change will have a disproportionate impact on people in poor and developing countries:

Children - in particular, children living in poor countries - are among the most vulnerable to the resulting health risks and will be exposed longer to the health consequences.

Areas with weak health infrastructure - mostly in developing countries - will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.  [WHO, January 2010]

Study Shows Poorer Countries That Emit Least CO2 Will Be Most Impacted By Climate Change. In March 2011, science writer John Cook highlighted a study published in Global Ecology and Biogeography that analyzed which regions are most vulnerable to climate change impacts, and created a map comparing this to national carbon dioxide emissions per capita:


Cook wrote:

To estimate the impact of climate change on people, scientists from McGill University, Montreal, developed a new metric called Climate Demography Vulnerability Index (CDVI). This takes into account how regional climate will change as well as how much local population is expected to grow. They incorporated this index into a global map and found highly vulnerable regions included central South America, the Middle East and both eastern and southern Africa. Less vulnerable regions were largely in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere. ... This research put into perspective those who try to delay climate action, arguing that 'CO2 limits will hurt the poor.'" [Huffington Post, 3/16/11]

NRDC: Low-Income Communities In U.S. Helped By Clean Energy Shift. A recent report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that low-income communities in the United States face disproportionate health impacts from fossil fuels, and that shifting to low carbon energy sources can lessen these impacts:

[T]he shift to clean energy offers a chance to prevent the worst impacts of climate change, while lessening the toll that dirty fossil fuels are currently wreaking on some of our most vulnerable communities.


Nationally, the Clean Power Plan's efforts to curtail carbon pollution will help prevent up to 6,600 premature deaths, 150,000 asthma attacks in children, 3,300 heart attacks, 2,800 hospital admissions, and 490,000 missed work/school days annually in the United States. A sizable impact will be felt by those with the least resources and least access to quality healthcare -- low- and fixed-income Americans; in part because low-income communities are stuck living closer to dirty power plants. [NRDC, accessed 4/29/15]

MYTH: Climate Advocates Oppose Catholic Principles By Supporting “Widespread Population Control”

  • Marc Morano wrote that one of the key points he hoped to convey to Pope Francis was that supporters of climate change action are “enemies of traditional Catholic moral principles. These activists are pro-population control and have bought into 'population bomb' hype. Some climate activists have even called for genetically altering humans to fight global warming.” [Climate Depot, 4/24/15]
  • Tim Ball wrote in the blog Watts Up With That that the “IPCC climate objective contradicts Catholic doctrine,” saying its ultimate objective is “reducing and controlling population.” [Watts Up With That, 2/1/15]
  • Fox News' Doug McKelway reported that, by taking action on climate change, Pope Francis was aligning himself with “some church enemies,” including “environmental extremists who favor widespread population control.” [Fox News, Special Report, 1/2/15 via Media Matters

FACT: There Are Many Ways To Address Overpopulation That Are Consistent With The Catholic Church

Overpopulation And Climate Change Are Interconnected. The most recent report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that population growth is one of “the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuels.” [IPCC summary for policymakers, 11/7/14]

Addressing Overpopulation Is Consistent With Catholic Faith -- And Pope Francis Has Spoken About It Before. The global population is expected to increase by about two billion by 2050, reaching a total of over nine billion people, which poses inherent environmental challenges. This issue was recently addressed by Pope Francis, who urged his followers to practice “responsible parenthood” to avoid having too many children. [National Geographic, accessed 4/30/15; Catholic News Service, 1/19/15]

Reuters: Pope Francis Supports Natural Family Planning Methods. Reuters reported: “Catholics should not feel they have to breed 'like rabbits' because of the Church's ban on contraception, Pope Francis said on Monday, suggesting approved natural family planning methods.” [Reuters, 1/19/15]

Los Angeles Times: Pope Francis' “Support Of Smaller Families” May Bring Population Growth Back Into Climate Change Discussion. A Los Angeles Times editorial stated:

Earlier this month, Pope Francis made news when he said that not only was climate change real, but it was mostly man-made. Then, last week, he said that couples do not need to breed “like rabbits” but rather should plan their families responsibly -- albeit without the use of modern contraception.

