A Prayer for Relief

Who would have thought that one of the most compelling news segments of the year would be aired on, of all things, Fox?

Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s stirring defense of Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical, Laudato Si, on last weekend’s edition of Fox News Sunday was fascinating to watch. With elegance and fearlessness, the Archbishop of Washington, D.C. demolished arguments from climate-change deniers–and may have changed a few minds as well.

If I were a denier, I would absolutely loathe this segment. Wuerl effectively made the case that addressing human-caused climate change is a moral issue, not a political one:

[W]hat the pope is holding up for us is we can’t just close in on ourselves, our own personal interests, our economic or financial interests or political interests. We have to look at this through the moral dimension of, how does this affect everybody on the planet?

Concern for “everybody on the planet” is a concept foreign to climate deniers. One can only imagine how much misspelled hate mail Cardinal Wuerl received for saying those words.

Wuerl pushed back against Jeb Bush’s dismissal of the encyclical, and skillfully ridiculed Rush Limbaugh in response to the fading talk-radio star’s attack on the Pope:

The pope is talking about “What should we be doing?”, not “Here is a political agenda that you must accept.” I think that’s the richness of his contribution to all of this. There is a human dimension to everything we do and that, therefore, carries with it a moral and ethical dimension.

And the pope is simply saying, whether you’re a politician, a financier, an economist, an industrialist, whatever you are, look at the consequences of what you’re doing through the lens of humanity and through the moral obligation to include everyone in the effort to have a truly good and just society…

[With specific regard to Limbaugh,] [w]e’re all allowed to speak our mind even if we don’t have all of the facts, even if we don’t have a clear view of what the other person is saying. We’re all allowed to speak our mind and that’s what [Limbaugh’s] doing.

Host Chris Wallace then spewed a heap of climate-denier talking points, but Wuerl wasn’t having any of it:

Well, I think what [Pope Francis] is saying in the encyclical is we have to — we have to realize that there are these terrible results. He’s not indicating what is the cause of every single disaster around the world, ecological disaster, but he’s saying we need to start looking at this.

I come from western Pennsylvania. I can tell you that strip mining left a disastrous wake. And I think these are the type of things the Holy Father is lifting up for us and saying, we need to look at this because there are human factors in all of these ecological disasters.

Wallace then repeated the argument that climate-denier Bjorn Lomborg has been peddling for years–the idea that taking strong action to reduce carbon pollution will somehow hurt the poor. Wuerl also debunked that one:

I think he’s looking long-term. While he’s saying there’s an urgency to this issue, the urgency is that we begin to talk about it, address it, put our minds together to resolve it. He’s not saying that we have to resolve this tomorrow by doing specific things.

And I think the starting point is for us to remember any time you address a worldwide problem, it’s going to take time to resolve. I think back to the days of the encyclical on human labor in 1891. There were those who rejected it outright saying, if we start treating workers the way the church is asking us, our profits will be cut, our ability to compete will be cut. But we learned over years and over decades, when people thrive, the whole planet thrives.

Wuerl came across in the segment has having far more credibility, coherence and class than Bush, Limbaugh and Wallace combined. That will resonate with the less ideologically charged-up members of the Fox audience. That is something the fossil-fuel industry fears.

As was the case with the pro-carbon-tax segment that aired on Fox Business earlier this month, it’s amazing to see arguments in favor of climate action presented in a somewhat positive light on cable networks that spent years ridiculing the need to reduce carbon emissions. Are things really changing over at the House That Rupert Built? For the sake of our ecology, not to mention our democracy, let’s hope the answer is yes.

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.