Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Climate-Change Pope

Were we talking about a political leader we would be discussing the damage he had done to his reputation. Since we are talking about Pope Francis the damage involves his authority, not only as leader of the world’s Roman Catholics, but as one of the world’s most respected voices on matters of faith and morals.

We do not know exactly why he chose to enter the debate about climate change. And we certainly do not know why this pope came down against the Industrial Revolution. After all, capitalism and industry have raised more of the world’s people from abject poverty than has any other human institution.

Pope Francis has no special authority in the world of political economy. He cannot be counted as an authority on climate science. This means that he had to rely on advisers, most prominent among them was Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a radical environmentalist and an atheist.

The Washington Post describes him:

For advice, he [Pope Francis] turned to a number of scientific advisers who support the consensus that human activity is warming the Earth. They included Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

A professed atheist, Schellnhuber nevertheless saw a chance for a massive coup in the climate debate if a sitting pope issued an ode to Earth and the ills of carbon emissions. But not everyone, he said, seemed to want the encyclical to take sides.

Surely, the encyclical was a victory for Schellnhuber. If you do not have the power to affect your radical agenda, you do well to hijack the mind of someone who does. It could be a high-tech oligarch, or it could be a political or religious leader.

Writing in the Telegraph, Christopher Booker has a more downbeat view of the Pope’s leading climate advisor:

How forlorn in light of all this looks that would-be well-meaning 300-page document in which the Pope, under the spell of his chief scientific adviser, a fanatical German climate activist called Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, calls for an end to use of the very fossil fuels which keep the Vatican’s own lights on. In asking us to pray for that global climate treaty, Pope Francis solemnly trots out all those familiar plaints about “melting polar ice caps”, “rising sea levels”, unprecedented droughts, “extreme weather events” and the rest of that greenie litany which has no basis in honest science whatever.

The outside world is no longer listening to this claptrap. But it is not just the world outside the West which is beginning to call the shots. Reality itself is now knocking loudly at the door.

Booker is arguing that for all the gnashing of teeth about greenhouse gasses in the West, the greatest producers of said emissions, India and China do not really care what the Pope or Western intellectuals think.

Indian and Chinese leaders need to feed their people and to grow their economies. If the West wants to consign itself to a lower status, they will be happy to pick up the slack.

In Booker’s words:

Similarly, the last desperate throw by the EU and the US to achieve a world agreement next December to “halt climate change” is not going to succeed, not just because the “science” on which it is based is so increasingly questionable, but because the emerging powers of the East, led by India and China, are simply not prepared to go along with it. If the West wishes to commit economic suicide, so be it. In their own national interest, they are not willing to follow.

Why stake authority and reputation on something you have no power to change?

Also, Michael Goodwin takes the pope to task for wasting his time on matters that are beyond his competence, while ignoring issues where he ought to be a beacon:

At a time when blood is flowing like rivers around the globe, when Christians are being persecuted and when genocide and oppression are spreading, the world’s foremost religious figure ventures too far afield and gets lost in the socialist weeds.

Francis has shaken up the Vatican by showing a common touch, and you don’t have to be Catholic to admire his compassion for the poor and downtrodden. But his contempt for capitalism and anything resembling free markets strikes an un-religious chord, and he makes himself easy to dismiss when he complains the Earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

Goodwin continues:

His tone echoes that of an earnest high-school student who casually mixes anecdotal facts with preconceived notions to draw sweeping conclusions. The result is an unpersuasive mash-up beneath the pontiff’s stature.

Like all planners of utopia, he apparently believes the way to help the poor is to demand ever more government control and redistribution. But he also denounces the universal desire for the very fruits he wants to redistribute, so his ultimate goal is unclear.

Most troubling of all, Francis calls for dramatic action on climate change by adopting both the views and the language of the most strident greens. He demands “sustainable” development and denounces “obstructionists,” “special interests” and “selfish” leaders.

