Climate Change and the Pope: Five US Budget Policies That Deserve Another Look

Pope Francis

Photo of Pope Francis by Global Panorama courtesy of Flickr.

In a much-anticipated encyclical (statement) yesterday, Pope Francis added his considerable voice to the chorus calling for bold, immediate action on climate change. The Pope blazed new ground with his call for new energy and economic policies to address the threats of climate change.

Where does the United States stand on climate change right now? Recall a few recent federal budget decisions (or in one case, non-decision) that illustrate our current policies:

  1. boost for spending on fossil energy research and development by two percent over 2014, or 64 percent since 2012, up to $571 million in 2015.
  2. Short changing renewable energy research, providing $380 million less than the President requested.
  3. A 2015 budget rider that exempted cattle farmers from reporting and permitting requirements for greenhouse gas and methane emissions (cattle are a major source of methane emissions).
  4. Another budget rider that prohibited the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing the phase out of energy-wasting incandescent light bulbs that was signed into law by President George W. Bush as an energy efficiency measure.
  5. Major policy and budget proposals to address climate change, for instance by instituting a carbon tax, have been political non-starters, while our existing gasoline tax has not been increased even to keep pace with inflation for over twenty years.

As the Pope wrote, “All is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.” 

The U.S. will participate in a United Nations summit on climate change in December. With more than half of Americans saying that effects of climate change have already begun, we may finally be ready to start doing something about it.