A two-day Vatican workshop on climate change and human trafficking came to a close Wednesday after a like-minded group of some 60 mayors from around the world met with Church officials and United Nations representatives to discuss a coordinated response to environmental challenges.
The United States was heavily represented at the meeting, with ten mayors present as well as California governor Jerry Brown. The bizarre thing about the American delegation, however, was the absence of a single member of the Republican Party, as if the Democrats spoke authoritatively for the United States as far as ecology is concerned.
Where, for instance, was Republican Mayor Greg Ballard of Indianapolis, a decorated veteran of the Marines and an active proponent of environmental awareness?
In 2012, Ballard made Indianapolis the first major city in the United States to pledge to convert its entire municipal non-police fleet to electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2025. He also enacted programs to transition the city’s more than 200 heavy fleet vehicles (snow plows, trash trucks, fire engines) to compressed natural gas, a viable non-oil fuel alternative today. Wouldn’t he have been a natural choice for a Vatican conference on the environment?
Where was Republican Mayor Robert Cluck of Arlington, Texas, who throughout his political career has championed environmental initiatives and has served with such organizations as the Texas Cities Clean Air Coalition and the North Texas Clean Air Coalition? Aren’t these sufficient merits to earn him a place at the table?
Where was Republican Mayor Richard Berry of Albuquerque, an ardent defender of environmental stewardship, who oversaw major environmental improvements to the diesel vehicles in the city’s fleets in the Department of Solid Waste and the Fire Department?
And the list goes on and on. Where were Republican Mayors Betsy Price of Fort Worth, who kicked off significant environmental changes earlier this year; Mick Cornett of Oklahoma City, who radically altered his city’s landscape by increasing green spaces and establishing pedestrian-only areas; and Kevin Faulconer of San Diego—himself an environmental campaigner?
Was it just dumb luck that kept Republicans away from the Vatican workshop, or was there some other agenda afoot?
The mastermind behind the two Vatican climate workshops was progressive Argentine Bishop Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences who has built up something of a reputation as one who likes to stack the deck in his favor. At a climate change meeting held in April this year in the Vatican, Sánchez notoriously purged the conference line-up of any “heterodox” scholars and silenced those who tried to make their unwelcome voices heard.
An egregious case of such purging came shortly before the April conference, when Sánchez “disinvited” French climate researcher Philippe de Larminat from attending the symposium when he found out that the scholar believes that solar activity rather than greenhouse gases are responsible for global warming.
Just five days before the event, de Larminat received an email claiming there was no space left—which arrived after other scientists said that he should not attend, according to The Washington Post.
De Larminat, who has been called “one of the most eminent French scholars in the field,” told the newspaper: “They did not want to hear an off note.”
Bishop Sánchez’s distrust of Republicans is also a matter of public record.
When doubts were raised regarding his decision to invite known opponents of Catholic doctrine on abortion and population control to speak at the April climate-change conference, Sánchez spontaneously lashed out at “the Tea Party and all those whose income derives from oil” for instigating criticism of his actions, despite the fact that there were no evident ties between the climate-change skeptics that wished to participate in the workshop and either the Tea Party or the oil industry.
By weeding out opposition, Sánchez’s carefully orchestrated meetings may serve to produce unanimous declarations of agreement among the homogeneous participants, but they do nothing to advance an open discussion of the issues.
In his recent encyclical on environmental stewardship, Laudato Si, Pope Francis called for “forthright and honest debate” on ecological questions and human responsibility, declaring that the Church “knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.”
The Pope is ill served by well-choreographed meetings of yes-men who are unwilling to engage the environmental doubts and questions that trouble many in the world today.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome