Pope Francis Is Concerned About Climate Change. Do U.S. Catholics Care?

Pope Francis has frequently spoken about climate change during his decadelong leadership of the Roman Catholic Church. In 2015, he devoted an entire encyclical to the matter, citing scientific consensus that the Earth is warming due to human activity. He predicted “serious consequences for all of us” if current trends continue.

Despite Francis’ outspokenness on the subject, not all Catholics in the United States share his concerns, and their views vary by political affiliation, race and ethnicity, and age.

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While 82% of Catholics who are Democrats or lean toward the Democratic Party say global climate change is an extremely or very serious problem, just a quarter of Republican or Republican-leaning Catholics say the same, according to a 2022 Pew Research Center survey.

When it comes to race and ethnicity, 71% of Hispanic Catholics see climate change as an extremely or very serious problem, compared with 49% of White, non-Hispanic Catholics. (There were not enough Black or Asian Catholics in the 2022 survey to analyze separately.)

In addition, Catholics ages 18 to 49 are somewhat more likely than Catholics ages 50 and older to express a high level of concern about climate change (61% vs. 53%).

Broadly speaking, Catholics are no more likely than Americans overall to view climate change as a serious problem. An identical share in each group say global climate change is either an extremely or very serious problem (57%).

But views among Catholics differ, reflecting similar splits in the wider U.S. population. U.S. adults who are 49 or younger, Democratic, or identify as a race or ethnicity other than non-Hispanic White are generally more likely than those who are 50 or older, Republican, or White to express concern about climate change.

Among U.S. adults overall, opinion about climate change is strongly tied to political partisanship. Democrats and Democratic leaners are far more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say that global climate change is an extremely or very serious problem (83% vs. 25%). This gap underlies much of the apparent differences in views among religious groups, including Catholics. Generally speaking, U.S. Catholics are politically evenly divided. But Catholics who are White or older are far more likely than those who are Hispanic or younger to be Republican.

Partisan and demographic differences in Catholics’ views of climate change extend to other environment-related topics, too. For example, just over half of Catholics (54%) say the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity – in line with the pope’s stance. A quarter say it is mostly warming due to natural patterns, while 9% say there is no solid evidence the planet is getting warmer. Catholics who are Democratic, younger or Hispanic are far more likely than those who are Republican, older or White to say the Earth is mostly warming due to human activity.

In addition to asking Americans about their own views on climate change, the 2022 Center survey asked respondents how much they hear about the topic in sermons.

Among those who attend religious services at least monthly, U.S. Catholics indicate that climate change is not discussed frequently from the pulpit. About one-in-ten (8%) say there is a great deal or quite a bit of discussion on climate change in sermons, while 50% say there is either some or a little discussion of it. About four-in-ten (41%) regular Mass attenders say there is no discussion of climate change.

Overall, 58% of Catholic service attenders say there is at least a little discussion of climate change in sermons, similar to the share of mainline Protestant attenders (62%), and much higher than the share of evangelical Protestant attenders who report this (40%).

Among Catholics who attend Mass at least monthly, 36% say they have heard at least a little about climate change in sermons and that those sermons always or often express the view that “we have a duty to care for God’s creation.” Smaller shares say sermons at their congregation always or often express “support for actions to limit the effects of climate change” (23%); “concern that policies aimed at reducing climate change give too much power to the government” (9%); or “the view that we don’t need to worry about climate change” (8%).

UN Urges World Leaders To Do More To Curtail Warming

Pressure keeps building on increasingly anxious world leaders to ratchet up efforts to fight climate change. There’s more of it coming this week in one of the highest-profile forums of all — the United Nations.

For the second time in four days, this time out of U.N. headquarters in New York, leaders will hear pleas to make deeper cuts of emissions of heat-trapping gases and give poorer countries more money to develop cleaner energy and adapt to the worsening impacts of climate change. “I’m not desperate, but I’m tremendously worried,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told The Associated Press in a weekend interview. “We are on the verge of the abyss and we cannot afford a step in the wrong direction.”

