So the Pope’s long-awaited encyclical on “global warming” has been released to the media four days in advance of its official launch.
A Vatican official has described this leak as “heinous,” but not as heinous, surely, as the damage this misbegotten document is going to do to the global economy, to the credibility of the Catholic church, and, perhaps worst of all as far as this caring, sharing pope ought to be concerned, the plight of the world’s poor.
Global warming, it says, is “mostly” due to human activity and the burning of fossil fuels.
Humanity must become aware of the “need to change lifestyles, production and consumption” in order to combat warming.
The pollution produced by carbon dioxide increase the acidity of the oceans and impairs the marine food chain.
Rising sea levels “can create situations of extreme gravity”.
This is the sort of hackneyed language and extremely dubious science you might expect from a 16-year old trotting out the formulaic bilge and accepted faux-wisdom required these days to pass a fairly typical exam paper in Geography or Environmental Sciences.
But what it most definitely isn’t the kind of thing you’d want or hope to read from the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, whose word is supposedly infalliable and who holds an office that dates back two thousand years.
First ‚Äì despite the Pope’s much-vaunted masters degree in Chemistry ‚Äì it’s wrong scientifically.
There is no evidence that sea-levels are rising at an abnormal rate; ocean acidification is a busted flush; catastrophic man-made global warming remains, at best, an unproven and increasingly shaky theory.
Second, it’s wrong morally.
As Marc Morano and others frequently argue (because it’s true), “fossil fuels are the moral choice for the developing world.” Why? Because unlike inefficient renewables (solar, wind, etc) they don’t require poor countries to devote vast government budgets to subsidise them, and they give growing economies the thing they need perhaps above all else which is a cheap, reliable source of energy. If you truly care about the poor ‚Äì as the Pope professes to do ‚Äì the very last thing you’d want to impose on them is carbon reduction targets or green regulations or crazy schemes which involve chopping down rainforest to grow palm oil or using farm land to grow biofuels. This just creates food shortages and drives up the cost of living.
Third, it makes no sense theologically.
Though it’s true that popes occasionally use encyclicals for political purposes ‚Äì railing against the Vietnam or Gulf wars, for example ‚Äì they are most usually, by tradition, employed to clarify a pope’s thoughts on Catholic doctrine.
And this is as it should be for a papal encyclical is binding in its authority. According to Pope Pius XII, once a pope has written an encyclical on a “hitherto controversial matter” it ought to be clear that matter “cannot any longer be considered a question of free discussion among theologians.”
In other words, Francis, simply by dint of his office, has now formally declared that “global warming is real.”
Taking so strong a position on an issue so contentious ‚Äì and also so completely unrelated to matters of faith ‚Äì is an abuse of papal authority which hardly adds to the Catholic church’s credibility.
Fourth, it’s wrong economically.
However much the Pope’s kindred spirits at places at the Guardian may rail against fossil fuels, they’re still what keep the world’s industries spinning round.
Over the last decade, for example, global coal use grew by 968 million tonnes of oil equivalent. That means it grew four times faster than renewables.
In 2014, as The Australian reports, “…if the world had relied on renewable energy like wind, solar and biomass for primary energy, then the world would have had just 9 days of heat, light and artificial horsepower.”