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Pope Francis says climate change is mostly man-made. Will anyone care?

Pope Francis knows what's up.
Pope Francis knows what's up.
Buda Mendes/Getty Images

In case you were waiting for the pope to weigh in on climate change, here it is.

On Thursday, Pope Francis told reporters on a plane from Sri Lanka to Manila that he believed humans were largely responsible for global warming. "I don't know if it is all (man's fault) but the majority is. For the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature," he said, according to Reuters.

On that view, he's in good company: Climate scientists say they are 95 percent certain that human influence has been the dominant cause of global warming since 1950. They're about as sure of this as they are that cigarette smoke causes cancer. (See here for an explanation of why.)

Francis also wants the world to do more to address the issue. He wasn't a big fan of the agreement that came out of last month's UN climate talks in Lima — in which every country agreed to put forward pledges to constrain carbon emissions, albeit entirely voluntary pledges.

"The Peru meeting was nothing much, it disappointed me," Francis said. "I think there was a lack of courage. They stopped at a certain point. Let's hope the delegates in Paris will be more courageous and move forward with this." By "Paris," he means the big UN summit at Paris in December, where countries are hoping to hammer out a final global accord on curtailing greenhouse-gas emissions and responding to climate change.

As Andrew Freedman points out at Mashable, the pope's comments are coming at a moment when the US Senate is debating whether to approve a non-binding resolution that says humans are responsible for global warming. Many Republicans still seem to be cagey about agreeing to even this basic premise.

Does it matter what Pope Francis says?

So will Francis's words change anyone's mind on climate change? The honest answer is that it's unclear. For what it's worth, surveys in the US have found that white Catholics tend to be among the least concerned groups about climate change, whereas Hispanic Catholics are some of the most concerned. Here's a PRRI poll from November 2014:


But, of course, Catholics don't just automatically follow the pope's lead on every last political question. (Gay marriage is a perfect example.)

In the meantime, Francis is preparing an encyclical that will lay out his views on climate change and ecology more fully this June. We don't know exactly what it will say, but his comments today seemed to give a small preview. "We have, in a sense, lorded it over nature, over Sister Earth, over Mother Earth," Francis said. "I think man has gone too far. Thank God that today there are voices that are speaking out about this."

Further reading: Back in December, Chris Mooney wrote a good mini-profile of what he called the new "pro-science" pope, who has previously appeared to endorse "two major scientific concepts that have often given religious believers big trouble: the Big Bang, and evolution."

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