Climate-changes-UNSo on Monday, Guterres and United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson are hosting a closed-door session with 35 to 40 world leaders to get countries to do more leading up to the huge climate negotiations in Scotland in six weeks. Those negotiations in the fall are designed to be the next step after the 2015 Paris climate agreement. And all this comes after Friday, when U.S. President Joe Biden convened a private forum on climate to coax leaders to act now. “We are rapidly running out of time,” Guterres said at Biden’s forum. “There is a high risk of failure” of negotiations in Glasgow.

This week’s focus on climate change comes at the end of another summer of disasters related to extreme weather, including devastating wildfires in the western United States, deadly flooding in the U.S., China and Europe, a drumbeat of killer tropical cyclones worldwide and unprecedented heat waves everywhere. Achieving some kind of success in emission-cut pledges or financial help during the week of U.N. sessions would ease the path to an agreement in Glasgow, just as early announcements of pollution curbs did in 2015, especially those from China and the United States, experts said. Now those two nations are key again. But, Guterres said, their relationship is “totally dysfunctional.”

Nigel Purvis, a former U.S. State Department climate negotiator and CEO of the private firm Climate Advisers, said the political forces going into Glasgow don’t look as optimistic as they did four months ago after a Biden virtual climate summit. But, he says, there is still hope. Countries like China, the world’s top carbon emitter, have to strengthen their Paris pledges to cut carbon pollution, while rich nations like the United States that did increase their emissions promises need to do more financially to help poorer countries.

“The Glasgow meeting is not shaping up to be as well politically prepared as the Paris conference was in 2015,” Purvis said. And Pete Ogden, vice president of the United Nations Foundation for Energy and Climate, cited “worrying mistrust between nations at a time when greater solidarity is needed.” As the world’s leaders gather, activists, other government leaders and business officials gather in New York City for Climate Week, a giant cheerleading session for action that coincides with the high-level U.N. meeting. And throughout the week the push is on the rich nations, the G-20, to do more.

“It is true that the G-20 countries bear the biggest part of the responsibility for carbon emissions. And in that regard, of course it is absolutely crucial that we see them accelerating in a very important way their actions,” U.N. climate conference chief Patricia Espinosa said Friday as her agency announced that emission pledges for the Scotland conference were falling far short of the Paris goals. The most stringent one seeks to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. That translates to about 0.4 degree Celsius (0.7 degrees Fahrenheit) from now because of warming that’s already happened.

A UN report on Friday showed that current pledges to cut carbon emissions set the world on a path toward 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.9 degrees Fahrenheit) of warming since the pre-industrial era. That shoots way past even the weaker Paris goal of limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). “That is catastrophic,” Guterres said in the interview. “The world could not live with a 2.7-degree increase in temperature.” The overall goal is to have net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of the 21st century. That refers to a moment when the world’s economies are putting the same amount of carbon dioxide into the air as plants and oceans take out of it, thus not adding to global warming.

Guterres is pushing for rich nations to fulfill their longtime pledges of $100 billion a year in climate aid to poor nations, with at least half of that going to help them cope with the impacts of global warming. So far, the world is falling about $75 billion a year short, according to a new study by Oxfam. Funding to cope with climate change’s impacts fell 25% last year for small island nations, “the most vulnerable of the vulnerable,” he said. Under the Paris agreement, every five years the nations of the world must come up with even more stringent emission cuts and more funding for the poorer nations to develop cleaner energy systems and adapt to climate change.

While the leaders convene for the U.N. meetings, activists, business leaders and lower-level government officials will be part of the cheerleading in a “climate week” series of events. Planners include big name corporations announcing billions of dollars worth of commitments to fighting climate change, lots of talk by big names such as Bill Gates about climate solutions, and even all seven late-night U.S. talk show hosts focusing on climate change Wednesday night. “You’ve got the world leaders there, and so you can remind them about climate and get them focused on it” said Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group , which is coordinating climate week.

What counts most is what happens in six weeks in Glasgow, says Jonathan Overpeck, dean of environment at the University of Michigan, “But,” he said, “the more that can be agreed upon early, the easier it will be to get the commitments that are needed to put an end to climate change. … We’re not yet on an emissions reductions path that is safe for our planet and its people.”

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