At times he sounds like he spent a week at communist summer camp, as when he shows contempt for even air conditioning. Let’s see how many greenies want to follow him over that cliff.

Goodwin believes that the encyclical will not produce the intended effect:

In the end, the treatise has the opposite impact of what was intended. Instead of using his office to start a conversation about changing the “throw-away culture,” the pope paints himself into a partisan political corner.

His incomparable authority on religious matters is not automatically transferable to other areas, so his overreach undermines confidence in his judgment. At this troubled time in history, fresh doubts about the pope are just about the last thing the world needs.

As for the larger issue, namely, that Pope Francis was trying to initiate a global conversation about climate change, one notes, with some chagrin, that he excluded from his deliberations all of those who dissent from the radical environmentalist agenda.

Even a Frenchman named Philippe de Larminat, a man who believes that the climate is changing but who does not believe that it has been caused by human activity, was excluded from the deliberations.

The Washington Post reports on the efforts of those who hold to a different opinion:

In late April, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, a free-market group that serves as a hub of skepticism regarding the science of human-caused global warming, sent a delegation to the Vatican. As a Heartland news release put it, they hoped “to inform Pope Francis of the truth about climate science: There is no global warming crisis!”

It was meant to coincide with the same April meeting that de Larminat was trying to attend. Heartland’s activists were not part of the invited contingent, either, Heartland communications director Jim Lakely said.

“It was a side event,” he said. “We were outside the walls of the Vatican. We were at a hotel — literally, I could throw a football into St. Peter’s Square.”


Sam L. said...

As I recall, he grew up in a socialist country, with socialist economy and being taught socialism, and still thinks that way. The Europeans have bought the premise, and so has he. And Schellnhuber, who may have ulterior motives.

Anonymous said...

Moses, Jesus, and many other prophets all expressed radical agendas in the social context of their times. Religious figures have always advocated social customs that restrict individual liberty (thou shall not) to some degree based on moral grounds. I see no loss of authority for doing what other religious figures have done.

Anonymous said...

Somewhere in scripture Moses, speaking on behalf of God, said, "There should be no poor or needy in the land." However, if human beings did not have an innate socialist instinct we would not recognize Moses as an authority on such matters. If Jesus and Moses spoke today on behalf of the peoples and the poor I suspect they would be called derogatory names by the Capitalist Conservatives.

Ares Olympus said...

re: Pope Francis has no special authority in the world of political economy. He cannot be counted as an authority on climate science.

This backlash against the pope is certainly suprising to me.

I wonder if anyone thinks "banning artificial contraceptives" is a "radial agenda"? I'd expect not a small number of modern people would say so.

We're probably all agreed the Pope has no special authority to limit artificial contraceptives in India or China NOR fossil fuel burning.

So if political power is the purpose of the church it looks like failure. Perhaps there are higher values than political power?

At least he's caused a whole new round of pitiful rationalizations by the "pro-death" infinite-economic growth crowd.

I admit I can't guess what effect this can have.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

No one has questioned the pope or anyone else about the need to eradicate poverty. The issue is which system of political economy has been most effective in doing so. Part of the problem with the encyclical seems to be the pope's incursion into worlds that are not normally considered to be his province. Recall Christ's words, the conceptual foundation for the separation of church and state: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's."

Anonymous said...

It seems the Pope is more interested in saving the earth, than saving souls.

Ares Olympus said...

Here's another article about the Pope's diverse advisers.

I don't know if the "The issue is which system of political economy has been most effective in [eradicating poverty]."

It seems like that is just an ideological war that hides the real issues. Perhaps Capitalism and Socialism are sort of like two brothers who have found their Dad's stash of cocaine. One industrious brother wants to sell it to richest neighbor kids to make a profit, and the other communal brother wants to share freely since it cost them nothing to get it in the first place. But meanwhile they both just end up getting high and go into a manic state shouting "Winning!" at each other and debating who has richer tiger blood.

