Climate Check

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment has not yet been published, but it is already being criticized, even attacked by forces within and outside the Catholic Church.

That fact alone bears testimony to its relevance and importance. It also reveals the concern—even fear—among powerful and influential sectors that it could strongly affect the U.N. Conference on Climate Change in Paris, with consequences in the social, political and economic fields.

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The point was forcefully brought home to me on April 28, when the Vatican hosted a conference titled “The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development.” The previous day, a delegation from the Heartland Institute arrived in Rome with the declared aim of publicly rebutting the thesis that climate change is largely due to human activity, a conclusion strongly supported by science, shared by Pope Francis and likely to feature in the encyclical.

Observing the Heartland Institute’s initiative and reading articles by some American Catholic lay intellectuals who seek to downplay the encyclical’s magisterial impact, I felt as if I were watching a replay of what happened in 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war.

Then too, powerful forces in the United States, including leading Catholic lay intellectuals, publicly challenged or opposed the Holy See’s effort, under St. John Paul II, to prevent the Iraq war. Some came to Rome to convince Vatican officials and the public of the fallacy of the Holy See’s strategy.

History has confirmed that the Holy environment has not yet been See’s position was not only right but published, but it is already being also prophetic.

The forces in the United States that are criticizing the probable content or downplaying the morally binding import of the encyclical may be divided into two blocs: the first is tied to economic interests; the second consists of Catholic thinkers linked to conservative American political thought.

One can identify three groups in the first bloc: individuals and corporations tied to the oil, gas and coal industries who perceive a threat to their profits; economic libertarians who believe that government intervention in the economy is destructive to economic growth and human freedom; and those who fear that the United States and Europe will be penalized by any international agreements on the environment, while China and other developing nations will not.

These three groups—and the media associated with them—argue that the Argentine pope, though a good man, is naïve about economic issues. Furthermore, they use pseudoscience to deny that climate change is mainly man-made and to inject confusion into the discussion.

The second bloc consists of Catholic thinkers and writers who argue that while Catholics are bound by the moral principles of any encyclical, they are not bound by the contingent findings of fact in the text that rely upon scientific data or analysis. Thus they effectively relativize any encyclical so that it will not have substantial binding power on any of the central questions that face humanity regarding the environment.

The encyclical is expected in June. Though its contents are not yet known, the pope’s many public statements over the past two years indicate that it is likely to highlight the moral imperative to care for all creation and call for courageous political decisions to address climate change, eliminate poverty and hunger, and build an economy that puts the human person and the common good, not profit, at the center. It is also likely to call for the “globalization of solidarity,” innovative, sustainable technological and economic solutions and, of course, moral conversion.

“The church is not an expert on science, technology, or economics,” but it “is an expert on humanity—on the true calling of the human person to act with justice and charity,” Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, stated at the Vatican conference, in a talk that offered insight into the encyclical, which he helped draft.

“For this reason, she reads ‘the signs of the times’ at key moments in history,” he said. The church did so in the 19th and 20th centuries regarding the injustices arising from industrialization, the challenge of global development and the threat from nuclear arms during the Cold War.

So too today, he said, “The church must speak out on the great challenge of our time—the challenge of sustainable development” and the need for all of us “to make the right choices, the moral choices.” That is what Pope Francis’ encyclical will do.

