Critics Say Pope Francis' Climate Change Message Is Not Beneficial For The Poor

Dean Chambers

Pope Francis made it clear how strongly he believes climate change needs to be addressed in his recent encyclical, the Washington Post reports. The Pope paints a dire future in the event humans do not address climate change.

"Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever," Pope Francis wrote, "Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in coming decades."

The primary issue addressed by proponents of combating global warming/climate change is the reduction of our reliance on fossil fuels such as natural gas, coal, oil, and gasoline, and the use of more renewable "green" energy sources such as wind, solar, and the increased use of biofuels in place of gasoline and diesel fuels. In most instances, such as wind power, the renewable sources of energy are far more expensive than energy from fossil fuels. For instance, the electricity generated by the wind power project proposed to be built in Massachusetts between Cape Cod and Nantucket islands, the "Cape Wind" project, would have generated electric power at more than three times the cost of currently generated electric power. If politicians insist on generating more of our electricity from sources like that instead of coal, nuclear, and natural gas, it will tremendously raise our electric power bills and price millions of poor out of an ability to heat their homes and power their basic standard of living, critics of such public policy say.

Since Pope Francis strongly stated addressing climate change is a moral obligation, as Tahelquah Daily Press of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, reported, some have responded to the environmental message of the Pope's encyclical letter with skepticism and opposed the ideas contained on issues related to climate change and global warming.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) disagrees with the Pope and is concerned his words will be exploited by "alarmists" promoting economically destructive policies to combat global warming they believe is caused by human beings. Inhofe has stated humans need to be good stewards of the earth but disagrees with the proposed remedies for global warming.

"We have worked to make these [fossil fuel] resources cleaner and more efficient, and natural gas is a perfect example," Inhofe wrote in a statement. "To unravel this fabric of economic opportunity would create more poverty, not less. Energy is a lifeblood of the modern world, and we cannot ignore that efficient, cost-effective electricity is a means to sufficient health care, employment opportunities, agriculture production, and vitality of life."

Natural gas is one of the least expensive and cleanest ways to generate electricity, the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research recently stated in a report on energy policy and the environment.

"In June 2011, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an independent science and research organization, released a report on technology innovation in electricity generation. The report examined fossil- and nuclear-based technologies, as well as four renewable technologies.[62] EPRI found that burning natural gas was, by far, the cheapest way to generate electricity, and it predicted that gas would continue to provide the lowest-cost option through 2025," the organization explained.

The same report noted that electricity rates are soaring, and this has dire consequences in an economy that remains plagued with high unemployment and high reliance on government assistance programs for the poor and unemployed.

In her 2009 report for the Oak Ridge National Laboratory about the impact of RPS mandates on low-income consumers, Barbara R. Alexander noted as follows.

"The impact of poverty on a household's ability to afford essential utility services is significant. Low-income households have an energy burden (percentage of income that must be spent to keep the heat and lights on) that has increased from 10% to over 25% for those households in the lowest quintile by income over the past decade, reflecting increased prices and essentially flat income for this group. This contrasts with the energy burden of moderate-income households, which is 4% of income on average. Anywhere from 20 to 30% of households in many utility service territories are "low income." The ability of current low income bill payment assistance programs-whether funded through taxes or utility rates-to meet these needs and assure access to affordable electricity service is well documented to be insufficient and likely to be even more so due to the recent economic recession and the downward trend in employment."

The result of such policies is the increased number of households that turn to public assistance programs, such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), for their energy needs, the Wall Street Journal reported. Increased reliance on such programs places a higher and ever increasing tax burden on an already over-taxed American public. In this current recession, millions of Americans are struggling to meet the costs of heating their homes and fueling the necessities of living, as the New York Times has reported.

The LIHEAP program has served millions of citizens nationally, and higher electricity and heating costs could lead many more millions to turn to the program. In FY 2010, in the earlier years of the "Great Recession," 8.1 million households received assistance from LIHEAP, which cost the taxpayers $5.1 billion. While the program costs $3.25 billion while serving 6.7 households in FY 2013, a decrease credited to the sequester, the non-sequester spending on LIHEAP increased to $3.43 billion while serving 6.9 billion households in FT 2014.

In the two years between 2011-12 and 2013-14, the costs of heating oil, natural gas, propane, and electricity -- the most common forms of energy used for heating homes in the winter -- have all increased, as reported by a recent report. Heating oil has increased 37.9 percent from 2009 to 2014 while Natural Gas increased 10.3 percent from 2012 to 2013. Propane costs have gone up 8.9 percent from 2009 to 2014 while electricity has increased 5.2 percent from 2009 to 2014.

There is no doubt a strong push for renewable energy would place an increased burden on the poor, as Professor Bjorn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Business School has illustrated in his recent report. He pointed out how solar and wind energy were subsidized for $60 billion in 2012 and the total benefit to the climate was only $1.4 billion, leading to a net cost of $58.6 billion. He noted how forcing everyone to purchase more expensive energy disproportionately affects the poor since the wealthy can more easily afford to pay for more expensive energy.

"Addressing global warming effectively requires long-term innovation that makes green energy affordable to all," Lomborg wrote. "Until then, wasting enormous sums of money at the expense of the world's poor is no solution at all."

Clearly, just about everyone believes Pope Francis writes about climate change and renewable energy with a strong focus on urging positive progress towards a brighter future, but it is also clear that, until renewable energy sources can compete on the open market, promoting them without sufficient regard for their cost will not result in energy policies beneficial to the poorer citizens here in the U.S. and around the world.

[Photo of Pope Francis by Vincenzo Pinto for AFP/Getty Images.]