(New Orleans) Pope Francis’ call for an “ecological conversion” for the faithful is being echoed on the streets of New Orleans today, as religious leaders and longtime advocates bring his message to a region beset by oil spills, chemical pollution and the impacts of climate change. Louisiana’s elected officials and Catholics are urged not only to follow the Pope on this issue, but to lead our state in taking bold action to combat climate change. “Climate change increases the risk to Louisiana’s coast and to our people and our vibrant culture,” said the Reverend Dr. Cory Sparks of the Commission on Stewardship of the Environment, Louisiana Interchurch Conference. “It also threatens the economy of the region and of the nation.”
The Pope’s message is resonant for Louisiana given the high concentration of Catholics and facilities that emit carbon, one of the leading causes of climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greenhouse gas emissions from Louisiana’s petrochemical industry comprise 19% (more than 66 million metric tons) of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, second only to Texas.1 “Pollution from Louisiana’s chemical plants and oil refineries makes people sick and causes climate change,” said Anne Rolfes, Founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “What more do you need to know to put an end to it?”
The Pope’s commitment to this message was underscored by the release of an encyclical, “Laudato si” (“Praised Be”), in June of this year. Catholic Louisiana politicians David Vitter and Scott Angelle are among the leading climate deniers and protectors of polluting industry. Others included Congressmen Steve Scalise. “I have been dismayed by the political rhetoric on climate change in the US and the impact this has on international negotiations,” said Casey DeMoss, Executive Director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy. “As a region vulnerable to climate change, our religious leaders and our elected officials should be leaders on the climate issue.”
Central to the groups’ message today is the economic opportunity of environmental protection. Cleaning up aging facilities, pipelines and repairing the coastal damage wrought by the oil industry would create jobs.