Though the pope did not directly link the two issues, climate scientists and population experts sat up and took notice. That's because for years, they have quietly discussed the links between population growth and global warming, all too aware of the sensitive nature of the topic [...] The pope's support of smaller families might help that discussion come back into the light, where it belongs. [Los Angeles Times, 1/25/15]

Los Angeles Times: There Are Many Ways To Address Issue “Without Draconian Or Involuntary Measures.” The Times editorial further noted that countries can address overpopulation by providing education for girls:

[P]rogress can be made without draconian or involuntary measures. According to Karen Hardee, director of the Evidence Project for the nonprofit Population Council, developing nations are already beginning to recognize the usefulness of family planning in preventing hunger and crowding and in combating climate change. She cites Rwanda, Ethiopia and Malawi as countries that are taking the first steps on their own.

But they and other nations need assistance on two fronts: education for girls and access to free or affordable family-planning services. The benefit of even minimal education is startling: Women in developing countries who have had a year or more of schooling give birth to an average of three children; with no schooling, the number is 4.5. Add more years of schooling and the number of births drops further. Women who have attended school also give birth later in life to healthier children. [Los Angeles Times, 1/25/15]

WorldWatch Institute: Advancing Women's Rights And Education Key To Addressing Overpopulation. A WorldWatch Institute 2010 report noted that the vast increase of greenhouse gas emissions since the late 1700s stems partly from “the more than sevenfold increase in human numbers.” The report stated that one of the policies that should be considered to slow population growth is providing education for women, which “reduces desired family size and fertility,” and that policymakers can also “ease social pressures on women to have early and frequent pregnancies” by working to “bring women into equal standing with men.” The report concluded that “concerted action to improve women's status, maternal and child health” are needed. [WorldWatch Institute, November 2010]

Center for Global Development: Female Education Provides “Climate-Related Benefits.” A working paper from the Center for Global Development stated that female education is a financially viable way to address climate change, noting that it provides “climate-related benefits” through its impact on “fertility, population growth, and carbon emissions.” [Center for Global Development, 11/2/10]

MYTH: Environmentalists' Desire To Rein In Our Use Of Fossil Fuels Is Un-Catholic

  • Breitbart amplified the Cornwall Alliance's open letter to Pope Francis in an article titled “Why God Is Not A Warmist.” Breitbart's Delingpole wrote that the letter “lay[s] out the theological arguments against global warming catastrophism,” and highlighted the letter's claim that the environmental movement seeks to have human beings “live, and [be] treated, as if they were mere animals, which need to submit to nature rather than exercising the dominium God gave them in the beginning (Genesis 1:28).” [Breitbart, 4/27/15]
  • Heartland Institute wrote in a widely-cited press release: “Humans are not causing a climate crisis on God's Green Earth - in fact, they are fulfilling their Biblical duty to protect and use it for the benefit of humanity.” [Heartland.org, 4/24/15]
  • The religious magazine First Things published an article which stated: “Francis serves an environmentalist mindset that, unlike the traditional ethos of conservation, views man as a parasite,” and continued, "[o]rthodox environmentalism resents human sovereignty over the earth we inhabit. It begrudges ingenuity in the transactions we invent with nature and with each other." [First Things, 1/5/15]

FACT: Environmental Stewardship Is An Important Catholic Value

Pope Francis: Acting On Climate Change Is A “Serious Ethical And Moral Responsibility.” Pope Francis spoke to negotiators at a climate summit in Lima, Peru last December, and said their decisions will “affect all of humanity, especially the poorest and future generations.” He added that “it represents a serious ethical and moral responsibility.” [Catholic News Service, 12/11/14]

Pope Francis Promoted Environmental Stewardship: “If We Destroy Creation, Creation Will Destroy Us!” In an address to an audience in Rome last year, Pope Francis said:

Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it and we use it for the benefit of all, always with great respect and gratitude.


