Pope Francis recently referred to climate change as a sin in a message he gave on the world day of prayer. Research fellow at the Acton Institute, Dylan Pahman, had a lot to say about this in a new article at The Stream. He commented on Francis’ message as well as analyzing the effects on the poor of some of the policy prescriptions that Francis has praised. He says:
What seems to be lost on these hierarchs is what to do about the problem. The pope praises the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, but similar statements have not proven effective in combating climate change. What has proven effective? Industrialization and free markets. Really.
In the short run, of course, industrialization is the problem. A quick glance at a global pollution map reveals that newly-industrialized China and India are some of the worst offenders. However, so long as we truly care about the poor, we must not overlook the fact that these countries are where the greatest progress in overcoming poverty has happened since the 1970s. Hundreds of millions of people have escaped crushing poverty through the industrialization and increased liberalization of their economies.
Pahman makes an interesting analogy, comparing widespread poverty to a house fire. While there is no universal solution to ending world poverty, we do know there are certain conditions that cultivate human flourishing and allow the poorest people to improve their lives. But are we willing to forget about the world’s impoverished in an attempt to protect the environment? Back to Pahman:
Think of widespread human poverty as a fire in your house. You’d be willing to accept some water damage to put it out. Only then will you start the cleanup. Once people are no longer malnourished, plagued with disease, or unable to own and develop their own property, formerly poor countries will themselves demand more cautious stewardship, and they will now actually have the wealth to do so. It will no longer be a luxury they can’t afford.
Toward the end of the article, Pahman suggests that if we really want to make an impact on helping the poor while remaining good stewards of the environment, we should turn to economics:
Now, perhaps all Francis wants is more people coming to confession. If so, then this might help. But if he or the patriarch really want to make a difference to our environmental future without recommending policies that would compound the problems of the poor, they may want to spend a little more time studying economics. Then they might more clearly see the “web of incentives” (such as provide better jobs for their people) that prevent developing nations from meeting stringent environmental standards. For that matter, they might be more merciful in their judgments of those who, while still working to create the wealth they need to overcome poverty and implement the reforms necessary to root out corruption, will inevitably increase environmental damage and global temperatures in the short term.
You can read Pahman’s full article on The Stream here.