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  June 18, 2015

Pope Calls Out Climate Deniers, But Will the Vatican Divest From Fossil Fuels?

Interfaith Power & Light Founder Rev. Sally Bingham and GreenFaith Coordinator Jeff Korgen discuss specific policies that the Vatican can adopt to support renewable energy
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Jeff Korgen is Campaign Coordinator for GreenFaith and coordinating OurVoices Catholic outreach, in collaboration with leaders of the Franciscan Action Network and several Catholic religious orders. Jeff has staffed the Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors and served as a social justice educator for the Archdiocese of New York, and worked as lead organizer for the Brockton Interfaith Community.

Reverend Sally Bingham is the President and Founder of Interfaith Power & Light.


JESSICA DESVARIEUX, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.

Thursday marks the big day that Pope Francis is expected to unveil a controversial encyclical about the environment. You might be wondering, what is an encyclical? It is the most authoritative statement released by the Catholic church. And after a draft of it leaked, we now know that the pope will be making the case about how man-made climate change negatively affects developing countries, immigrants, and refugees.

But beyond his speech, would this encyclical lead to more concrete actions by the Catholic church to move towards renewables? And with an $8 billion portfolio, why hasn't the Vatican divested from fossil fuels? We want to explore these questions with our guests today. Now joining us from San Francisco is Reverend Sally Bingham. Rev. Bingham is the president and founder of Interfaith Power and Light. And also joining us is Jeff Korgen. Jeff is a coordinator for Our Voices Catholic Outreach.

Thank you both for joining us.



DESVARIEUX: So Jeff, I'll start off with you. You're a practicing Catholic and I know you've worked a lot with the Catholic church, and you are pro-divestment from fossil fuels. What has been the Vatican's response thus far?

KORGEN: Well, I'm not privy to the conversations that are happening there. But I know that it's being taken seriously. The Philippine bishops through their Caritas organization, or Catholic charities, called on the Vatican to divest. So that conversation's being taken seriously. But we have not heard either way what the decision is yet. My guess is these decisions are taken so seriously it may be a while.

DESVARIEUX: Okay. And many might not know this, but the Catholic church is actually the largest private employer in countries like Australia, with some 180,000 employees. And it's also one of the biggest energy consumers when you count schools, churches, hospitals. So Rev. Bingham, I want to turn to you and ask you what concrete proposals could Pope Francis put in place that would really make a difference? You're a part of a faith community that has taken such action. What would you recommend?

BINGHAM: Well, from what I understand the encyclical is going to talk about personal responsibility and individual obligation to care for the earth, and that means that we don't waste energy. I understand that he even talks about getting off fossil fuels because they are greenhouse gas, warming gases. And undoubtedly that translates into facilities and individual people cutting their own carbon emissions by using less energy. And what we propose are that facilities of all religious denominations practice energy efficiency with the new technology, and not to waste, and make sure that they have up-to-date refrigerators, and use as little energy as possible, and that therefore serve as an example to the community. And it's also saving money, creating jobs, and saving creation at the same time.

DESVARIEUX: Jeff, I'm going to turn to you. What has been the role of grassroots movements in getting Pope Francis to even tackle climate change?

KORGEN: Well I think first thing we need to do is go back to St. Francis of Assisi back in medieval times. Pope Francis took his name. So that movement of friars that St. Francis started has had a big impact on Pope Francis.

But I think the key influencers on Pope Francis are the movements in Latin America that he saw as an Argentine bishop. We'll see this in the encyclical when he talks about the Amazon and other threatened areas of Latin America. He's not somebody who's reading about this in a magazine. He's someone who's lived down in Latin America and seen what corporations that are just looking for a buck will do to the earth if they're allowed to.

DESVARIEUX: All right, Rev. Bingham, for you what would you say that we need to be putting our money into? We know divestment means divesting out of fossil fuels, but what do we invest in, specifically?

BINGHAM: Well, why not invest in socially responsible companies and things like--there are investments that people can make that will actually help the environment. Driving an electric car. Investing in companies like Tesla. Google's gone almost 50 percent renewable. Google, Apple, and a couple other large corporations are already using 100 percent renewable energy. And they're not doing it just because the Pope wants them to do it. They're doing it because it's profitable.

But I think what the Pope is able to do is put this message in moral terms. Make people understand that we have a moral obligation to take care of each other and to take care of creation. And what Jeff said about the poor countries in the developing world, I believe the encyclical will be making a strong connection between the climate change and poverty.

DESVARIEUX: All right. Rev. Bingham as well as Jeff Korgen, thank you so much for joining us.

KORGEN: Thanks for having us.

DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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