What everyone wants to know, of course, is whether the pope takes sides in our most polarizing debate. And he clearly does. After this document, there’s no doubting where Francis stands in the great argument of our time.[Hat tip to Fr. D. Jones]
But I don’t mean the argument between liberalism and conservatism. I mean the argument between dynamists and catastrophists.
Dynamists are people who see 21st-century modernity as a basically successful civilization advancing toward a future that’s better than the past. They do not deny that problems exist, but they believe we can innovate our way through them while staying on an ever-richer, ever-more-liberated course.
Dynamists of the left tend to put their faith in technocratic government; dynamists of the right, in the genius of free markets. But both assume that modernity is a success story whose best days are ahead.
Catastrophists, on the other hand, see a global civilization that for all its achievements is becoming more atomized and balkanized, more morally bankrupt, more environmentally despoiled. What’s more, they believe that things cannot go on as they are: That the trajectory we’re on will end in crisis, disaster, dégringolade.
Like dynamists, catastrophists can be on the left or right, stressing different agents of our imminent demise. But they’re united in believing that current arrangements are foredoomed, and that only a true revolution can save us.
This is Pope Francis’ position, and the controlling theme of his encyclical. It includes, as many liberals hoped and certain conservatives feared, a call to action against climate change, which will no doubt cause Republicans to squirm during political campaigns to come.
But reading “Laudato Si’ ” simply as a case for taking climate change seriously misses the depth of its critique — which extends to the whole “technological paradigm” of our civilization, all the ways (economic and cultural) that we live now.
... the encyclical’s most pungent lines are apocalyptic: “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.”
... its urgency, sweep, and apocalyptic flavor may make “Laudato Si’ ” more immediately influential, more likely to make both audiences think anew.
However, its catastrophism also leaves this pope more open to empirical criticism. For instance, he doesn’t grapple sufficiently with evidence that the global poor have become steadily less poor under precisely the world system he decries — a reality that has complicated implications for environmentalism.
Nor are questions related to population growth successfully resolved....
Finally, it’s possible to believe that climate change is happening while doubting that it makes “the present world system ... certainly unsustainable,” as the pope suggests.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Ross Douthat, "Pope Francis’ Call to Action Goes Beyond the Environment" (New York Times, June 20, 2015):