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Alex Finta
3 years 5 months ago
"Furthermore, they use pseudoscience to deny that climate change is mainly man-made and to inject confusion into the discussion." Meteorological satellite data covering the earth show NO WARMING (man-made or natural) for the last 18 years.The pseudoscience here is on Mr. O'Connell's part.
IGNACIO SILVA
3 years 5 months ago
Mr. Finta, that's atmosphere & not earth warming, the latter with melting ice, rising sea levels, and melting of permafrost tundra which gives off methane. NASA's budget was cut due to the Congressional oversight committee challenging NASA to study space, & not earth, as if the two were separate entities. And the head of that committee, none other than the omniscient Ted Cruz.
Alex Finta
3 years 4 months ago
Mr. Silva, they're connected. Ocean ice is NOT melting (Antarctic ice is at record levels); sea level is rising at the same rate as always, 7 inches/century. And keep your left-wing "science" to yourself. The new US Climate Reference Network shows there isn't any warming. It's remotely possible that America's editors will be surprised that not all Catholics are convinced by Pope Francis's ignorant encyclical. It's a bad idea to let extremists write sections of an encyclical for you. Francis has made that mistake in spades. It takes remarkable ignorance and arrogance to categorize carbon dioxide – a gas essential to all life on this Earth – as carbon pollution. Carbon dioxide isn't carbon, and it certainly isn't pollution. Animals (including humans) exhale CO2, and inhale oxygen; plants inhale carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen. That mutual exchange is called symbiosis, the most fundamental fact of ecology on this planet. It takes equal ignorance and arrogance to imagine that Francis is helping the poor by denying them the advantages of modern technology made possible by cheap, on-grid, RELIABLE electricity. More than 1 billion poor people have no electricity; three billion have intermittent, unreliable electricity. How is one to refrigerate food and medicine, to cook cleanly (not on a fire of wood and dung), to pump clean water from a well, to transport produce to market and goods back, to hear news on TV and read after dark? This pope is a scientific and economic ignoramus. Pope Urban 8 is a model of rational thought by comparison. It took the Church only 400 years to repent of their stupidity re: Galileo. Let's hope this fiasco does not long outlive the current incumbant.
Chuck Kotlarz
3 years 4 months ago
Technology perhaps will align with the Pope. During the twentieth century, Italy was at the forefront of technological development and the production of energy from renewable sources. If Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre could propose in 1927 the Big Bang theory of the origin of the Universe, Pope Francis should have no problem with renewable energy. For background, solar could be the world's biggest single source of electricity by 2050. Wind power could provide 35 percent of US electricity by 2050. One US electric utility, MidAmerican Energy, already has nearly forty percent generation capacity from wind-power. MidAmerican’s wind power capacity exceeds that of the largest coal fired generating plant west of the Mississippi.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
I know of no one who opposed the Pope's thesis that has a problem with sustainable energy. Most of the opposition will come from the left who fight sustainable sources for environmental reasons (nuclear, solar, wind and hydro all have objections from the environmentalist.) For others it is a question of whether it is economical or not. The Pope's encyclical has several facets but I doubt there is a reflexive reaction against sustainable energy sources. Objections to the encyclical lie elsewhere, namely, in the economic analysis.
Chuck Kotlarz
3 years 4 months ago
Those aligned with the Pope want sustainable energy to replace fossil fuel based energy as soon as possible. Those against, want fossil fuel based energy the primary and dominant source now and the foreseeable future. Nuclear apparently has lost merit as the newest US nuclear power plant became operational in 1986.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Nonsense.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Pope Urban 8 is a model of rational thought by comparison. It took the Church only 400 years to repent of their stupidity re: Galileo
Actually, Urban was the rational one in the Galileo affair. It was Galileo who was the culprit and caused all the problems. Urban had suggested the theme of Galileo's thesis but only asked him to treat it as a hypothesis as opposed to scientifically proven. Galileo had no answer to the parallax or wind problem which were issues with a rotating earth that traveled around the sun. Galileo portrayed Urban as a simpleton in his thesis when he in fact was the wise one of the two. Urban was under pressure from Galileo's sponsor, Ferdinand II the Duke of Tuscany, to intervene in the 30 year war which he did not do and because of this Ferdinand was trying to depose him. Let us retire the Galileo nonsense. It was a hammer used by Protestants a couple hundred years later against the Church and certainly not something the Church should have apologized for. Galileo's ideas were not supported by the science of the day and it took 200 years before they were supported by other scientific findings.
Ana Vago
3 years 4 months ago
Thesis v. hypothesis? So what. Apparently you think that since Galileo couldn't absolutely prove his findings at the time he's guilty of heresy? So what if it wasn't "supported" by the science of the day. Lots of scientific breakthroughs are not supported by the science of the time. That's why they were/are breakthroughs. Why should scientists in any century be tried for heresy? Of course it was Urban's "fault". He must have thought he was god and how dare Galileo go against what he wanted Galileo to do or say or write. The church has been way too involved with politics for most of its history, which is what happens when popes become just like the secular rulers. Which popes have done for a lot of church history. Wealth, privilege, and power - not the gospel, not humility, not simplicity. The church most definitely should have apologized for this episode in history. A scandal that should be a constant reminder when the men of this church begin to think they really are infallible. They aren't. Only God is and they aren't God. Those who defend the church no matter what it does wrong should think about who they are substituting for God. It's still forbidden to put false idols in God's place.
J Cosgrove
3 years 4 months ago
Urban suggested Galileo's thesis to him. Galileo had some absurd idea about the tides and Urban suggested he discuss the two hypothesis of heliocentric and geocentric movement. Urban supported Galileo in his writings. Galileo turned around and called Urban a fool in his thesis at the same time that Galileo's patron from Florence was trying to depose Urban. I suggest you get hold of Lawrence Principe's course on science and religion which he spends two lectures on this topic. http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/science-and-religion.html It is probably available at most libraries. Galileo had no answer to the parallax problem nor the wind problem and at the time. Tycho Brahe's ideas better explained what was happening with the planets. It was 200 years before there was support for his ideas.
Carlos Orozco
3 years 5 months ago
I think it is not a good idea to mix ongoing scientific debates with an encyclical. We will have to wait and read.
Fernán Jaramillo
3 years 5 months ago
There is no ongoing scientific debate. There is a pseudo-debate fueled by a combination of ignorance and denial.
John Hess
3 years 4 months ago
And self interest. Don't forget self interest.
Chuck Kotlarz
3 years 4 months ago
Any obstacle to unrestricted pursuit of self-interest directly challenges the libertarian worldview. The 1980 libertarian platform, on which billionaire David Koch ran for vice president, includes “abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency”.
Martin Eble
3 years 5 months ago
Catholics who point out that Catholics are bound by the moral teaching in any encyclical but are not bound by prudential judgments which are contingent on findings of fact requiring expert analysis outside the scope of the Holy Father's teaching role are 100% in agreement with the Church's consistent teaching on papal teaching authority. The Holy Father is not a caliph or an ayatollah.
Chuck Kotlarz
3 years 4 months ago
On May 11, 2014, Germany, generated a record 74 percent of its electricity from renewable energy. For the first three months of 2014, renewables provided over 25% of Germany’s electricity. Germany expects to rely almost entirely on renewable sources by 2050.

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