By Jason Miller, FAN Director of Campaigns and Development
I read with dismay Fr. Matthew Schneider’s recent piece in Crux, where he considers the question of whether using oil pipelines in the United States is morally licit. In the course of his piece, Fr. Schneider commits a “Black or White” logical fallacy by assuming that the only options are either oil pipelines or using trucks to transport oil across the country. Although he uses the Pope’s words to back up his claim, the reality is that the Pope opposes this false dichotomy, and in fact challenges all of us to commit to ‘Caring for Our Common Home.’
In addressing the intent of Laudato Si, Fr. Schneider brings up an age-old tension: who exactly is the Pope speaking to when he comments on an issue of the day? In his encyclical, Pope Francis specifically mentions that he is addressing not only the entire Church, but “all people of goodwill.” In Laudato Si, Pope Francis is addressing the entire world. Rather than acknowledge the fact that Laudato Si is intended for a worldwide audience, Fr. Schneider uses the Pope’s statements to paint a very U.S.- centric view of fossil fuel use that ignores the effects that the hyper-industrialization of the first world has inflicted on the Global South.
When the Pope speaks of renewable energy being a work in progress, he’s acknowledging that in many parts of the world, the technology is not yet advanced enough to make renewable energy widely available. However, here in the United States the price of solar energy is dropping, and it is a growth industry that is already outpacing several fossil fuels. While oil pipelines may have at one time been necessary infrastructure, there is no reason why new oil pipelines should be built in the United States today. Fr. Schneider cites the importance of oil transport to our economy; however, the Keystone XL pipeline will transport the oil straight out of the country for use in overseas markets, and the project only creates 35 permanent jobs. In other words, there is no domestic benefit from the Keystone XL Pipeline. The Dakota Access Pipeline, the other pipeline mentioned by Fr. Schneider by name, would greatly impact the water supply of Native peoples, who have been systematically oppressed by the United States government since our nation began. The Dakota Access pipeline would be yet another injustice against a group of people that have suffered greatly for centuries. As the ‘water protectors’ like to remind us–people cannot drink oil. The creation of these pipelines lines the pockets of oil companies and puts the health and wellbeing of people at risk.
In 2015, I had the honor of joining Franciscans from all over the world–six different continents–for the COP negotiations in Paris. It was a true celebration of the worldwide Franciscan family and the many branches of the Franciscan family tree. One of the friars that was part of the delegation was from South India where they were experiencing massive flooding at the very time we were in Paris. The flooding was the worst that they had seen in 100 years and Fr. Nithiya could do little to help his people halfway around the world. In this instant, I realized that that example is exactly what Pope Francis in Laudato Si was telling those of us in the industrialized north: climate change isn’t just something we have to worry about for future generations but that it is affecting people in the here and now–both in America and around the world. Having heard the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, we have a great responsibility to shrink our massive carbon footprint.
As the world’s leading energy and carbon consumer, the United States has a major responsibility, one that the Pope acknowledges in Laudato Si. Climate change is not a far-off problem for our children or grandchildren, but rather, a grave issue for here and now, and one that is affecting our sisters and brothers across the world and even in some areas of the United States. We have an obligation to the rest of the world to lead the way when it comes to being good stewards of our earth. The creation of new pipelines does just the opposite—and robs the United States of any moral authority it may have when it comes to protecting our environment. The real choice that we must make in the United States to save our common home is not between oil pipelines and oil transporting trucks. Rather, the choice we face is between being the moral, responsible leader of the free world, claiming moral responsibility for our use of carbon and how that impacts the global south, or doing nothing as we watch our mother earth grow hotter and our brothers and sisters suffer.
Jason L. Miller is the Director of Campaigns and Development for the Franciscan Action Network, a steering committee people of the People’s Climate March on April 29th in Washington, D.C. https://faith.peoplesclimate.org/