The Eco-Popemobile, but Don’t Call It That


A select group of young and fresh international designers (which I am not) were allowed to submit innovative mock-ups of what an eco-friendly pope mobile should look like. Apparently Pope Benedict XVI was getting pretty solar over at the Vatican and his team was ready to green the pope mobile. I really wanted to get my fang into a meaty challenge I was unqualified for, therefore my grand sketch was returned with a fat red rejection stamp across it.

According to the New York Times, the epicenter of Catholicism, Vatican City, has worked since 2006 to become the first carbon neutral state. A rooftop garden of solar panels above the Pope’s audience hall was turned on in November 2008. The panels on the 5,000-square-foot roof produce 300 kilowatt hours of energy, creating enough electricity to heat, cool and light the entire building year-round. The Vatican also is in the process of growing a 37-acre forest in Hungary to offset its annual carbon dioxide emissions.

So all this means is that this little papal haven is a hub of eco-centricity. Kind of like the Vatican is powered by the Son, the Light of the World (see John 8:12 if you want to see the clever reference) in co-operation with the Father and Holy Spirit. Sun, light and solar panels in the Vatican hint at a spiritual reality: we draw our energy from above. Righteous.poopmobile

The Vatican wanted to replace Sir Pope’s unarmed glass-topped pope mobile with a “green machine.” And in December, Green House blogger Wendy Koch wrote about how a German solar company thought it would be a breeze to get one up to speed. But there is the acceleration issue.

The diagram has been whitewashed by the need for a burst of backup power in case of an emergency. All my research points to an environmentally gracious adaptation of the iconic papal car: a hybrid variant on its M Class SUV that’ll be able to run some 16 miles (30km) emission-free thanks to a rechargeable lithium-ion battery.  Solid.

When he’s outside the Vatican, the Sainted One usually rides in a modified white Mercedes-Benz outfitted with bullet-proof windows; it has room for two passengers in addition to the pope, who sits on an elevated chair to wave to crowds. It’s is not quite your father’s Mercedes. The car has no markings, except for the Mercedes logo on the front, the Vatican coat of arms on each door and a specialized license plate that reads “SCV 1,” an acronym for the Vatican’s name in Italian and the number of the Holy Father’s place in the church hierarchy.article-1311980-0B30ACA2000005DC-662_634x412pedal-powered-Popemobile-Infographic-web

The “pope mobile” isn’t its official name, because it doesn’t, in fact, have one. Pope John Paul II pleaded with journalists to stop using the term in 2002 because he thought it sounded “undignified.” I think it has a youthfully jaunty ring to it.

The Sainted One would certainly prefer an electric pope mobile to a traditional, petroleum-powered one given his priority to make the Vatican a leader in green energy. I was doing a little reading up on the new pope. His Highness Benedict sees environmentalism as part of a deeper spiritual move away from what he called the “folly of consumerism,” toward a lifestyle rooted in the traditional virtues of self-sacrifice and solidarity. The pope also sees care for the earth as part of a continuum of moral truths, including defense of human life and dignity.


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