In September, Pope Francis delivered a powerful, purposeful, and historic speech to the US Congress, challenging the country to “avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” A tectonic shift in papal policy, the pope’s stand on climate change is rocking the Church.
But this was not completely unexpected. The pontiff’s encyclical letter Laudato Si’ calls Catholics to action, impressing upon them the importance of environmental stewardship and building an economy that protects the planet. By framing environmental responsibility as part of Catholic doctrine, Pope Francis may cause a traditionally conservative voting bloc to consider environmental issues when choosing its candidates.
Around the time Pope Francis was making his speech, divine intervention evidently stirred Xi Jinping, president of China, to proclaim that his country will launch a national carbon cap-and-trade program in 2017. Speaking at the White House, President Xi effectively decimated the argument that if China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, doesn’t have to invest in greening the economy, then the US shouldn’t have to either.
Simultaneously, another act of God occurred, making it even more difficult for the US to rule out renewables as the primary power source for our economy. RE100, a group dedicated to helping businesses congregate around renewable power, announced that major organizations from across all industries have set goals to generate 100 percent of their energy from noncarbon sources. Some companies have given themselves longer time frames. For example, Unilever has committed to making renewables 40 percent of its energy mix by 2020. Other organizations, like Goldman Sachs, are more agressive: The investment banker is aiming to be 100 percent renewable by 2020. Additional notable businesses that have joined the cause include Starbucks, Walmart, H&M, Phillips, Ikea, Salesforce, and SAP.
This trinity of events may help foster change in US energy policy—especially as it’s becoming increasingly less likely that legal challenges to the Clean Power Plan will succeed. (To learn more about Section 111[d] of the Clean Air Act, join us at 2:00 p.m. EST on November 11 for the Clean Power Plan Leaders Group Call.)
As we all work to understand the utility of the future, the impact of distributed generation on the grid, and how to manage the customer expectations driven by a more customer-centric world, there’s only one serious question that remains: Is holy smoke carbon-neutral?