Boys in a PA coal mine, 1911/ Lewis Hine

House Speaker Paul Ryan is opposing the Paris climate agreement partly on grounds that it would be disastrous for the poor, whom he says would suffer the most from higher energy costs. He said in a statment today that

The abundant, low-cost energy that we have unlocked will now be shut in the ground, eliminating the economic growth and jobs that come with development. The result will be higher energy costs for Americans—which will be especially painful for the poorest among us.

Ryan likes to say he's deeply influenced by Catholic social teaching, and some bishops have praised him for this. But his claim in this instance obviously clashes with Pope Francis's Laudato si'. The pope hears a much different cry of the poor: He makes  the case that  climate change induced by the burning of fossil fuels is particularly hazardous for the world's poor. Here are some of the relevant passages:

-- "Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths." (No. 20)

-- "Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change ..." (No. 25)

-- "The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming." (No. 51)

-- "The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions." (No. 175)


Paul Moses is the author, most recently, of The Italian Squad: The True Story of the Immigrant Cops Who Fought the Rise of the Mafia (NYU Press, 2023). He is a contributing writer. Twitter: @PaulBMoses.

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