The ironies of Pope Francis’s climate-change cure

pope crowdIt is heartening and not at all surprising that Pope Francis stresses throughout his new encyclical—or at least the draft leaked earlier this week—how important it is to avoid harming the world’s poor, indeed, to facilitate their rising out of poverty instead. His recognition of the goodness of the physical creation rightly brings joy to everyone who appreciates, and wants to enhance, its beauty, fruitfulness, and safety. There are many things to applaud in this encyclical.

The encyclical’s treatment of climate change, however, is markedly different, and there are, before we even get to the substance, two textual clues to this.

First, climate change is the focus of only 2 percent of the encyclical. Second, in the rest of the encyclical Pope Francis cites an average of 1.4 sources per section. But in the four sections on climate change—the subject on which Francis’s life and office leave him most in need of them—there are none.

These two facts suggest two things:

First, regardless of the enormous public focus on it (many news headlines refer to the document as the “climate encyclical”), Pope Francis actually considers climate change at most a minor issue. Second, these sections arise not out of Pope Francis’s own knowledge but from unsourced claims passed on by his advisors.

And that explains their weakness.

The sections on climate change are riddled with vigorously debated, if not outright false, claims. Pope Francis would have recognized this had he been familiar with the scholarly debates raging around it. The utter absence of source citations practically screams out, “Whoever wrote this doesn’t know the field—or has something to hide.”

Here are four relevant facts Pope Francis would have known had he known the field, followed by one common-sense (and scientific) inference:

1. Computer modeling, not real-world observation, is the only basis for fears of dangerous manmade global warming.

2. On average, the 110+ computer climate models on which the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other climate alarmists rely simulate more than twice as much warming from enhanced atmospheric CO2 as actually observed over the relevant period.

3. If the models’ errors were random, their simulations would be randomly distributed above and below observations. Instead, over 95% simulate more warming than observed. This entails that we don’t understand how the climate system responds to enhanced CO2 and that the errors arise at least in part from bias.

4. None of the models simulated the complete absence of statistically significant global warming over the past 16 to 26 years.

5. Any climate policy can be justified only on the grounds of rational expectations about future climate response to human activity. Models can provide those rational expectations only if they are validated by real-world observation. But in this case, the models not only are not validated but are invalidated—falsified. The models are wrong. Therefore they provide no rational basis for predictions about future global temperature, and no rational basis for any policy whatever.

All of these facts are in refereed literature, and they have the climate science community scampering to recalculate the warming effect of CO2. The new calculations point toward the lower end of the range previously offered by the IPCC (1.5˚ to 4.5˚ C). Indeed, some point well below the low end of that range, to figures like 0.3˚ to 1.0˚.

This would all be mere esoteric academic wrangling were it not for the grave consequences of policies recommended to mitigate manmade global warming. All would have precisely the opposite effect on the world’s poor from what Pope Francis passionately wants.

He wants them to rise out of poverty.

But by reducing access to the abundant, affordable, reliable energy absolutely necessary for any society to rise out of poverty, and available now and for the foreseeable future almost entirely from fossil fuels (which provide over 85 percent of all energy used in the world), the policies would slow, stop, or reverse the rise out of absolute poverty (less than $1.25 per person per day) for the world’s 1.3 billion poorest who have no access to electricity and rely on wood and dung as primary cooking and heating fuels—smoke from which kills about 4 million yearly.

The roughly 2 billion who left absolute poverty for merely severe poverty over the last 25 years would find their progress checked or, more likely, would be driven back into absolute poverty.

As a small child, in Calcutta, India, I observed, daily, two things. First, a beautiful, red-flowering vine hanging from an enormous tree, which displayed the beauty and fertility of God’s creation. Second, scores of bodies of the poor who had died overnight of starvation and disease, which displayed to me the horrors of poverty. They make me want to see everyone enjoy the health, long life, and other benefits of at least moderate wealth.

They can, and in time they will, with a combination of two things: limited, accountable, responsive governments that enforce the rule of law to protect property rights, entrepreneurship, and widespread trade; and abundant, affordable, reliable energy.

Sad to say, despite Pope Francis’s best intentions, the policies the encyclical recommends to mitigate global warming would reduce, not increase, both of those conditions of overcoming poverty.

Wealth enables people to afford better environmental stewardship. Pope Francis should champion economic development as solution both to poverty and to environmental degradation. Unfortunately, at least as regards climate change, the leaked draft of the new encyclical does the opposite.

E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman of TheCornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which in late Aprilreleased at a press conference outside the Vatican “An Open Letter toPope Francis on Climate Change,” now signed by nearly 200 scientists,economists, theologians, and others with expertise on climate changeand climate-and-energy policy.


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