Pope Francis on Misplaced Safety Concerns: Where’s the Caution on Climate Change?


The chances of a U.S. citizen being killed by a terrorist are slimmer than being struck by lightning. That remains true even after the Paris massacre of last November 13th.  In fact, according to The Economist, the chances of dying at the hands of terrorists are actually one in twenty million. So you’re far more likely to die from a car accident, airplane crash, post-surgery complications, or from gun violence than from terrorism.

Meanwhile, the likelihood of millions dying from the effects of climate change is about 97 in 100. That figure refers to the percentage of climate scientists who tell us that human inaction on the climate front will result in disastrous, planet-wide catastrophe.  (By the way, 97% is about the same percentage as medical researchers who say that smoking causes cancer.)

And yet, in the wake of the recent Paris massacre, politicians call for absolute caution about the acceptance of refugees while siding with the 3% of scientists denying human responsibility for climate change.

On the refugee question, Governor Robert Bentley of Alabama put it this way, “If there’s even the slightest risk that they’re not the kind of people that we wish them to be,” we must exclude Iraqi and Syrian refugees from our state.

And Bentley is not alone. At least 31 governors (almost all of them Republican) have expressed similar determination to prevent refugees from entering their states. Governor Greg Abbot of Texas said, “I will not roll the dice and take the risk on allowing a few refugees in simply to expose Texans to that danger” of some refugee committing a terrorist act. “Better safe than sorry,” adds Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, who describes himself as “a devout Catholic.”

The Catholic reference is important, because the position of Pope Francis is exactly the reverse of the Republicans’ who overwhelmingly identify themselves as fervent Christians. The pope has called for opening doors to refugees from Syria and Iraq.  He has reminded believers that Jesus himself was a refugee from state violence and that his mother experienced the same terror suffered by Iraqis, Syrians, Somalians and others.

Meanwhile, in his landmark encyclical on climate change, Pope Francis urged extreme caution about climate change. There he quotes the 1992 Rio Declaration on the climate crisis:

“. . . (W)here there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective measures” (186).

So who’s right, Paul Ryan and his Republican colleagues or Pope Francis?

That is, given the 1 in 20 million chance of being killed by a terrorist on the one hand, and the near certainty of millions dying from human-induced climate change on the other, is the pertinent popular phrase Ryan’s “Better safe than sorry?  Or is it “Penny wise and pound foolish?”

Perhaps it is both.

Think about that for a minute.

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Mike Rivage-Seul's Blog

Emeritus professor of Peace & Social Justice Studies. Liberation theologian. Activist. Former R.C. priest. Married for 45 years. Three grown children. Six grandchildren.

24 thoughts on “Pope Francis on Misplaced Safety Concerns: Where’s the Caution on Climate Change?”

  1. The terrorist delusion is a propaganda lie similar to climate change denial, in that both emanate from the military industrial elite. Because the majority of Americans are incapable of thinking for themselves or discerning the most obvious lies, these elites have no trouble convincing huge numbers of our fellow citizens of the most outrageous nonsense. With some few exceptions, we are lambs being led to slaughter….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the rationale is simpler than complicity with the MIC. Fear is the mind-killer: that’s how these fear-mongering politicians got elected, and how they will (unfortunately) get elected. It doesn’t make any difference the target or source (or veracity: the mind has already been turned off). That’s Trump’s trump-card: he could care less about the MIC, as his money is in resorts and casinos. He knows how to hook people who are inherently fearful because they have been left behind by the culture. American Christianity, and RC is not excepted, has been unfortunately based on fear (if you were lucky you got purgatory — it depended on how far you had fallen since your last confession). That fear, and how it is handled, has to be our target. Find a way that breaks the fear-cycle, and the way forward will open for those who are swayed by appeals to fear. Without that, nothing will change in the hearts of the fearful. As 12-steppers will tell you, the answer to fear is faith. There’s a spiritual job here, waiting to be done.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree that throughout the world many religions, governments and social movements govern through fear instead of through persuasion and consent.

      It follows then, that if you support completely open borders with no attention to what is regarded as appropriate behavior by the incoming people, Subhi Nahas and refugees like him are at risk of being murdered in the U.S. by Jihadi Johns who were welcomed at the same time. Being physically in the “United States” is no protection if Jihadi John becomes your next-door neighbor after crossing imaginary borders.


      “U.S. ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, with Syrian LGBT refugee Subhi Nahas. Nahas gave testimony to the UN Security Council on ISIS’ abuses against LGBT people.

      “The terror group, which controls large swaths of territory across Iraq and Syria, tortures and executes men suspected of being attracted to members of their own sex, Syrian refugee Subhi Nahas told the council in a closed-door informal meeting..ISIS… recently threw nine men it had charged with homosexuality from a tall building in the city of Mosul, an unnamed source told Iraqi News. Militants belonging to the terror group “rounded up a number of citizens in the city to see the implementation of the judgment of the so-called Shariah judge,” the source explained…..”In my society, being gay means death — and when (ISIS) kills gays most people are happy because they think we are evil, and (ISIS) gets a good credit for that,” he explained. “My own family turned against me when (ISIS) was after me.”

