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May 2, 2016

The LEAP Manifesto written by some left-wing members of the federal New Democratic Party has been subjected to an outpouring of ridicule in the mainstream media and frenzied opposition from the Alberta NDP government. Yet, an unbiased reading of the manifesto would see it as a Canadian application of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si' with a bit of Pope Benedict XVI's Caritas et Veritate thrown in for good measure.

Both encyclicals were received politely with Pope Francis' effort even generating some sustained enthusiasm. Of course, encyclicals deal more in the realm of principles without delving far into policy proposals. The LEAP Manifesto does make general policy proposals, one of which - a call for an end to "building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased energy extraction decades into the future" - has drawn the most reaction.

The Alberta NDP has bent over backwards to accommodate the interests of the petroleum industry. Yet, it has also taken positive steps toward avoiding climate catastrophe. As well, some petroleum companies have made serious efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

LEAP has been excoriated as a Marxist document. It is nothing of the sort, steering far afield of the radicalism of the Waffle Manifesto of the early 1970s which advocated "extensive public control over investment and nationalization of the commanding heights of the economy."

LEAP advocates building energy efficient homes, retrofitting existing housing, moving to a more localized and ecologically sensitive agriculture system, and a guaranteed annual income. Not exactly communism!

Nor does LEAP even go as far as St. John Paul II who in his 1991 encyclical Centesimus Annus wrote that improving society entails profound changes in "lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies." LEAP mainly talks about actions governments should take without discussing the need for changed lifestyles and says little about reconfiguring society's structures of power.

However, the opponents are likely correct about one thing: no political party is likely to win power advocating the change LEAP envisions. We do a fine job of talking about environmental protection, but when it gets down to taking extensive and effective means for halting climate change, politicians are reluctant to bite the bullet.

Laudato Si' has focused the climate change debate, but so far has stirred little government action. Without effective action, talk is no more than sound and fury.

Pope Francis made one comment early in Laudato Si' which gets to the root of opposition to the LEAP Manifesto: "Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms."

"Masking" problems is crucial to preserving existing power structures. It can help maintain the status quo, even if the status quo threatens to turn the planet into a dried-up wasteland within the next several decades.