There’s plenty of truth in the pope’s new encyclical on the environment, titled Laudato Si’ (“Be praised”). Most agree with his teaching that it’s terribly wrong for individuals, corporations, and nations to wantonly destroy our environment and carelessly waste our natural resources.
But there are some portions of his letter that read like polished versions of the missives that spewed from Occupy Wall Street, and on the two questions central to the debate about global warming, Pope Francis has proven himself entirely fallible.
Let’s start with the first question: What’s the problem?
“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” wrote the pope. “In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events.”
That’s not true.
Writing last year in the Wall Street Journal, climatologist Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville said that the consensus claim is “fiction.”
“The so-called consensus comes from a handful of surveys and abstract-counting exercises that have been contradicted by more reliable research,” Spencer wrote. He explained that the often cited number that 97-percent of climatologists agree about man made abrupt climate change comes from an article by a college student and her master’s thesis adviser that reported the results of a brief survey of selected scientists.
“The 97-percent figure in the … survey represents the views of only 79 respondents who listed climate science as an area of expertise and said they published more than half of their recent peer-reviewed papers on climate change,” Spencer wrote. “Seventy-nine scientists — of the 3,146 who responded to the survey — does not a consensus make.”
The line about “extreme weather” is also wrong, as John R. Christy, a professor of atmospheric science also at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, explained on Al.com last year. “I often hear claims that extreme weather is getting worse,” wrote Christy. “Whether it’s tornadoes (no changes in 60 years), hurricanes (no changes in 120 years), or western U.S. droughts and heat waves (not as bad as they were 1,000 years ago), the evidence doesn’t support those claims.”
Pope Francis is also wrong on the second question: What’s to be done?
He wrote that we are “called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption,” and then said that the “establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable.”
An international legal framework governing our lifestyle, production, and consumption? No way, padre. We’re not about to surrender our sovereignty to some international organization empowered to loot the greatest force for good that mankind has ever created — the United States economy.
Some say he shouldn’t have engaged in such a political debate. I disagree. Saint John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan famously partnered to usher the end of communism in Europe. A sad coincidence is that many of the same Marxists who lost that battle found new homes in the environmental movement. Different causes, same goal: control. That’s why they’re often called “watermelon environmentalists” — green on the outside, red on the inside.
Even though he’s wrong, many mistakenly believe the pope’s opinions on the matter are thought infallible by the church and that Catholics like me are duty-bound to agree with the encyclical’s position on man-made abrupt climate change. We’re not. The pope’s opinions about global warming are just that: his opinions. Only under extremely rare circumstances does the pope speak infallibly, and this clearly isn’t one of those instances.
“One of the points worth counting in the encyclical is the number of times that Pope Francis uses the word ‘dialogue.’ He wants an open and free dialogue on these issues and says so many times throughout,” said Rev. Mitch Pacwa, S.J., a Catholic priest and host on Birmingham-based EWTN Global Catholic Network. “He raised good questions for the dialogue, but he did not decree any dogmas that were intended to end the dialogue.”
Thankfully so, because part of a dialogue is listening, and there’s plenty that hasn’t been heard on this issue.
(First published on Al.com)