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In Tweeting Frenzy, Pope Calls for Global Conversation on the Environment

In no fewer than 17 tweets as of this printing, Pope Francis has begun e-blasting excerpts from his new encyclical letter on environmental stewardship, calling above all for an “honest debate” on the situation of the environment and what society can do about it.

Usually the Pontiff sends out just a tweet a day in nine languages to his more than 20 million followers, offering an inspirational thought for personal devotion. On Thursday, however, he has multiplied that number, barraging his fans with pithy quotes from the 192-page letter on human ecology.

Studies show that Pope Francis is the most influential person on Twitter for the last three years running, and his influence is growing steadily. Each of his millions of Tweets is retweeted an average of almost 10 thousand times, many times more than any other Tweeter.

In his series of messages Thursday, the Pope mostly avoided repeating his more controversial statements from the encyclical letter, and stuck instead to a consensus-building message of common responsibility for the environment and “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of the planet.”

The Pope also spoke of an “intimate relationship” between the poor and the fragility of the planet, a truth borne out by the close correlation between the most polluted places on the planet with global poverty.

Among the “25 most polluted places on earth,” in fact, more than one quarter turn out to be in the ex-Soviet republics, with Russia itself at the head with three of the world’s most polluted spots. China, India, Indonesia, Iran and the Pope’s native Argentina also figure in the list, with the US and Europe conspicuous by their absence.

The Pope is undoubtedly correct in his tweeted statement that “deterioration of the environment and of society affect the most vulnerable people on the planet.”

Francis has also included a tweet saying that population growth should not be blamed for the planet’s problems, which will offer some consolation to those worried about the Pope’s elbow-rubbing with known population control advocates during the preparation of the encyclical, such as Jeffrey Sachs and UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon.

In point of fact, the Pope spills a fair amount of ink on the question of abortion in the encyclical, explicitly stating that concern for the protection of nature is simply “incompatible with the justification of abortion.”

Francis denounces the “forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of ‘reproductive health,’” and slams population control activists, asserting instead that “demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development.”

If Pope Francis was looking for a environmental debate, he has got what he wanted, with opinions flying all over cyberspace. His own Twitter machine itself will guarantee that millions around the globe will be confronted with questions on what shape the planet is in and what, if anything, is to be done about it.

Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.

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