Distinguished climate scientist Michael Mann recently maintained that re-election of Donald Trump would make it “essentially impossible” to avoid catastrophic climate change that threatens civilization. “The future of this planet,” Mann concludes, “is now in the hands of American citizens.” Considering “Could Nebraska’s 2nd District really be the key to winning the presidential race?” (World-Herald, Oct. 7) and the significance of Iowa to the election, this is uniquely true for Omaha-Council Bluffs.
As Catholic theologians, we support Biden, Harris, and Eastman on pro-life, values-based grounds.
Voting promotes values. For Catholics, these include truth, justice, love, life, dignity (especially of the poor), creation and the common good. These may be “weighted” differently, but all are interconnected and must be pursued together. Promoting values requires rejecting disvalues like dishonesty and prejudiced nationalism. Since voting selects candidates, voters must discern which candidates have the character, competence, and issue stances to best promote values and oppose disvalues.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops says, “The threat of abortion remains our preeminent priority,” while insisting that “as Catholics we are not single-issue voters.” The Church teaches the primacy of the value of life and protects the primacy of conscience to discern the best ways for promoting life, including the best strategies to reduce abortions. Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky, who spoke with Creighton about voting on Oct. 20, called for a more fundamental understanding of life: “It could be argued that creation is the preeminent issue because without the environment to sustain human life, you can’t have human life.”
Cardinal Ratzinger (subsequently elected Pope Benedict XVI) affirmed voters who oppose abortion may conscientiously support pro-choice candidates for “proportionate reasons.” This means the balance of values at stake between legalized abortion and other issues must be commensurate. Voting for a candidate most committed to addressing climate change is a proportionate reason to support a pro-choice candidate.
The overwhelming scientific consensus confirms human activities, primarily fossil fuel use, has caused one degree Celsius of warming since the Industrial Revolution. Warming of more than 1.5 degrees risks triggering a chain of secondary effects that could eventually carry the planet to four to five degrees Celsius postindustrial warming. Notable scientists estimate that with such warming the planet might only support half a billion to a billion people. Climate change thus uniquely threatens the value of life; as Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego describes, “The death toll from abortion is more immediate, but the long-term death toll from unchecked climate change is larger and threatens the very future of humanity.”
Conscience allows discernment about strategies to pursue values like life. Providing health care (which the Church affirms is a human right) with free contraception access is the most effective way to reduce abortion rates, as demonstrated by a large multi-year study from Washington University, because 90% of U.S. abortions come from unintended pregnancies. Such a strategy could prevent annually more than 500,000 U.S. abortions, exponentially more than overturning Roe v. Wade. Clearly, contraception is a lesser disvalue than abortion (and most people, including Catholics, do not think contraception is a disvalue).
Biden, Harris and Eastman all support science-based climate policies to protect the values of human life, dignity and the common good. All three have more consistently supported comprehensive health care to effectively protect life.
Conversely, Trump and Pence reject science-based climate policies, and Bacon has cast an “anti-environment” vote on 84% of proposed climate change- related legislation according to the League of Conservation Voters. None has consistently supported comprehensive health care. Additionally, Trump and Pence provoke xenophobia, violate the dignity of migrant children, and have incompetently handled the coronavirus pandemic that has killed over 220,000 Americans.
With the world on the brink of irreversible climate catastrophe, conscientious values-based voters — especially Catholics — should support Biden, Harris and Eastman.
Richard W. Miller, Ph.D., is a professor of theology and sustainability studies at Creighton University. He is a contributor to and editor of seven books, including “God, Creation, and Climate Change: A Catholic Response to the Environmental Crisis,” which won a 2011 Catholic Press Association book award in the faith and science category.
Todd A. Salzman, Ph.D., is Amelia and Emil Graff Professor of Catholic Theology at Creighton University. He has authored or co-authored 11 books, including “The Sexual Person: Toward a Renewed Catholic Anthropology,” which won the 2009 Catholic Press Association award as the best book in theology. The essay expresses their views only and not those of Creighton University.