Hope and Redemption

Never has a single week offered such a moral contrast on environmental issues.

Speaking at the White House yesterday, Pope Francis, the widely admired spiritual leader of more than 70 million American Catholics and at least 1.2 billion around the world, praised the president's Clean Power Plan and reiterated the necessity of climate action with an emphasis on justice: "Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them."

Then in an extraordinary address to a joint meeting of Congress today, the pope quoted from the encyclical he released earlier this year: "We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all."

But the same week that brought us the pope's inspiring message of hope also uncovered the worst kind of cynicism. Volkswagen admitted that it wrote software to turn off the emissions controls in its so-called "clean diesel" cars (except during emissions testing). It's been estimated that, each year, the additional nitrogen oxide pollution from Volkswagen's 11 million doctored cars worldwide could have been up to 20 times as much as that from a single coal plant. That doesn't just mean more smog. It means that people died as a result of Volkswagen's deceit.

Meanwhile, Volkswagen's CEO has resigned in disgrace, saying that he hopes the company can make a "fresh start." So far, that has meant hiring the same law firm that defended BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

I don't have the moral authority of Pope Francis, but I do have suggestion for VW about how to find some redemption: Stop making cars that run on oil and join Tesla as one of the world's earliest all-electric automakers. Germany would then not only be a world leader in generating solar power but also in putting it to good use.