Pope Benedict XVI: The Original Green Pope
Pope Francis has gotten a lot of attention for his progressive policies. He took the name of St. Francis, the patron saint of ecology. He’s been active in weeding out materialism and combating waste. He’s also been photographed holding anti-fracking and anti-dirty mining shirts. There’s no question that the current pope is concerned with creation, just like many popes before him. And we shouldn’t forget the major steps his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, took to green the Vatican.
The Vatican actually became the first solar-powered nation state in the world under Pope Benedict XVI. In 2009, the smallest country in the world announced its intention to spend $660 million to create a massive, 100 MW photovoltaic installation. When the solar array was complete, Osservatore Romano reported that “the Vatican has reached a small record in solar energy power production per capita: 200 watts at peak times [… ]per inhabitant, compared to 80 in Germany, the world leader in this field.”
The solar panels, which are located on a 740-acre site near Santa Maria di Galeria and the rooftop of Paul VI’s conference hall, allow the Vatican to generate enough energy to power all of its 40,000 households. They supply all heating, cooling, and lighting for the building. and they are estimated to have saved the Vatican 89.84 tons in oil. It is no wonder that the Italian media has dubbed Pope Benedict XVI the “green pope”.
Pope Benedict XVI’s interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions extended beyond just installing solar panels. He announced his desire to be driven around in a more ecologically-sound manner, even in a solar-powered Popemobile. Mercedes heard His Holiness, and built the next-best thing: a hybrid Popemobile. He also authorized the Vatican’s bank to purchase carbon credits by funding a Hungarian forest that would make the Catholic city-state the only country fully carbon neutral.
“I think it’s remarkable how much attention he gave to the environment; this for him was a big theme,” said Walter Grazer, an adviser to the National Religious Partnership for the Environment and former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
We don’t often talk about Pope Benedict XVI anymore, but it’s important to remember all that he did for the environment — especially now as the Vatican faces even greater pressure to stand up to the powerful fossil fuel industry. Let’s hope that Pope Francis follows in his predecessor’s commitment to creation.
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