Religious Left Preps ‘Grassroots’ Strategy for Pope Francis’ Environmental Encyclical
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Religious Left Preps ‘Grassroots’ Strategy for Pope Francis’ Environmental Encyclical

Pope Francis
Pope Francis

If I were to publicly announce a Bible study meeting at the local public library, one can imagine the hue and cry from secularists fretting about a looming right-wing theocratic takeover of America. Change the subject to Pope Francis’ upcoming encyclical on climate change, however, and all you hear are crickets chirping from the separation of church and state crowd. (See comments on the encyclical here from Acton’s Kishore Jayabalan)

It’s interesting to note that – when not attempting to eliminate religious considerations altogether from the public square – progressive groups leap at the opportunity to embrace a religious leader when he or she shows sympathy for their pet causes. Already one can anticipate the swoon of secularists in anticipation of Pope Francis weighing in on climate change, a document they’ll more than likely never read in full but will selectively quote to buttress their liberal interpretations.

The fact remains that no one – outside the Vatican at least – yet knows what Pope Francis will say about climate change in his upcoming encyclical. But that hasn’t stopped the Citizens Climate Lobby, a national astro-turfing outfit with local “grassroots” chapters throughout the United States, including one in your writer’s own backyard in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan. Last weekend, CCL local chapters gathered to listen to national broadcast presentations by Lonnie Ellis, associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, and Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt, the book upon which the recently released film documentary is based. The CCL chapter in my hometown congregated in the local public library annex to listen to the podcast recorded earlier that afternoon. I’m pleased to report our Republic has yet to establish a religion, but I’m not of the sort who worries about such things.

Taking the Bait

Since the editor of my local paper (wherein, it should be divulged, I author a weekly conservative column) is in the tank for climate-change alarmism, an opinion piece ostensibly written by the local CCL organizer in the Morning Sun advertised the event on its editorial page:

More and more religious groups and leaders from the Evangelical Climate Network, to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to Pope Francis and the Catholic Church, are speaking up on the moral imperative to protect the purity and sanctity of God’s creation from the desecration of global climate change. Most people understand and appreciate that message. Trashing creation, however unintentionally, and leaving the chaos to our children and grandchildren is not good….

It’s good that people of faith and people of goodwill everywhere share that deep desire. The stewardship that it will take to make effective changes in time requires we mobilize efforts in our places of worship, in our service clubs, in every walk of our lives on a national scale like the one it took to win WWII. Many religious groups and other organizations have begun the work; perhaps yours is waiting for you to get it started….

Moral momentum is building. Now is the time; we are the people. We the people, being called to be stewards of this precious gift that we have received, must rise to the greatest challenge of the 21st century. –Marie Koper, Mt. Pleasant [Michigan] Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Readers will forgive me for taking Ms. Koper’s bait and attending the event incognito. It’s not every day one reads of the Church’s call for environmental stewardship in the secular press. My interest was piqued by the faint whiff of an assertion this was but a recent development, which, Acton readers know all too well, is demonstrably anything but the case. There I was, however, being lectured by Ellis that Pope Francis’ as yet unreleased encyclical would be a boon for environmentalists and the religious left. “People don’t know what an encyclical is but they’re excited about this one,” he said. “The debate on climate change is so ripe,” he continued, and the encyclical may just be the “tool to raise moral issues for the future.”

Reminding attendees that Pope Francis has an “approval rating politicians would kill for,” Ellis says the pontiff’s message will be “potentially a game-changer”—as was every development reported during the meeting from Oreskes’ “game-changing” claim for the film adaptation of her book to Ms. Koper’s assertion her CCL local’s upcoming efforts also will be “game-changing.” Your writer can attest to the meeting’s game-changing effects on his Lenten vow to give up snacking; the chocolate-chip cookies finally broke down my resistance after the third pass, and were delicious.

Those attending the meeting were encouraged by Ellis’ overview of what may or may not be in the encyclical. They nodded to each other knowingly between bites of cookie whenever Ellis mentioned the moral requirement of protecting the environment. “We harm humanity when we harm the environment,” he said, adding we should adopt an economics that includes nature rather than excludes it. All this is about “care for God’s creation” and “stewardship’s proper role.” Not exactly a news flash. One would be hard-pressed to find anything contradicting these non-revelations in Catholic writings.

Amplify ‘Grassroots’ Moral Messaging

Ellis perceives tremendous marketing and messaging opportunities deriving from Pope Francis’ encyclical and his visit to the United States later this year. Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will announce its finalized plan for regulating emissions from power plants this summer, which Ellis says is also “the start of the presidential primary debates.” Not only will this messaging be directed at the “people who want to burn fossil fuels without limit,” he said, but those sitting on the fence regarding human-caused climate change as well. This latter category, according to Ellis, includes those who believe Fox News commentators who call the Pope “a Latin American liberal,” which elicited howls of derisive laughter from many and knowing nods and smirks from others who don’t know Catholicism from chocolate chip cookies, but know for certain they despise the Faux News Network.

Ellis continued with his recommended brand of messaging: “Prudence is the wisdom to act now,” he said, “We don’t have to know everything to act now.” In other words, Just ignore anyone who holds a different opinion regardless the scientific basis for their skepticism. Echoing the “97 percent scientific consensus” canard, Ellis referenced the World Health Organization’s year 2000 claim that 150,000 individuals die each year due to climate change. “We’ve got to tell a story,” he said. “It’s about people…. We have to offer a lot of hope,” he said. “It’s a big deal and we have a solution.”

Other aspects of the CCL and CCC messaging campaign will be shaped to “amplify the moral message” of combating climate change, said Ellis. He encouraged CCL groups to further their contacts with church leaders and grassroots groups, as well as leverage photo opportunities with members of the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops showing local impacts of climate change. He emphasized the effectiveness of LTEs (letters to the editor), and the availability of an “LTE Tool Kit” to enable a deluge of astro-turfed contributions to local newspapers throughout the country.

The CCL local meeting I attended wrapped up by addressing how they should engage “deniers” in the local press. At this point I nearly broke cover to challenge such a crass, insensitive accusation, and one lobbed by a local clergyman to boot in violation of the organization’s second core belief “in respect for all viewpoints, even for those who would oppose us.” Perhaps I took his comment too seriously, as I’m one of the skeptics who weighs-in occasionally on the matter. The good pastor was reminded that “millions of dollars” funded the “opposition,” but no mention was made of the fact that CCL’s parent organization is “one of the highest income nonprofits.” Nor was mention made of the millions of dollars donated to anti-fossil fuel (re: climate-change) groups by Nathaniel Simons’ Sea Change outfit each year – usually between $45 million and $55 million, up to 40 percent of those donations derive from anonymous offshore accounts or that Simons is invested heavily in renewable energy schemes.

One thing is for certain: The publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change – expected in the weeks ahead and to be followed by an address at the United Nations this fall – will open the floodgates of carefully orchestrated letters and opinion pieces from “grassroots” organizations that will claim the moral high ground based on whatever Francis writes. Any opposition will be denigrated as immoral and better funded than the climate-change activists, which is patently untrue. This means the lowly grassroots CCL and likeminded church and environmental groups will be rebutting and trolling my newspaper columns well into the foreseeable future. I’m already missing those cookies, though.

Bruce Edward Walker

has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. He was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News from 2010-2012. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2011 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past five years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Flint, Mich., with his wife Katherine.