SALT LAKE CITY -- The debate over climate change gained an unlikely voice Thursday from Pope Francis. In a nearly 200-page encyclical, Francis called climate change a crisis that political leaders have failed to address for too long.
“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” Francis wrote.
The open letter criticized the naysayers of climate change, who argue it is not a human-caused problem. Francis argued that the international community “lack leadership” to move away from the needs of special interest groups and instead focus on the needs of the planet.
It’s a message environmental experts in Utah believe can have a lasting impact, especially on those who doubt the problem.
“The pope makes clear that this is a moral issue, not a political issue. A conservative, a true conservative, will embrace conservation. The pope says that,” said Lincoln Davies, a law professor at the University of Utah.
Davies’ focus is on energy policy, including the role religion and faith can play in it. For him, the encyclical keyed in on a universal religious belief that the earth is a gift from God and people must look after it.
“(It’s) maybe, really sort of a flagship moment for how the world may begin to address climate change,” said Davies. “He is speaking not just to Catholics and not just to Christians, but people throughout the world.”
However, the impact with lawmakers remains to be seen. Conservatives have historically been critical of the notion that climate change is a man-made issue, or that it is even an issue at all.
At the Utah legislature in 2013, a fire suppression strategy bill was killed by lawmakers because it mentioned the words “climate change.”
“I think there’s still some issues with the data. I’m concerned with some of those things, but there’s some obvious things that can we do,” said Rep. Dave Lifferth, R-Eagle Mountain.
Lifferth has never shied away from the issue in the past, doubting the science many argue supports climate change concerns. However, he found truth in the Pope’s remarks.
“There are things that I definitely agree with there about how we need to care for our earth. No one wants to breathe bad air, no one wants to drink dirty water,” Lifferth said, “We need to take proper steps to care for these very valuable resources.”