One of my favorite Dr. Seuss books is a story about an elephant named Horton who hears a speck of dust calling to him, a speck that turns out to be a tiny imperiled planet with a town called Whoville. The mayor of Whoville implores Horton to save them and Horton agrees to protect the tiny planet, believing and repeating his mantra that “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
Horton faces enormous ridicule when he tries to enlist other animals to help him. Not content to let him save the world and the people on it, these animals actively try to destroy the speck that Horton carefully carries around. As the situation in Whoville deteriorates, the citizens of Whoville begin to scream, “We are here. We are here,” in the hope that the deniers will listen.
Despite their best efforts, the people of Whoville cannot make enough noise and it looks like it’s over. In a last minute save, the Mayor of Whoville finds his son, the town’s slacker JoJo, and takes him to the Eiffleberg Tower. JoJo lets out a scream and Horton’s tormentors finally hear the Whos and agree to help Horton save the planet.
The book was written in 1954, years before the words climate change were written, yet no one failed to catch his drift even back then. In his view and in the eyes of many, our tiny world was in danger, and no one was listening. The issues had different names, less clear science, and fewer and less powerful deniers. And despite the passage of time, sixty two years after Horton first appeared, the situation is pretty much the same.
In the modern day version of the story, however, the deniers are organized and efficient. Like the Chairman of Whoville, who declares that “Nothing ever goes wrong in Whoville. It never has, and never will. You blathering boob,” deniers know that the number one way to preserve the status quo is to bully, lie, obfuscate and distract. Why do they do this? Not because they are uneducated, stupid, or nonbelievers. In fact, the leaders of the climate deniers’ movement know that climate is real and that the world’s systems are deteriorating. The reason they lie and obfuscate is to confuse the people of Whoville. Denying gives them time, it allows them to preserve the status quo so they can maintain power and make money. It is as simple as that.
Enter a modern day Horton. Like Horton, Pope Francis has heeded the calls of the residents of Whoville. He believes that the earth is imperiled and that it is urgent.. Above all, Pope Francis believes that “a person’s a person, no matter how small,” that we all matter. He is coming to Washington, D.C. and will speak to a joint session of Congress on the 24th encouraging disbelievers to take a leap of faith and heed the words of his encyclical.
Below the Capitol steps, a fancy ticketed event will be played out on the West Lawn, full of donors and the power brokers. But beyond them on the National Mall, possibly hundreds of thousands of Whoville residents will be there, including the faithful, survivors of climate disasters, immigrants who are seeking a home, poor people who just want to succeed, and the increasing numbers of disenfranchised, all hoping to be heard from the bottom of the Hill on our tiny imperiled planet. We expect that the Pope will appear on the steps of the Capitol. When he steps out there we will be waiting. Heeding the Pope’s words, we will be shouting, hoping to convince the nonbelievers and deniers that they should try to save Whoville, and letting them know that we are here. We are here.
Rogers is president of Earth Day Network. This article previously appeared in The Huffington Post. Courtesy of American Forum.