When I heard that Trump had decided to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, I immediately thought about an event I attended at the Vatican last September on Laudato si’ and the implementation of the accord. During that event, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, made the following statement:
Unless rich countries agree to reduce the global warming, more people will die. This to me is a criminal genocide, when the poor and the weak are exposed [to] violent nature created by unrestricted use of fossil fuels by rich countries.
In the United States, climate change is often seen as a niche concern of the elites. Environmental activists are mocked for their “apocalyptic” tone. But Cardinal Bo is not an American, an elitist, or an environmental activist. He is a bishop who lives the values of the Gospel, and who sees on a daily basis what the environmental crisis is doing to his people. This is how churchmen from the developing world talk. But Americans are sheltered from this reality. They do not see the effects of climate change on the lives of the world’s poorest people—not in the distant future, but right now.
By using a word like “genocide,” Cardinal Bo is signaling that this is about as morally serious as it gets. In the famous list of infamies in Gaudium et spes, genocide pretty much tops the list. By this reckoning, undermining the Paris Agreement is signing the death warrants of untold numbers of people, the vast majority of them poor. Some of these people are alive today; some have yet to be born. But make no mistake: if you support Trump on this, you are formally cooperating with evil.
This brings me to the shameful reaction of some high-profile American Catholics. Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum have all come out in support of Trump’s decision. So have many right-wing Catholic activists who claim to be pro-life. By so doing, they are explicitly repudiating the encyclical Laudato si’, whose publication was timed to influence the negotiations that led to the Paris Agreement. If you repudiate Paris, you repudiate Francis. You also turn your back on the rest of the world and on the scientific consensus. (Callista Gingrich is set to become the new ambassador to the Holy See. Does she agree with her husband about Laudato si’ and the Paris climate accord? She ought to tell us where she stands.)