Christie, Catholicism & Climate Change

Matt Katz | June 18, 2015 | Katz on Christie

Pope Francis is releasing a document today that calls for political action on climate change and declares that the earth is “beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

This view sharply differs from that of several Republican Catholics running for president — except for Gov. Chris Chrisite.

Christie is disdainful of questions about the environment. But after expressing skepticism about the science behind climate change in 2010, he has since become a believer, accepting that global warming is real and is caused at least in part by human behavior.

This is what he said the last time I asked him about the issue after a White House report on the devastating effects of climate change. “I mean, seriously, I’ve said what I want to say on climate change. And there’s nothing that was in that report that changed my opinion that I’ve expressed before,” he said. “That I believe that climate change is real. That I do believe that human beings contribute to it, but I have concerns in other areas than global warming.”

Two Catholic front-runners for the Republican nomination, Jeb Bush and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have questioned whether human behavior causes climate change. That makes Christie an outlier in his party — but he’s no Pope Francis on this issue, either.

Pope Francis wants governments to enact policies to cut fossil fuel use. He’ll be making a speech before Congress that will reportedly address this, and bishops around the country are planning various media events to back up the pope.

But other than opposing coal-fired power plants and supporting the expansion of solar energy, Christie has not advocated that government play a significant role in curtailing greenhouse gases. In fact Christie has rolled back environmental regulations, closed the state Office on Climate Change and sought political support from the Koch Brothers, the industrialist billionaires who have bankrolled opposition to climate change-fighting policies.

And he has repeatedly refused to say there was any link between global warming and Sandy. He called this an “esoteric question” and above his pay grade. While scientists acknowledge that they can’t say for sure if climate change caused the storm, they do know that sea levels are rising and climate change makes storms more intense.

Christie doesn’t want to talk about that. After the storm WNYC’s Sarah Gonzalez asked him if state agencies like New Jersey Transit should have done more to prepare for climate change.

“Well first of all I don’t agree with the premise of your question because I don’t think there’s been any proof so far that Sandy was caused by climate change,” he said. “But I would expect that that’s exactly what WNYC would say because liberal public radio always has an agenda.”

If asked about Pope Francis’s global warming stance, Christie could deride him, too, as a liberal. On the other hand maybe this gives Christie an opportunity to set himself apart in a very crowded race. Of the five Catholics likely running for president, Christie has taken the most centrist position. Now backed by the pope, maybe he can figure out a way to score points with the half of Catholic Republicans who believe that there’s evidence of global warming.

Christie was born Catholic and his family has long attended Mendham’s St. Joseph’s Church, where there’s a concentration on the less fortunate. His wife, Mary Pat, attends mass more often than the governor does — she once taught Sunday School at St. Joseph’s, and Christie has said she was the one who wanted all four of their kids to go to Catholic schools.

Christie has only been asked about the pope once before, after Pope Francis made a comment decrying trickle-down economics. Christie quickly blew off the question, refusing to answer.