      Social behavior depends on agreements. Do you agree to stoning and killing to punish gay people? If not, how do you propose to stop this behavior among new residents to the USA, especially if they despise you for holding a different belief and have no intention of assimilating into your culture?


      1. I have a modest proposal as an alternative to closing our borders to selected groups. What if we identified the Senators and Representatives who have been responsible for making tobacco legal and actually supporting that industry with government assistance. These folks are responsible for millions of deaths. Let’s deport these dangerous terrorists who are an immeasurably greater threat than a handful of possible “terrorists” from Muslim countries.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Mary: The US has the most stringent vetting process in the world. Your argument, that we would be allowing in Jihadi Johns, is not consistent with that fact. If the Jihadi Johns of the world want to come to the US, they won’t go through a 1-1/2 to 2-year vetting process by something like 9 agencies. Now, this information (the nature and details of the vetting process) has been available (and publicized) in the media for some time, over the course of the debate.

        I suggest you ask yourself: how did I miss out on the crucial information? Most likely it means that you are relying on the wrong people for information. Whether they know the information but would rather spread fear (for better news ratings, of for better political gain) or don’t know the information (which in the case of both news organizations and politicians is inexcusable), you are receiving poor information.

        The danger of immigrants is not a new issue. It was used against the Irish and the Italian immigrants also. Actually, it was used earlier against the Scots-Irish who populated Appalachia: they were essential kicked out of NJ and PA because of their danger to society, and so came to this land no one wanted (because out of 40 acres of land, only 4 acres on average was farmable).

        So even if one has been led to add a qualifying clause of “so long as there is no imagined danger” to the 2nd Great Commandment to love others as ourselves, the facts contradict the imagined danger.

        BTW: Jihadi John was a British citizen. All he needed to do to come here (prior to being outed) was get on an airplane and fill out a piece of paper on the plane trip.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Very much agree with Article 186 of the Rio ‘Agreement’. But it seems certain that it is now too late to prevent the catastrophe. Preparing for it seems to be the task.


  4. Once we start deporting people, where do we start? WASPs are some of the most dangerous folks on the planet. And many of them are armed to the teeth, and full of the most wacko thinking you can imagine. If we close our borders we will be locking ourselves in with all these dangerous maniacs!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mike k, this kind of talk does in fact register with many “WASPs” (a racist identity politics meme) and many will note that you wish them harm (for example long-time residents in the counties surrounding Berea). Pay attention to the message you send out, and the hate that accompanies it.

      What do you expect in response?


      1. Mary you don’t really know me, but I do not come from a position of hate. I am a WASP myself, and so I felt comfortable in pointing out that some of my fellow WASPs can be pretty ornery. You seem to have trouble discerning irony and dark humor. I have not accused you of hating Syrians, Arabs, Muslims because you wish to deny them refuge in our country. I am heartened however that President Obama and many Americans are in disagreement with your isolationist sentiments, and are minded to welcome these refugees from the terrible wars that our American government has played such a major role in causing.

        The point I tried to make – without using the WASP word – was that ironically we are in more danger from our own US Citizens than from anyone outside our borders. For example, those in our government who decided to murder over a million innocent Iraqis in order to acquire their oil, are much more dangerous than the abused refugees we are being asked to accept. If we could somehow keep those shameless villains out of our government, we would live in a much safer and more peaceful country and world.

        That is just my opinion of course. Feel free to disagree. But please keep the accusations about hate out of it – those are disturbing to peace lovers like myself.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you Mike K for your reply to the insulting, hurtful comment by Ms. Benami. Your comments were very pertinent to the points that our host, Mike R-S, made. Unfortunately, we apparently have to suffer through rambling, ill-conceived attacks by persons who have difficulty in hearing both sides of a controversy. I do not have a dog in this fight, Mike K, so I will say, again, thank you! As my father might have said, ‘You are a gentleman and a scholar.’


      3. Thanks for your support aliceny. I have been commenting on several internet venues for some time now, and it always discourages me when folks refuse to support someone who is unjustly attacked. I try to stand up for those who are abused in that way, and really appreciate it when someone does that, as you have. Congrats for doing the right thing. And I would do the same thing if someone were to attack Mary in an abusive and unjustified manner.


  5. Hank — I cannot “reply” to your post above, My family is more international than most, and crosses several supposed “enemy” lines as laid out by ethnic/national propagandists. Situation is the same with my friendships.

    On the immigration controversy, I prefer caution and adequate honest information, and do not share your trust in the output of government agencies or bureaucracies in general.

    Mistakes can never be avoided totally, but gross mistakes could be minimized — and that requires accurate intelligence, which does not seem to be happening. Even the office of the president claims to be receiving distorted information. Confusion permeates the government and the rest of society as well, including media reports.