It's not a fair comparison, but it makes as much sense as reducing the nature of existence to the size of your bank account. At the moment we have no idea how to limit abstract wealth of fiat money, and even if economists imagine mechanisms to limit our "cocaine" supply, within the addictive economy, we don't even know why we'd want to do anything else.
The Pontifical Academy has about 80 members, all of them appointed for life. Scientists hail from many nations, religions, and disciplines, which today include astronomy, biochemistry, physics, and mathematics. Members pursue the scientific issues they deem most important to society, without Vatican interference. Unlike the National Academy of Sciences, which is financially independent from the U.S., the Pontifical Academy relies on the Vatican to keep the lights on.

The full academy meets every two years and is often granted an audience from the pope. In the stretches between the biannual sessions, scientists hold workshops and produce reports on whichever topics they agree are most important for the pope to understand. “The pope has his own experts, who are completely secular,” said Ramanathan. “Not all of them even believe in a god. They are there for pure scientific excellence, and they are not co-opted by any country. They’re not co-opted by the United Nations.”

Reaching the pope is one thing. They also wanted to reach everybody else. Ramanathan and a coterie of his colleagues endorsed a follow-up plan. They would bring leaders of reason and faith together under one roof to talk about the most consequential risk humanity has had to confront since the advent of nuclear weaponry.

That’s why in April, the Vatican invited representatives from the world’s religions — including Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, and other Christians — to a symposium discussing climate science and the ways religious leaders might lead on the issue.

More than a dozen faith leaders heard from one of the world’s top climate scientists, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, about how the earth went “from glacial chaos to climate paradise” during the last big climate transition 12,000 years ago, and what we may be in store for next.

They heard from Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen, who popularized the notion that human industry has shoved the world into a new geological phase — the “anthropocene,” or in plainspeak, “the human age.”

And they heard Jeffrey Sachs, prolific writer and Columbia University economist, say that “we can still, but just barely,” avoid pollution levels that lead to dangerous climate change risk.

Academy events have addressed the basics of climate change going back at least to October 1980. That’s when Italian physicist Giampietro Puppi addressed the academy during a weeklong workshop on energy.

“The introduction into the atmosphere of an additional amount of particulates and gas, as a result of fuel burning,” said Puppi, an academy member from 1978 until his death, in 2006, “represents in the medium term, decades to centuries, the most important issue and the one of greatest concern on a global scale.”

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

The eco theology is but a symptom of what 50 years of liberation theology hath wrought. These efforts are designed to attack material symptoms -- the tyranny of what we can see, taste, touch and smell. We have defined the enemy as being apart from us, the external object of sensory perception. Yet the senses are the realm of one component of the faith life. The central component is man's relationship to God. The church exists to save souls, and that takes many forms, not just a 1960s declaration by the Jesuit order of a "preferential option for the poor" to justify turning religious expression into earthly Marxist (godless) activism.

What we are seeing in the world is the same sad tale of humanity: spiritual poverty. In all our technological magnificence we are further adrift in the most basic dimensions of life: what it means to be a human being. The spiritual bankruptcy of the developed world shows us what we are exporting through globalization. It's not just guns, televisions, movies and gadgets that we send abroad, we also send our values. And in 2015 those values are clear: "More, better, faster." Regardless of the consequence to the human person. Collateral damage.

Let's say we can turn climate change around, given our intellectual might and worship of technology. Of course this will be implemented through scarcity programs enforced by an all-powerful, all-knowing political class and its bureaucracy (which will insulate itself from the consequences of these policies). The threat of violence and material confiscation will keep people in line. Let's just say that worked, that climate change reversal were fact. After the alleviation of all human material wants, we would still have the human condition. It is human spiritual poverty that is the source of our problems.

Spiritual poverty is the heart of the environmental degradation, economic waste, war, inequality, etc. Material desire is never assuaged. Power and money are idols. The problem is man. The problem is not "out there" in multinational corporations, rich people, climate change, racism, etc. It is in the spirit of the human person -- the focus of our existence, our choices.

