by Judith Curry
The Pontifical Academy of Science meeting on climate change is raising some interesting issues for Catholics and for humanity.
Pope Francis is emerging as one of the world’s foremost campaigners on global warming. The Economist writes in an article A green wearing white?:
The challenge for Pope Francis will be to strike a note that sounds authentic to his own followers, including conservative sceptics, while also striking a chord with the remainder of humanity.
Chris Mooney writes:
Many in the environmental and scientific community think that if Pope Francis injects himself into international climate politics in an equally blunt fashion later this year, the ramifications on the climate debate could be dramatic.
Statistician and climate scientist Matt Briggs (a Catholic) writes in Crisis Magazine:
Used to be in the West when the Catholic Church spoke, people listened. They considered. Sure, they sometimes rejected, perhaps even more often than they heeded.
Not so now. The press, politicians, and people no longer care what the clergy has to say on designer babies (i.e. eugenics), abortion, homosexual acts, same-sex “marriage”, you name it [JC comment: BIRTH CONTROL] . Not when a recalcitrant Church disallows female priests, divorce, and every other thing the secular salivate over.
Papal Summit on climate change
The rationale for the Summit is described in America: The National Catholic Review:
The one-day summit on April 28 will also include participants from major world religions and aims to “elevate the debate on the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical,” as the papal document is known.
Another goal, says a statement on a Vatican website, is to highlight “the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people — especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children, and future generations.”
Also addressing the conference will be Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, a top Vatican official who is leading the drafting process of Francis’ encyclical on the environment, which is expected to come out in June or July.
The Summit issued a Final Declaration:
World leaders meeting at the Vatican for a conference on climate change have issued a final statement, declaring that “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality” and “its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.”
The statement says that humans have the technological and financial means, and the know-how, to combat human-induced climate change, while at the same time eliminating global poverty.
The statement is a political one; about half of the statement is devoted to the forthcoming UNFCCC COP meeting in Paris.
Climate change statement by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences
The following statement has been issued by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences: Climate Change and the Common Good: A Statement of the Problem and Demand for Transformative Solutions. The list of authors includes Ramanathan, Crutzen, Rees, Peter Raven, Jeffrey Sachs, Mario Molina, Schellenhuber.
From the Declaration:
The Catholic Church, working with the leadership of other religions, can now take a decisive role by mobilizing public opinion and public funds to meet the energy needs of the poorest 3 billion people, thus allowing them to prepare for the challenges of unavoidable climate and eco-system changes.
The document contains the usual rhetoric, albeit with some surprising nods to uncertainty. The most compelling parts of the documents relate to Ramanathan’s plea for cook stoves:
In addition to the issue of inter-generational equity, climate change from fossil-fuel burning poses a major problem of intra-generational equity. During the 20th Century the overwhelming bulk of carbon emissions was made by today’s rich countries. But there are still three billion people today who do not have access to modern energy sources. They are obliged to cook and heat their homes by burning solid fuels, thus producing indoor smoke to a degree that is dangerous to their health.
Peter Raven’s perspective on ecology and species loss comes across loud and clear:
Unsustainable consumption coupled with the already record size of the human population and the uses of inappropriate technologies are causally linked with the destruction of the world’s sustainability and resilience and the loss of millions of species of the organisms on which we depend directly for life, as well as the widening inequalities of wealth and income in many societies.
The most controversial statements in the document effectively say “ditch capitalism:”
“Market forces alone, bereft of ethical values, cannot solve the intertwined crises of poverty, exclusion, and the environment,” the document adds. “The move to a sustainable world will not be cost-free for all: the options we face are not ‘win-win.’”
“We should be prepared to accept a reallocation of the benefits and burdens that accompany humanity’s activities both within nations and between nations,”
A summary of the Recommended Measures:
RECOMMENDED MEASURES: CLIMATE MITIGATION
● Reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions without delay, using all means possible to meet ambitious international targets for reducing global warming and ensuring the long-term stability of the climate system.
● Reduce the concentrations of short-lived climate warming air pollutants (dark soot, methane, lower atmosphere ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons) by as much as 50%, to slow down climate change during this century, and to prevent a hundred million premature deaths between now and 2050 as well as hundreds of millions of tons of crop loss during the same period.
● Prepare especially the most vulnerable 3 billion people to adapt to the climate changes, both chronic and abrupt, that society will be unable to mitigate.
● The Catholic church, working with the leadership of other religions, can take a decisive role by mobilizing public opinion and public funds to meet the energy needs of the poorest 3 billion to better prepare them to cope with impending climate changes and more generally to raise the incomes, education, healthcare and quality of life of the world’s poorest under the aegis of the SDGs.
● Over and above institutional reforms, policy changes and technological innovations for affordable access to renewable energy sources, there is a fundamental need to reorient our attitude toward nature and, thereby, toward ourselves.
RECOMMENDED MEASURES: BEYOND CLIMATE CHANGE
● We must find ways to protect and conserve as large as possible a fraction of the tens of millions of plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms that make up the living fabric of the world.
● In view of the persistence of poverty, the widening of economic and social inequalities, and the continued destruction of the environment, we support and endorse the call for the adoption by 2015 of new universal goals, to be called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to guide planetary-scale actions after 2015.
● Only through the empowerment and education of women and children throughout the world will we be able to attain a world that is both just and sustainable.
The Christian Science Monitor writes:
It’s the kind of organized effort that sets many conservative skeptics’ teeth on edge. And even though previous popes issued similar teachings on the environment, Francis has sparked a particularly vocal response. For Catholic conservatives, both in the US and overseas, Francis’s progressive views, combined with his overwhelming popularity with the laity, represents a challenge that some critics see as moving from the theological realm to the political. But there is no question that his voice reaches farther – on this and other social issues – than his predecessor.
