The United States will be represented exclusively by members of the Democratic Party at an upcoming Vatican workshop on climate change and the role of local governments, to be held next Tuesday.
Ten mayors of American cities and Governor Jerry Brown of California, all of whom are members of the Democratic Party, were invited by the Vatican to attend the event, but no Republicans will be present.
The workshop, titled “Modern Slavery and Climate Change: The Commitment of the Cities,” will explore the connection between climate change and new forms of slavery. The official website of the workshop laments the “fact” that “global warming is one of the causes of poverty and forced migration, which are breeding grounds for human trafficking, forced labour, prostitution and organ trafficking.”
The ten U.S. mayors attending the event are Bill de Blasio of New York, Charlie Hales of Portland (OR), Marty Walsh of Boston, Ed Murray of Seattle, Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis, Matt Appelbaum of Boulder, William Bell of Birmingham, Sam Liccardo of San José and Ed Lee of San Francisco.
The United States will be heavily represented at the workshop, with its eleven politicians making up nearly 20 percent of the total participants. There will be no one participating from some of the countries with the worst record of polluting the environment, including Russia, China and the former Soviet Republics.
New York’s Mayor de Blasio said that he will deliver a speech describing his administration’s environmental plan for New York City, known as OneNYC, which connects environmental issues to income inequality.
The Mayors will also be joined by California governor Jerry Brown in addressing the workshop. Brown, who as a young man considered becoming a priest and spent time in a Jesuit seminary, now opposed the Church on multiple matters, including abortion, gay marriage and a host of LGBTQ issues.
“This unprecedented gathering of global leaders is a wake-up call to face up to the common threats of climate change and human exploitation,” Brown stated.
The Vatican tapped Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia economist and a longtime supporter of de Blasio’s, to help organize the workshop. He said on Wednesday that Francis was “extremely excited about Mayor de Blasio coming.”
“I’m thrilled that the mayor will present OneNYC, and the challenges and the approaches of New York City, to dozens of other mayors around the world,” Sachs added. “It’s really going to have a galvanizing effect.”
According to news reports, Mayor Matt Appelbaum’s invitation to this event comes directly out of the city’s participation in the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance, a group of 17 international cities seen as “vanguard cities” for their commitment to achieving deep carbon reductions.
Tuesday’s workshop is the first of two back-to-back meetings organized by the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. On Wednesday, the Academy teams up with the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network on Cities and the Sustainable Development Agenda to offer another workshop, “Prosperity, People and Planet in the Cities.”
The meetings aim at galvanizing support for UN climate change programs. The Vatican website notes that the workshops are taking place just 2 months before the climate change meeting in New York and 4 months before the climate negotiations in Paris. This event, it says, “will provide a crucial opportunity for city leaders to start to consider clear, quantifiable commitments which demonstrate their dedication to a fairer, more sustainable world.”
The Vatican point man behind the workshops is Argentinian Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, who came under fire in May for offering a Vatican platform for known proponents of abortion and population control like Jeffrey Sachs and UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon, whom Sánchez invited to speak at the Vatican in an earlier conference on climate change.
When questioned about the decision to enlist speakers so at odds with Catholic teaching, Sánchez diverted the blame for the controversy to the Tea Party and the oil industry, and suggested he was not responsible because “I am only the Chancellor.”
Sánchez was also criticized for the homogeneous composition of the May workshop and his efforts to silence anyone who brought a vision of climate change at variance with the official party line.
At a press conference in the Vatican Wednesday, Sánchez expressed his sanguine view that “the world now has within reach the scientific knowledge, technological tools and financial means to reverse anthropogenic climate change, while ending extreme poverty at the same time through solutions that include renewable and low carbon emission energy sources.” He did not, however, mention what these cheap, low-carbon energy sources might be.
He also said that he would urge the mayors to commit to promoting the empowerment of their poor citizens, “reducing their exposure to extreme weather events caused by radical environmental, economic and social instabilities.”
The Associated Press reported that “Francis has tasked his fellow Argentine, Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, to use his Pontifical Academy of the Sciences to engage a broad cross-section of society.”
Unfortunately, that “cross-section” does not seem to extend beyond the Democratic Party.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome