Jeff Sadow: We must follow Pope Francis’ calls against materialism as a basis for society _lowres

Pope Francis attends a meeting with members of the Italian Food Bank Network charity organization in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican, Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

In the wake of Pope Francis’ visit to the United States, a few organizations with Louisiana ties held out the Holy Father’s commentary on climate change as something that state politicians should heed. Indeed, policy-makers should — but not in the way those scolders intended.

These groups include Catholic dissidents Pax Christi, the environmental group Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the Alliance for Affordable Energy, whose members represent renewable energy interests at the expense of consumers and taxpayers. The organizations suggested that Louisiana leaders should follow a radical environmental agenda shaped by Francis’ assumption that human-driven climate change is a big problem. In his encyclical Laudato si, Francis wrote that “scientific studies” tend to show some climate warming is due to “human activity.”

Of course, Francis has a deep spiritual faith and by those words also displays adherence to the faith of human-driven climate change. No science has verified the existence of human-driven climate change or found proof of some underlying cause that would compel the kind of massive government intervention so many environmentalists favor. The lack of supporting data continues to confound those who advance this belief, with some resorting to misrepresentation to “prove” the unprovable.

Even if human activity were to cause significant changes in climate, public policy solutions need not entail the enormously expensive and oppressive government solutions designed to prevent it that these organizations advocate. Other parties such as the Copenhagen Consensus have detailed inexpensive solutions that adapt to a slightly warmed world, easily mitigating harmful effects.

That Francis would go for the most extreme climate change scenario hook, line and sinker perhaps should not surprise us. He became pope not because he has the towering mind of his two immediate predecessors but because of his empathy and utter lack of ego, which made him a prime candidate to combat the sclerosis within the Church bureaucracy that had allowed financial and sex abuse scandals to fester.

Because Francis is more intuitive than intellectual, inconsistencies appear in his reasoning. For example, while he calls for significant restructuring of commerce and government as one solution to the perceived global climate crisis, such moves would so wound free enterprise economies and state sovereignties that their implementation would end up hurting rather than helping the poor who are supposed to be the focus of his papacy. The groups behind the dogmatic letter to Louisiana’s leaders seem equally oblivious to the consequences of such sweeping policy changes.

But Francis’ words on climate change stressed the challenges of consumption, too. Like his predecessors, Francis correctly understands that too many people engage in thoughtless consumption, without which there would be no “throwaway culture” to fuel environmental challenges. This sentiment is what all Louisiana policy-makers of all faiths should attend to.

Officials must discourage citizens from living for today without regard to using resources meant for others. For example, they must recognize and correct present welfare policy that encourages able-bodied individuals to consume instead of using these benefits to better their futures. Policy too often needlessly takes money from earners, which makes them less likely to engage in charitable giving on their own. The liberal philosophy of income redistribution ends up subsidizing the very materialism that Francis preaches against. By addressing this problem, we can take steps to follow Francis’ call against materialism, thus adhering to the truth of his argument.

Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political of political science at Louisiana State University Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics (www.between-lines.com) and, when the Louisiana Legislature is in session, another about legislation in it (www.laleglog.com). Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate. Write to him at jeffsadowtheadvocate@yahoo.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.