Custody of Creation is custody of God's gift to us and it is also a way of saying thank you to God. I am the master of Creation but to carry it forward I will never destroy your gift. And this should be our attitude towards Creation. Safeguard Creation. Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us! Never forget this! [Vatican Radio, 5/21/14]

Bishops From Every Continent Calling For Climate Action, To Help The “Great Number Of Suffering People Worldwide.” In December, senior bishops from every continent signed an appeal calling for an “end to the fossil fuel era” to help mitigate climate change. The Bishops wrote that climate change has had a “devastating impact on Nature itself, on food security, health and migration, [and has] led to a great number of suffering people worldwide.” The statement added that the current financial system “has failed to put the human being and the common good at the heart of the economy.” [Catholic Bishops' statement via Blue Virginia, accessed 4/28/15]

U.S. Conference Of Catholic Bishops Official: In Response To Climate Change, “We Can Look To Our Rich Catholic Teaching ... To Care For God's Creation.” Catholic newspaper OSV Newsweekly quoted Cecilia Calvo, the environmental justice program coordinator for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who reacted to the United Nations' climate change report by saying: “In looking at our response to climate change, we can look to our rich Catholic teaching which calls upon us to care for God's creation. ... I think it's very clear from the (U.N.) working group report that the impacts of climate change are going to be very serious.” [OSV Newsweekly, 4/9/14]

Majority Of Christians Prioritize Environmental Stewardship Over Human Dominion. A November 2014 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute found that 57 percent of American Christians “espouse a stewardship mindset, believing that humans are called by God to live responsibly with plants, animals and earthly resources,” as reported in Deseret News in an article titled: “A majority of Christians believe God has called them to care for the world.” The article reported that the poll further found "[d]ominion thinking, which dominated global Christianity throughout the last four centuries and prioritizes human desires, is linked to just 35 percent of those surveyed." [Deseret News, 2/11/15]


MYTH: The Pope Is Doing A Disservice To Catholics By Acting On “Unsettled Science”

  • The Heartland Institute's Joe Bast said: “Though Pope Francis's heart is surely in the right place, he would do his flock and the world a disservice by putting his moral authority behind the United Nations' unscientific agenda on the climate. ... We are bringing the Vatican a message of truth for all with open ears: The science is not settled, and global warming is not a crisis.” [Heartland.org, 4/24/15]
  • Breitbart echoed the Heartland Institute by claiming that “it really isn't the job of the Pope to pronounce on science.” [Breitbart, 4/27/15]
  • In a letter to the pope, the Cornwall Alliance denied that fossil fuel use will “cause catastrophic warming,” and warned the pope that “many well-meaning moral and religious leaders risk offering solutions based on misleading science.” The letter also claimed that arguments for environmental stewardship are often based on “highly speculative and theory-laden conclusions presented as the assured results of science.” [Cornwall Alliance open letter, 4/27/15]
  • Robert George, a conservative Catholic professor at Princeton University, wrote: “Pope Francis does not know whether, or to what extent, the climate changes (in various directions) of the past several decades are anthropogenic - and God is not going to tell him.” [First Things, 1/3/15]

FACT: The Science Of Climate Change Is Settled

Study: 97 Percent Of Peer-Reviewed Scientific Literature Acknowledges Manmade Climate Change. A peer-reviewed paper published at Environmental Research Letters found that the vast majority of the scientific literature that stated a position on climate change acknowledged that human activity is driving it:

We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991-2011 matching the topics 'global climate change' or 'global warming'. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5%). Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. [Environmental Research Letters, 5/15/13]

Nearly 200 Scientific Organizations Acknowledge Human-Caused Warming. NASA states that “most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing” the position that recent global warming is very likely due to human activity, including “nearly 200 worldwide scientific organizations.” [National Aeronautics and Space Administration, accessed 4/29/15]

Scientists As Certain That Human Activities Are Driving Global Warming As They Are That Cigarettes Can Kill. The Associated Press reported that the “president of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, Ralph Cicerone, and more than a dozen other scientists contacted by the AP” agreed that the degree of certainty seen in the IPCC report “is most similar to the confidence scientists have in the decades' worth of evidence that cigarettes are deadly.” [Associated Press, 9/24/13]