On the 24th of September, thousands participated in the “Moral Action on Climate” rally just outside the security zone as the Pope addressed Congress. The Pontiff asked Congress directly to abolish the death penalty and to show compassion for immigrants. He more generally called on the world to “limit and direct technology,” and also to “put technology at the service of another type of progress.” This is not the message Wall Street and extractive industries want to hear at the US Capitol.
Representatives of many groups in DC showed up at the Moral Action on Climate rally. Beyond Extreme Energy’s hunger strikers from the FERC vigil were present in particular. Also present was Climate First!, noted for a series of actions in DC against mountaintop removal coal and Keystone XL tar sands pipeline actions. A group from Montgomery County, MD was also represented.
Before the Pope spoke there were a few sour notes. Entirely too many of the “Big Green” groups presented their speakers as being CEO’s. Worst of all,one of the rally speakers was from the World Bank’s “Connect4Climate” campaign. The Italian government and the World Bank are claiming with this campaign to be green and for combating climate change. The world Bank president Jim Yong Kim now talks of supporting fossil fuel divestment and even a carbon tax, but the World Bank invested $3.4 billion in fossil fuel projects in 2014, a 22% increase from the previous year. Also in 2015, the IMF and World Bank staged a concert during their Spring Meetings whose entire purpose was greenwash. Certainly groups they founded like Connect4Climate or wnich now collaborate with them like Earth Day Network should not have been allowed on stage.
Another sour note is the historical blind spot of the Catholic Church to the harm done to the poor by demands that women not use birth control. At least two people brought signs calling for an end to Catholic prohibitions on birth control. One of these signs specifically identified the holder as Catholic. Opposition to contraception is in direct conflict with Pope Francis’s agendas on both poverty and climate change. If all the reductions in human birthrates triggered by the empowerment of women in the last 50 years were reversed, it could become impossible to do anything about climate change. Certainly there would be a lot more refugees in the world as economies collapsed under the strain, resulting in both wars and famines. Some blame a drought that forced Syrians into the cities for triggering social tensions that caused the explosion in that country and subsequent diaspora of Syrian refugees. On the other hand, it is not known if the Pope would be able to unilaterally end the historical opposition to birth control by the Catholic Church and retain his position.
For his part, the Pope carefully avoided any direct mention of the abortion/choice issue, possibly because any mention of abortion or especially of Planned Parenthood before the US Congress on his part would risk triggering a “government” shutdown. Such a shutdown of social programs would do substantial harm to the poor, in direct conflict with the Pope’s agenda of addressing poverty issues. Thus he seemed to be very careful on this one.
The Pope not once but twice called on all countries to abolish the death penalty. Making this statement from the US Capitol is quite pointed. In world totals for numbers of executions the US ranks 5th highest, behind China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. In the US the death penalty is known for arbitrary application, usually against the poor. Certainly Volkswagen executives do not have to worry about the gas chamber no matter how many people get lung cancer from their dirty diesel engines. The US is also known for extrajudicial executions, usually by drone attack. Anwar Al-Awlaki is probably the best known victim of these executions. Speaking of executions and wars, the Pope also singled out the international arms industry for tough criticism.
The participants in Beyond Extreme Energy’s Fast for No New Permits showed up
A few people sought to remind the Pope and the Catholic Chuch that opposition to birth control is incompatable with the Pope’s climate change and poverty reduction agendas