Following Jesus is the Christian ideal... that the truth is a person, a man-God. We are jealous, envious, sinful creatures. We think we've got it all figured out. The self-congratulation and arrogance of efforts to save the earth and provide for the poor are often to satisfy our own guilt of having so much and others so little. Can we part with these things, these conveniences and status artifacts we've accumulated? Yes, but it is a transformation apart from ourselves... this SELF that is the locus of our modern obsessions. We are not strong enough. We are fallen creatures, and transformation won't come from a glowing box, bigger bank account or Apple's next i____. It will come from our own inner peace and connection to our God. It will happen when we don't make man the sum of all things, the center of the universe. It isn't sustainable if it's forced on us by 21st century secular moralizers who view man as the source of all world problems... excepting themselves, of course.

What if it wasn't about us? What if we sought to stand for human dignity and spiritual integration into our private and public lives? What possibility would that create?

Pope Francis seems to impress people through his commitment to his own austerity, operating within the spiritual depth he clearly has. He gets in trouble and becomes caustic when he talks about economics. His example in voluntary poverty is important and powerful, a witness to Christ's redemptive power. He introduced himself by saying "I am a sinner," a welcome salutation demonstrating profound humility. He should get the Roman Catholic Church in order (beginning with reform of his native Jesuit order) before entering the world of global politics, economics and science. Moral power begins by getting one's own house in order.

Anonymous said...

To plan for the future individuals within societies need stable financial and environmental conditions. To lift oneself out of poverty an individual needs a job. The Pope does lose authority for recognizing the ethics of modern life on earth. You lose authority for failing to recognize the truth.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

So "the truth" is purely material?

Anonymous said...

The corporal works of mercy are spiritual and material in nature. Cultivating harmony with the natural environment and with one's neighbor in the (promised) land are material expressions flowing from spiritual values.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Agreed. That's what I'm saying. It's a both-and. Placing primacy on the natural world risks pantheism. Caring for nature is a human expression. The question is: do humans radically change global climate through their use of energy? I have the humility to say "I don't know," but I do find it objectionable to say "The science is settled" and pursue a scarcity-based remedy enforced through a world authority run by... men. I don't have that level of faith in our political class, not do I think science is exempt from the Marxist politics used to evaluate all human endeavors. To use the language of the liberators, it is a "praxis" of science and politics.l on the global stage. It's a great issue, provided you catch world temperatures in a sustained rise. And the climate fluctuates, as science amply demonstrates, over time. Where does this certainty come from? It certainly is not divine. I'm a skeptic, which I think is wise before we politically and economically reorient the human economy across the globe, placing our futures in the hands of... men, who above all else desire power.

Anonymous said...

This article in The Economist says the Republicans have a pope problem because he is not going to remain silent on political-economic issues of the environment and economics (translation: social justice issues) while Republican candidates cherry pick moral values from the Catholic faith that happen to resonate with their political constituency.

There is nothing humble about participating in a social experiment that may change the global climate with adverse consequences. I think a carbon-neutral economy is entirely possible but not for a race which cannot even imagine or discuss openly how we might get from "here to there" via a path of technological progress sponsored jointly by government and industry. The reason governments must subsidize new technology is because sunk costs of prior investments must be recovered so markets have no incentive to rapidly develop new capital assets while stranding the old technology.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Let's always keep mind and even underscore that while many climate scientists believe that the climate is indeed changing, some of the best believe that there is no evidence to suggest that human beings or human industry is responsible. I have posted about these ideas before. In particular, Richard Lindzen, the retired head of climate science at MIT does not believe that human activity has ever been proven to have anything to do with the fact that climate changes.

Anonymous said...

Some experiments (social liberties) are forbidden on moral grounds. So proof can't be obtained because that would mean performing the irreversible experiment to see how much harm is actually done. Many scientists are convinced we are performing an unethical experiment in human caused climate change right now.