The Heartland Institute organized a delegation to go to Rome to advise the Pope (I have no idea if they actually obtained an audience with the Pope). Breitbart has an article Vatican heavies silence climate heretics at UN Papal Summit. Telegraph also has an article Pope attacked by climate change skeptics.
I personally don’t think the Heartland sponsored efforts will be effective in influencing the Pope’s forthcoming encyclical. Matt Briggs writes:
But I don’t think these uninvited emissaries will have much effect. I’m far from an expert on the politics of the Vatican, but from what I’ve gleaned, the best way to get things “done” in that glorious and ancient institution is to work behind the scenes. (Making contact with some skeptical bishops would have been my goal. It still is.)
Arguably the most effective ‘pushback’ comes from Cal Beisner of the Cornwall Alliance, who coordinated An Open Letter to Pope Francis on Climate Change, excerpts:
As world leaders contemplate a climate agreement, many look to you for guidance. We commend you for your care for the earth and God’s children, especially the poor. With this letter we raise some matters of concern that we ask you to consider as you convey that guidance.
Much of the debate over environmental stewardship is rooted in a clash of worldviews, with conflicting doctrines of God, creation, humanity, sin, and salvation. Unfortunately, that clash often works its way into the very conclusions of environmental science. Rather than a careful reporting of the best evidence, we get highly speculative and theory-laden conclusions presented as the assured results of science. In the process, science itself is diminished, and many well-meaning moral and religious leaders risk offering solutions based on misleading science. The effect, tragically, is that the very people we seek to help could be harmed instead.
And finally, I copied this tweet (I don’t know who wrote it): It is now obvious that “Global Warming” is matter of religious belief and has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Science.
Climate change as a moral dilemma
Pope Francis is tapping into the growing movement for climate justice.
David Roberts (now at Vox) has a relevant article, excerpt:
But as Heartland clearly recognizes, the Pope’s statement carries unique significance for the simple reason that he has unquestioned moral authority for millions of people. He threatens to situate the fight against climate change as a deeply moral issue, a matter of God’s work on earth. Once it is so situated, it will slowly and inexorably drag culture and politics along in its wake. The right, which is entirely comfortable deploying moral arguments, understands this better than the mainstream, center-left environmental establishment.
Can climate action become a moral imperative? On that question, there is no fact of the matter, no answer knowable in advance. Moral imperatives are not things societies discover, but things they create, by believing in them. If enough people believe that climate action is a moral imperative, then it is. Belief makes it so.
Pat Michaels has a relevant article: The Climate Courage of Pope Francis. . Excerpts:
The conference has a moral duty to the poor, namely to help them find ways to not be poor. There is no debate that depriving them of the technological means that are required to lift their societies is immoral.
Pope Francis has done the world a wonderful favor. It is now time to examine all the moral aspects of climate change, the way we power our society, and the need to protect and help the least among us. Anything less would be a waste of the pontiff’s calling.
Bjørn Lomborg has been making the case that getting energy and clean water to Africans is a higher moral priority than pursuing renewable energy. Matt Ridley has an excellent article Electricity for Africa. Excerpts:
Without abundant fuel and power, prosperity is impossible: workers cannot amplify their productivity, doctors cannot preserve vaccines, students cannot learn after dark, goods cannot get to market. Nearly 700 million Africans rely mainly on wood or dung to cook and heat with, and 600 million have no access to electric light.
Africa is awash with fossil fuels — but not the capital to build plants to turn them into electricity.Yet the greens want Africans to hold back on the cheapest form of power: fossil fuels. In 2013 Ed Davey, the energy secretary, announced that British taxpayers will no longer fund coal-fired power stations in developing countries, and that he would put pressure on development banks to ensure that their funding policies rule out coal.
Yvo de Boer, head of the Global Green Growth Institute, says: “You really have to be able to offer these countries an economically viable alternative, before you begin to rule out coal.” And Donald Kaberuka, president of the African Development Bank, says it is hypocritical for western governments, made rich by fossil fuels, “to say to African countries, ‘You cannot develop dams, you cannot develop coal, just rely on these very expensive renewables’.”
And finally, Climate Change Dispatch asks: Will Pope Francis Stop Using Fossil Fuels to Set an Example?
The debate on climate change has centered on the science and economic cost/benefit analyses – both of which are dominated by deep uncertainties. The moral dimensions of the climate change problem have received short shrift. The main moral debate is the conflict between intergenerational equity (e.g. our grandchildren) versus intra-generational equity (the poorest of the poor, on the edge of survival). The certainty of the current desperation of the poorest of the poor, versus the huge uncertainty of what kind of climate change our great grandchildren might face (and whether we can influence that change in any event), to me points in the direction of working to support the poorest of the poor and support their needs for electric power and cook stoves.
I applaud Pope Francis for standing up and speaking for the world’s poor, and for highlighting creation care and care for the earth’s species. But the elephant in the room is this: POPULATION INCREASE. Anthropogenic climate change is largely a problem of global population increase, particularly as the extremely rapidly growing populations in the world’s poorest countries seek electric power and to develop economically.
Among the world’s religions, the Roman Catholic Church stands out in disallowing artificial contraception. While practicing Roman Catholics in the West largely pay no attention to this edict, it does influence international family planning efforts [link]. Contraception helps lower birth rates. The other major factors are education of women and economic development. The Pontifical Academy climate change statement calls out the need for education of women, but the issue of population increase and need for economic development are not addressed.
I hope that the Pope’s forthcoming encyclical on climate change will truly be a moral statement/quest, rather than a political one. If Pope Francis truly cares about global climate change and the impact on the poorest of the poor and species, then he should address the population problem and join the rest of the world’s religions in dropping the edict against artificial contraception.
Update: interesting guest post on BishopHill about papal encyclicals