Oh well. The Pope has spoken. So now it’s settled.
What’s that, you say? We’re giving up divorce? Abortion? Pre-marital sex? Not exactly. It’s something else the head of the Roman Catholic Church is apparently entitled to speak on with dogmatic authority and in this case to all mankind rather than just to often inattentive Catholic faithful: carbon pricing.
After years of the Pope calling for drastic action on climate change, it is apparently a big news story that the Pope has issued a call for drastic action on climate change. And people who can’t wait to tear his views to shreds on actual Church doctrine now insist we must heed the views of Francis on electricity policy.
Now to be fair to the Pope, human stewardship of creation and our profound responsibility for the environment is orthodox Catholic doctrine. Along with the stuff about no sex outside lifelong heterosexual marriage, avoiding wrath, tithing, not taking the name of the Lord in vain, etc. But do not think of adding carbon pricing to the list of Papal instructions to be shrugged off in enlightened times as irrelevant moral dogma. Though it rather smacks of hypocrisy hearing people invoke him an authority on climate policy who at the same time demand he get with the program on women priests.
The Pope, Reuters reports, got the economics right for once, calling for “carbon pricing” if you really want to reduce our use of fossil fuels. But he also demanded “’open, transparent, science-based and standardized’ reporting of climate risk and a ‘radical energy transition’ away from carbon to save the planet.” Which would be all fine and good if he or the journalists were interested in genuinely “science-based” reporting of climate risk rather than hyping the most ludicrous scenarios as already coming true.
For instance Francis said what Reuters called “the ecological crisis”, which presumably extends beyond but centres on man-made global warming, “threatens the very future of the human family.” So the same Pope who calls for sober “science-based” and “standardized” risk analysis immediately lapses into apocalyptic fear-mongering and journalists are right with him Moon turns to blood! Film at 11!
The Pope said this stuff to a bunch of energy executives who apparently responded by confessing that they are evil planet-destroying monsters. But there was no absolution to be had. Reuters sneered that “Companies including Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Total have laid out plans to expand their renewable energy business and reduce emissions. Critics say such gestures are minor parts of businesses that overwhelmingly depend on an economy that continues to pollute.” Evidently journalists are more Catholic than the Pope, so to speak, on the denigration of carbon dioxide as pollution as a dogmatic premise not a reasoned conclusion. But not much.
Reuters says the pontiff, waaaay ex cathedra, also “criticized those who, like Trump, doubt the science that shows human activity is causing the earth to heat up”. Which inadvertently raised a key point about science depending on making and testing hypotheses because Francis also intoned that “For too long we have collectively failed to listen to the fruits of scientific analysis, and doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain” and called for discussions of the subject to be based on “the best scientific research available today.”
Predictions, you say? OK. We’ll bite. Because for many years people like the Pope, Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jean Chrétien have in fact been listening eagerly to and repeating “doomsday predictions” about hurricanes, droughts, vanishing islands and forest fires that have not come true. An upcoming Climate Discussion Nexus video will take a detailed look at the scary but utterly mistaken forecasts in a widely distributed 2001 Canadian government pamphlet. And as it says, we’d dearly love to hear from “the best scientific research available today” why “the best scientific research available yesterday” was so lousy.
It’s not an innocent phenomenon. The Pope said “Faced with a climate emergency, we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations.” But if you’re concerned about brutal injustice toward the poor and future generations, you really need to be concerned about costly and ineffective climate policy depriving people of affordable and reliable energy, especially in the developing world. Venezuela is giving us a sneak preview of a world without gasoline and it’s not pretty.
Meanwhile, let’s have three cheers for the Pope from those who believe first that he’s an authoritative voice on God’s will and second that the Church should be in charge of the science curriculum. Everyone else might regard his remarks as a mildly interesting reflection on the perils of embracing doctrines you don’t understand. And the enthusiastic response as an amusing reflection on hypocrisy.