ONE reasonable test of news value is whether something will be
remembered 100 years from now. I reckon that if the Pope's
encyclical on climate change has been forgotten then, it can only
be because he was right, and there is no literate civilisation
So it was interesting to see what the papers made of it,
compared with such stories as the Greek crisis; or the historic
choice confronting this country of who should be the next presenter
of Top Gear - a show about the most enjoyable ways to burn
The leak of a very late draft served its presumed purpose of
confusing the coverage of the encyclical itself. The Times
decided that the news was all in the leak, and didn't cover the
launch at all, though it had two stories on the leaked draft. One
was from Reuters; the other, from Tom Kingston, bore the marks of
savage cutting. Both gave a paragraph to the objections, or
prebuttals, of the American Right.
The Daily Telegraph published two pieces: a
shamefully silly rant by Julia Hartley-Brewer: "Belief and blind
faith are precisely what the Pope usually demands of his many
followers when it comes to deciding pretty much every area of their
lives from the cradle to the grave.
"Whether you are a card-carrying eco-alarmist who worries daily
about your carbon footprint, or whether you are Jeremy Clarkson,
what the Pope has to say about humans tackling climate change as a
moral issue is about as relevant as Kim Kardashian's views about
the future of the eurozone.
"First, like pretty much all political leaders who put their
tuppence worth in on this issue, the Pope knows next to nothing
about climate science, which makes his opinion worth as little as
mine (which I'm regularly informed by the likes of eco-worriers
like George Monbiot is absolutely zilch)."
Obviously we can't expect the woman who wrote this to wrap her
head round the idea of actually learning from experts, or even
people who know what she's talking about. So, of course, she'll
assume that the Pope knows as little as she does. None the less,
and tempting fate, I doubt that The Guardian would have
published anything quite so crass today.
The second Telegraph piece was by Tim Stanley, who is
very clever, as you would need to be to try to sell this encyclical
to a Conservative audience. "The science is overwhelmingly on [the
Pope's] side: this is actually a profoundly humanist document that
is concerned with the impact of environmental decline upon us all,
here and now. For Francis, the environment is the originator,
sustainer, 'sister', and even final destination of man.
"He quotes Genesis: 'we ourselves are dust of the earth.'
Francis wants us to rediscover our God-given relationship with
nature - the real us masked by consumerism in the West and poverty
in the developing world.
"Likewise, here he is on finance capital: 'The economy accepts
every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern
for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance
overwhelms the real economy.' This focus upon speculation crushes
productivity and the ancient art of making things, stripping labour
of its dignity."
Then Stanley has to explain that these ideas are not in the
least bit Socialist: "Socialism is concerned with materialism - it
believes that salvation is found through redistribution of wealth.
Christians, by contrast, believe that God should be at the centre
of all things. The soul must be cherished." Just don't, anyone,
tell him about William Morris.
But beyond the political tightrope walking, this was an honest
and enthusiastic attempt to portray the encyclical as something
beyond Left and Right; and, judging by the quotes, he had read the
whole thing before writing. It should be obvious by now that this
is unusual in the trade.
The Guardian published an enthusiastic leader (delayed
until after publication), and a still more enthusiastic piece by
Giles Fraser: "Pope Francis's eagerly awaited encyclical,
Laudato Si', is . . . nothing less than a call to refigure
our entire political mindset. . . As such, it means that the Roman
Catholic Church is now the foremost critic of capitalism. As the
left fades in authority all over the world, the Church has regained
This isn't really comforting for the Left, any more than Stanley
will comfort the Right. I think what Francis is actually offering
is a conservative critique of capitalism. There's no convenient
pigeonhole for that.
But the best comment came from a German scientist who had helped
in the drafting, quoted in the Global Pulse web magazine:
"The Poles believe in both the blessings of coal and in the Pope.
They are now in a genuine quandary."