    We have involved ourselves in terrible wars with bitter consequences all across the globe, for us and for others. The current Syrian hell is reportedly bought from our tax dollars. We could have done much more to prevent unethical conflicts. That does not change my disagreement with you, Mike, Aliceny and others: Bringing in scarcely-vetted immigrants by the thousands is neither practical nor peacemaking, and is going to result in even more hell, especially while the lower income segments of our own country are unemployed, underpaid and bitterly alienated.

    Massive sudden immigration will not make up for irresponsible warmongering abroad in the past and present. However, massive scarcely vetted immigration is very likely to be punishing. Among the incoming people (which “authorities” admit are larger than they can effectively vet) are going to be a number of people hellbent on revenge and who can inflict damage far greater than their numbers.

    In turn, those crimes of revenge are going to provoke backlash which will rebound on international families like mine. It does not matter whether those new entries carry Syrian, British, Greek, fake passports or go undocumented (or under assumed names as some Berea students have had to do, because they are at risk of being killed if they return home).

    There is most definitely a conflict of interests here. It serves no one to look away from reality. Humility on everyone’s part is certainly in order. There are no quick easy answers, although honesty will help. I disagree with the policy that you promote, which may turn my family, and many more, into victims and refugees also.


    1. Mary: there is much to agree with in your statements about the causes of the refugee situation. That is a matter on which reasonable people can agee.

      Your assertion about refugees being “scarcely vetted” is contradicted by the evidence: I have presented that evidence, and your reply is that you “don’t have faith” in the government agencies. In matters where evidence is available, faith is not required, nor is faith sufficient for rebuttal. The evidence may not be sufficient to calm your concerns: but being willing to live with the evidence, whether it supports your concerns or disputes them, is what marks the line between rational discussion and its appalling (because of the human suffering it leads to) alternative.



    1. Thanks for that link Hank. The New America Foundation and the Southern Poverty Law Center, and others are doing great work trying to wake us up to our real problems here at home. We have such a tendency to blame all our problems on “others.” I do not justify violence by anyone, but the attacks on the US are obviously blowback from the horrendous killing the US has inflicted on nations and peoples beyond our borders.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Mike,

        yes, it’s blowback. But not all from what we have done recently. The West tried to make the Middle-East over in the Western model, without the economic and political structures of the Western model, and without the 300+ years it took the “modern mind” to develop in the West to make these structures work for, rather than against, the people whose lives they were changing. Karen Armstrong details a lot of this in The Battle For God. It’s a sad tale. And that’s only the positive side of what was done; the rest is the usual tawdry tale of greed and corruption, without regard for the well-being of the people whose lives they were disrupting. The result has been generations, many generations, of alienation hand-in-hand with poverty. At the personal (vs institutional) level this alienation has, and does, lead to striking out at those they hold responsible. I understand the reasons, even though I disagree with the utility or the rightness of the actions. It’s a complex whole, operating at multiple levels, all connected. And there’s no good answer, or good answers, in sight.


        Liked by 1 person

  6. In resonance with our discussion here re: threats from within our borders, this from Chris Hedges today –

    “The Republican business elites, which declared war on the liberal class’ call for cultural diversity, allied themselves with an array of protofascists in the Christian right, the tea party, groups such as the National Rifle Association and The Heritage Foundation, the neo-Confederate movement, the right-to-life movement and right-wing militias. The elites in the Republican Party, who needed an ideological veneer to mask their complicity in the corporate assault, saw these protofascists as useful idiots. They thought, naively, that by demonizing liberals, feminists, African-Americans, Muslims, abortion providers, undocumented workers, intellectuals and homosexuals they could redirect the growing rage of the masses, sending it against the vulnerable, as well as against the only institution that could curb corporate power, the government, while they greedily disemboweled the nation.

    “But what the Republican elites have done, as they now realize to their horror, is empower a huge swath of the public—largely white—that is gripped by magical thinking and fetishizes violence.”



  7. “We have entered a new and dangerous phase in American political life. The ruling political elites have been exposed as charlatans. The rage of the underclass, especially the white underclass, has broken its bonds. The age of the demagogues has arrived.”

    Unless you read Chris Hedges’ column online every Monday at Truthdig.com you will not fully understand your country or your world today.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hank Fay, Aliceny, Mike K. A few years ago (2008 or 2009?) a Berea College professor chastised a Berea employee for prominently featuring a military recruiting table at a Career Fair.

    The organizer of the Career Fair was aggrieved and commented that military jobs were the only ones available in the economy at that time. Many young people joined the military when it became clear that former employment opportunities weren’t available.

    Fast forward to 2015:
    ” (CNN)An online group claiming affiliation with Islamic State terrorists has threatened American military members and their families in the past, and over the weekend, a new threat surfaced on the Web.

    “A group calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division posted the names, photos and addresses of about 100 U.S. troops online, calling for attacks against them.

    “The file, posted online Saturday before being removed, claimed to have hacked military databases and said it was leaking 100 names “so that our brothers residing in America can deal with you.”

    “The possibility of lone-wolf attacks in the United States, the type that this message calls for, is a threat officials take seriously…”


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