Francis vs. Washington

Lawmakers and the White House are at odds with the pope’s vision for protecting the planet.

Pope Francis, the humble yet bold leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, has offered an inspiring 21st century vision to all people. It’s a vision that’s been sorely missing in the halls of power.

In an encyclical focused on the environment, he details how we can save the planet while helping billions of the world’s poor in this life — not just in heaven. The letter isn’t for the faint-hearted. It’s a wake-up call that if we continue fueling our lifestyles with oil, gas, and coal, we’ll end life as we know it.

He asks us all to think and act big, to replace our dig, burn, and dump economy with one that creates dignified work for people who can rebuild our inner cities, retrofit our buildings to make them energy-efficient, and provide clean water and healthy food.

“We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family,” he reminds us. “There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide.” We all have a stake, therefore, in helping poorer nations leapfrog over dirty fossil-fuel industries and instead build their economies around green energy and energy efficiency.

Contrast this enlightened global vision with the one that’s dominating political debate in Washington. Republicans have banded together with President Barack Obama behind a failed 20th century model of international economic rules that favors the wealthy and giant corporations over people and the planet.

For weeks, the White House pressed Congress to approve so-called Trade Promotion Authority — or “fast track” — which would facilitate passage of proposed trade agreements with 11 Asia-Pacific nations and the European Union.

These deals don’t make trade “freer.” Trade already occurs with almost no impediments. Instead, these pacts will make it harder to carry out Pope Francis’s vision by restricting the authority of governments around the world to regulate large corporations.

In particular, these accords will empower corporations to sue governments over policies that purportedly threaten their investments. This could include laws designed to protect the Earth and ensure that it’s around for future generations to enjoy.

My plea to members of Congress is this: Abandon the failed trade model of the 20th century. Instead of Trade Promotion Authority, we need “People and Planet Promotion Authority.”

This would end the outrageous subsidies Congress gives fossil fuel corporations — and shift these funds to the small and medium businesses that pay people a living wage to build a fossil-free economy. It would fairly tax Wall Street, the wealthy, and corporations to pay for this green transition. And it would launch a deliberate effort to spur the growth of wind, solar, and other renewable alternatives.

The voices of corporate lobbyists have prevailed long enough in Washington. As Pope Francis has warned us, it’s time to listen to “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”

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