Friday, June 19, 2015 - 13:00

By Gus Grand, Head of Policy at the Eden Project

Yesterday the Pope’s much-leaked encyclical on climate change was finally published.  In it, he says that climate change is caused by humans, and that combating it is a moral issue. Although Eden is a secular organisation and we don’t usually comment on religious matters, we applaud the Pope’s action. It just might make the difference to the crucial UN climate change conference in November this year. Let’s just hope he doesn’t make it fashionable again. In the UK, climate change had a stylish moment between about 2005 and 2009. You couldn’t move for celebs giving us green tips, newspaper columns, TV programmes, films. Even Al Gore giving a PowerPoint was strangely compelling to the chatterati. The media saturation meant that there was the political space to get good work done: the 2008 Climate Change Act had wide cross-party and public support, but by definition something that can be in fashion can also be out of fashion.  After the last major UN climate conference in 2009 in Copenhagen fizzled out with nothing better than an agreement to keep talking, many of us suffered a malaise known as climate fatigue: we were bored rigid, it was all just too difficult. And no longer trendy. Then, the financial crisis pushed every other issue off the political agenda. But the climate it keeps on changing.  The Pope has put it back onto our front pages and perhaps back into MP’s rhetoric. That’s good news.

The timing of the release, just before the Pope visits the US and addresses the UN and Congress, is masterful. Unlike Europe where supporting action against climate change is widely accepted whatever your political colour, the US has become locked in a left-right split where, broadly, Democrats support climate action and Republicans oppose it. Only two of the twenty five declared Republican candidates for president, Lindsey Graham, and George Pataki are keen on climate action; while many prominent climate sceptic candidates, including Jeb Bush, Rick Santorum and Bobby Jindal are Catholic. Catholics, at 32% are the second biggest religious group in Congress after Protestants. If the Pope can break the political paralysis in the US, by encouraging the sceptics to think again, it might be the most valuable intervention ever on the side of the angels. The road to decarbonisation will still be long and hard, especially as cheap energy from coal is so important in creating the wealth countries such as India desperately needs, but if the US, the world’s second greatest emitter, can turn its extraordinary resources to help solve the problem, we’ll really be on the way.

Here at Eden, we’ll carry on, fashionable or not.  Good stewardship of the planet and the redemptive power of human endeavour are key themes in all our work. Our ex- china clay quarry is itself a demonstration that the bleakest landscape imaginable can be restored to a place of plenty. This year we hope to finally get the funding to start drilling for our geothermal power plant, kick starting a new renewable industry for the UK. With friends and partners, we’ll continue to run conferences such as ‘Energy Island’, looking at the barriers and opportunities for energy independence, and with new exhibitions such as ‘Invisible You’ about the 90% of you that isn’t human, we’ll carry on opening hearts and minds to the wonders of the natural world.