Three energy-related ideas for Pope Francis to consider

Pope Francis in a unique position to influence global debate over energy and environment

When Pope Francis issued his climate encyclical earlier this year, I harshly criticized him for being a neo-Luddite technology hater who had it in for the energy industry. Now that the Pope has toned down his views, perhaps the time has come for he and the Catholic Church to play a new, more constructive role in the global debate over energy and the environment.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis released an encyclical calling for drastic measures to combat climate change.

Francis is visiting cities on the American East Coast and on Thursday addressed Congress, the first Pope in history to do so. The plight of the poor is a theme Francis returns to often, and in his speech he said that the “fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially, in its causes.”

Instead of sounding like a liberation theologist, the Pope noted the role of wealth creation and distribution, the right use of natural resources, and “the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable.”

Pope Francis went on to praise business as a “noble vocation” and say that the “common good also includes the Earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to enter into the dialogue with all people about our common home. We need a conversation which includes everyone since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots concern and affect us all.”

The world does, indeed, need a conversation about environmental challenges, energy, and technology and as a popular international figure Pope Francis is in a unique position to foster the necessary dialogue.

Pope Francis
Pope Francis addressing Congress Thursday.

Especially if he continues to hew to a thoughtful, moderate line on those topics, he could act as a check to the hardline environmental groups that appear to have captured the Democratic Party and presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

But the point applies equally to rabid conservative elements in the Republican Party that consider climate change to be utterly bogus and renewable energy a chimera.

Your scribe humbly submits the following ideas for consideration by the Pontiff:

One, the Church has been around for 2,100 years and the Pope could remind both sides of the energy debate that change takes time, often a very long time. And since he has focused on the “right technology” to solve environmental challenges, he could remind us frequently that technical innovation, commercialization, and adoption usually requires decades. This message might serve as a brake to the eco-activists and accelerate the efforts of researchers, corporations, and governments to do everything they can to bring better technology to market quicker.

The acrimonious squabbling between eco-activists and energy industry supporters could use a referee? Why not Pope Francis?

Two, the Catholic Church is a very wealthy institution that includes the Vatican Bank, which invests in a variety of for profit businesses. Perhaps it is time to put that wealth to work in support of Pope Francis’ exhortations by investing some of it in cutting edge technology companies. Could the development of a low cost, high efficiency battery be accelerated by strategic Vatican investment? What about renewable energy technology, even advanced nuclear reactor designs?

Is it time for Pope Francis to put the Church’s money where his mouth is?

Three, on a related note, many investors, CEOs, and business owners are Catholic and presumably might be open to prodding from the Church to put their capital to work in the interests of the “right technology.”

Pope Francis certainly got our attention with Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home. Since he exhorted the world to act on the environment, energy, and technology, it is not unreasonable for the world to ask the same of the Pontiff and his Church.

Acting as a thoughtful, middle ground voice of reason in the global debate, investing in innovation, and encouraging those under his pastorship to do the same – three reasonable and practical things Pope Francis can do to advance the cause of environmental stewardship and the alleviation of poverty.

Time to step up, Your Holiness.