Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Pope's Climate Encyclical

I wrote not to expect me to write about the rumored Pope Francis climate encyclical right away. I wanted to have a chance to read it before commenting.

Today's Mass readings had a meteorological underlying theme and I wonder if that factored into the Holy Father's timing for the release of his climate document.

In this commentary, I have put the Pope's words in bold print. 

The last three days, I have been trying to make my way through the encyclical. It is tough sledding because there are so many scientific errors and odd passages, even on topics not directly related to global warming. For example, there is a strange paragraph on GMO's (#134) where Francis acknowledges they have brought food to the poor but he apparently doesn't like them anyway for rather nebulous reasons.

In paragraph 182, he says,

182. An assessment of the environmental impact of business ventures and projects demands transparent political processes involving a free exchange of views. 

Yet, the Washington Post and others are reporting that the scientific committee advising the Pope did not want to hear an "off note" and rescinded an invitation to a scientist who believes solar effects play more of a role in climate changes than the 'consensus' scientists. Which is it? Free exchange of views or not? Shouldn't the Vatican set an example?

For all of excitement from U.S. liberals, there are many items reaffirming traditional Catholic teaching.

Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

I humbly salute Pope Francis for reaffirming traditional Catholic teaching here and also explaining that population control is not the answer. Care for the environment has always been part of Catholic teaching so there is little new in that regard.

That stated, and also stating that I write this with a heavy heart, the quality of the science in the encyclical would not have passed muster in my (Catholic school) third grade weather class. Consider paragraph 23: 

Climate as a common good
23. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all...

"Climate" is in no way a common good. The atmosphere is a common good and, in a sense, may be "meant for all." By that I mean that the composition of the atmosphere is the same everywhere (78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 0.9% argon, etc.). Climate is hardly the same everywhere. There is nothing "common" about the climate in the Antarctic compared to Miami. There is nothing common between the climate of the Sahara compared to windward Kauai. For that matter, there is nothing common between windward Kauai (wettest spot on earth) to leeward Kauai (the Barking Sands dessert) less than 40 miles away.

If, perhaps, climate was stable over the centuries one might say it is a "common good" but climate has never been stable. Since the Little Ice Age, the warming has been wonderful for humanity. The longer (net) growing seasons have allowed farmers to grow enough food to feed the world. Of course, there are many starving but that is an issue of food distribution, not of sufficient caloric production. 

To illustrate: The pro-catastrophic global warming people say that significant human influence on the climate began in the 1950's. So, let's look at a graph of world temperatures from 1850 to 1958:
There are tremendous changes without any human influence.

The Pope also doesn't seem to realize there will be winners whenever climate changes since he only talks about potential losses. For example, the extremely poor region of the world near the Sahara is already getting greener. Or, how forests are already growing more wood that can be used for housing for the poor.

So, the notion climate is a "common good" wouldn't have passed muster with Mrs. Evgen who taught us weather at St. Catherine's.

Pope Francis goes on to state,

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.  

Forget for a moment that "consensus" has nothing to do with science. Let's consider the statement on its own merits. Assuming "presently" means in the last few years or decades, here is a composite of the four most prominent metrics of world temperatures for the last 20 years. There is no "disturbing warming."

The next sentence says, In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level Well, yes, but this has been going on -- at approximately the same rate -- since the end of the Little Ice Age. 
There is no indication -- none -- that the rate of sea level rise has increased!

I could go on and on but I will not. You get my point. Let's skip forward. 

Consider this paragraph:

169. As far as the protection of biodiversity and issues related to desertification are concerned, progress has been far less significant... See item about Sahara getting greener. To my knowledge, the science does not support this contention.

...With regard to climate change, the advances have been regrettably few. Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility,  If the increasing number of scientists that are concerned about cooling are correct, we do not want to reduce greenhouse gases. The additional CO2 has apparently been mildly helpful in increasing agricultural output -- crucial for the Pope's goal of feeding the poor.

...above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most. The Conference of the United Nations on Sustainable Development, “Rio+20” (Rio de Janeiro 2012), issued a wide-ranging but ineffectual outcome document. International negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good. Those who will have to suffer the consequences of what we are trying to hide will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility. Even as this Encyclical was being prepared, the debate was intensifying. We believers cannot fail to ask God for a positive outcome to the present discussions, so that future generations will not have to suffer the effects of our ill-advised delays.

That is a political statement, not a theological or moral statement.

As many have pointed out, Catholics are not obliged to believe the contents of this or any other encyclical. I think it is unfortunate that Francis decided to wade into the science and politics of global warming.

I do (humbly) like the way Pope Francis ends the encyclical and I will end this commentary the same way.

A Christian prayer in union with creation

Father, we praise you with all your creatures.
They came forth from your all-powerful hand;
they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.
Praise be to you!
Son of God, Jesus,
through you all things were made.
You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother,
you became part of this earth,
and you gazed upon this world with human eyes.
Today you are alive in every creature
in your risen glory.
Praise be to you!
Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love
and accompany creation as it groans in travail.
You also dwell in our hearts
and you inspire us to do what is good.
Praise be to you!
Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you
in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.


God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.

Praise be to you!
Amen.

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