The Pope has delivered a very public message to Trump contesting the President’s controversial views on climate change. On May 24th 2017, President Trump and Pope Francis met for the first time in the Vatican City. During their rather awkward meeting (see images of a steely face Pope next to the neon-white smile of the POTUS), the two heads of state discussed peace in the Middle East and other world affairs.
As is customary at the end of such meetings, the pair exchanged gifts. Trump is thought to have given the religious leader books written by Martin Luther King Jr. – a thoughtful gift for such a progressive and visionary leader. The Pope was seen to give Trump a pendant representing peace and unity, along with some of his writings which included a 183 page paper on climate change. This seems a relatively unassuming gift, at least until one takes into consideration the previously expressed opinions of the POTUS.
Trump’s rocky history with climate change goes back as far as his hairline; in 2012 he claimed on Twitter that global warming is a concept ‘created by… the Chinese’, and has also called the phenomenon a hoax on many occasions. Even during his 2016 election campaign, he was verbal in his dismissal of climate change, saying he was ‘not a big believer in man-made climate change’. During the campaign, he also vowed to remove the US from the Paris Agreement signed only a year before by his predecessor Barack Obama. As the scientific evidence for man-made climate change continues to accumulate, many in the international community have condemned Trump for his dismissive views. His brazen ignorance towards the scientific community has brought into question how arguably the world’s greatest superpower will deal with fuel use and CO2 emissions in the coming years.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
One individual who has been vocal in his condemnation of Trump’s views is the Pope, and this isn’t the only issue the two disagree on – the Pope has previously questioned Trump’s Christian credentials due to the President’s stance on immigration and refugees.
Trump’s dismissal of climate change is even more damaging considering the US is the 2nd greatest producer of CO2 in the world, pipped to the post only by China. Shockingly, in 2015, the US produced 1.7 billion tonnes more CO2 that the entire European Union. Scientists predict that if emissions continue at the same rate as is currently seen, irreparable damage will be done to the environment before 2100 – ecosystem collapse and lowland flooding may even be apparent by 2050. The greatest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, especially the US which is also in the top 5 per capita producers, are put under even more pressure than the rest. But when the leader of such a nation refuses to even believe the existence of such an environmental catastrophe, the reality of the issue is even more harrowing.
With all this taken into consideration, the gift given by Pope Francis seems to have a little more politics behind it than may first be presumed. So, what was the religious leader really trying to say with this not-so-subtle dig at Trump’s policies?
In the paper gifted to Trump, the Pope blames humanity for the raising temperatures seen since the 19th Century. The paper also contains a warning to humanity to recognise the consensus of scientists and take climate change seriously. By presenting these concerns to Trump in such a public manner, Francis is essentially putting the ball in the opponent’s park. The eyes of the world will now be on Trump, looking for any indication that he has read and acted upon the Pope’s educated warnings. If Trump fails to accept the true dangers of climate change despite the warnings from the international scientific and political communities, he is at risk of becoming even more alienated from his fellow leaders, especially within Europe.
Failure to stick to the 2ᵒC limit on temperature rise set out in the Paris Agreement would have devastating effects on both ecosystems and economies worldwide. Pope Francis’ gesture can be seen as a striking and slightly embarrassing reminder to Trump that the decisions he makes have a global impact. By urging the POTUS to fully consider the impacts of climate change, Pope Francis has made it clear not only to Trump but also to his supporters nationally and internationally, that their dismissive stance will not stand on the international stage.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I would normally be one of the first in line to dispute the benefits of religion; this is far from an article brown-nosing the Catholic faith. However, with a figurehead such as Pope Francis who calls for the international community to act positively towards the refugee crisis and preaches inclusion and co-existence, who could agree with the trumped-up business man (excuse the pun) who consistently drives his country towards a bygone era of division and negligence?
It is time for Trump to get his priorities straight – he needs to stop undoing years of work put in by the international community to repair the environmental damage done in previous generations. Frankly, I applaud the Pope for calling out Trump in such a public manner, and I hope he and other world leaders continue to do so in the coming months and years.