A new study done by researchers at Yale and George Mason universities has found that Pope Francis is influencing the conversation about global warming in the United States – especially among Catholics. It says:

In this report we conclude that, over the past six months, Americans –especially Catholic Americans –became more engaged in and concerned about global warming. Furthermore, our findings suggest that the Pope’s teachings about global warming contributed to an increase in public engagement on the issue, and influenced the conversation about global warming in America; we refer to this as The Francis Effect.

The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication surveyed the same group of 905 people in the spring – ahead of the June release of the pope’s encyclical Laudato Si' – and in October, several weeks after Francis completed his journey to the U.S. (The sample included 222 Catholics.)

According the study, 35 percent of Catholics surveyed said the pope’s stance on global warming had influenced their views on the issue. Most of them said it was just “a little” (23 percent of Catholics). Six percent said “a lot” and another 6 percent, “some.”  Fifty percent said “not at all.”

From the spring to the fall, there was a substantial increase in the number of Catholics who said they were “certain” global warming is occurring (up 13 percentage points to 44 percent, and up 6 points for all Americans to 40 percent).

Noting that Francis has critiqued Western consumption patterns and framed global warming as a moral concern, the study finds that Catholics became more likely to see global warming as a major moral issue (up from 18 percent in the spring to 23 percent in the fall) or a lifestyle issue (up from 35 percent to 44 percent).

But on a key point Francis emphasized – that global warming is a consequence of human activity – there was no significant change among Catholics. Fifty-six percent (down one point) said they believed it was a result of human activity, and another 6 percent saw it as a result of a human activity and natural causes.

Polls can be no more than a snapshot of a moment in time, and so it can’t be said if Francis has established a trend that will lead Catholics to greater acceptance of the scientific consensus about the human impact on climate change. But I suggest that is the case -- the first step being to accept global warming as a serious concern.

The study suggests that “the full impact of the Pope’s teachings may continue to unfold over time, especially if the Pope continues to speak on the topic, if Bishops, Cardinals and priests amplify the teachings in their dioceses, and if Catholics talk to each other and to non-Catholic friends about the issue.”

There is some evidence in the study that the message is being repeated in parishes. Among Catholics who are churchgoers, more than 1 in 4  reported there was at least a little discussion of global warming in their house of worship.




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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