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So I asked the Vatican about global warming... Special Report
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Recently, I wrote an article for Catholic Online about global warming. The comments from so many readers, obviously intelligent, gave me pause and I took it upon myself to conduct further research, specifically into the Church's teachings on the subject. I pledged in advance to accept what I would discover, no matter what my personal opinions were, after all, I am Catholic and I have faith in my Church. Surprisingly, I soon found the Church has a well-developed, scientific position on the subject.
LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - In the United States, the issue of anthropogenic global warming, defined as an unnatural and rapid rise in the Earth's overall average temperature caused by human activities, is strongly associated with left-leaning political ideology.
Publicly championed by liberal celebrities such as former Vice President Al Gore, conservatives often scoff at the claim. At one time, I confess even I scoffed at the claims, for it also happens that many American Catholics also tend to be conservative since American political conservatism fits most closely with Catholic teaching on many subjects.
However, global warming is by definition global, and therefore it is a Catholic issue, and the people of other nations have different views on the subject as a matter of political debate.
This is especially true in the third world, where the impacts of global warming are felt most acutely.
In the United States, there are several charges against global warming.
- Global warming is a myth constructed by the left to justify restrictions on liberty.
- There is no scientific consensus on the issue of global warming so any policy changes are premature.
- Global warming is part of natural climate change and beyond our control, so we should not concern ourselves with changing behavior.
- The science done to demonstrate the fact of global warming is flawed by poor methodology.
- The science is fabricated by researchers seeking grant money or wishing to make a name for themselves.
As mentioned above, I decided to seek the teaching of the Church on the subject rather than listen to possibly tainted and biased mainstream reporting. I contacted the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and received a reply from Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the Bishop-Chancellor of the Academy.
I asked him for teaching on the subject and his reply included several links to papers and research, which the Academy itself conducted. The Bishop-Chancellor also noted that much of the work was done in coordination with academicians, Paul Crutzen, Mario Molina, and V. Ramanathan who are noted researchers in the field.
Perhaps this was the most conclusive statement I read in the publication he sent, Geosphere-Biosphere Interactions and Climate:
"There is now a growing consensus that human activities are having a discernible effect on the Earth's climate (IPCC, 1996). An enormous amount of effort has gone into the scientific research that forms the basis for this judgment. There is also growing concern that such human-influenced changes to the Earth's climate could have negative effects on human societies and on the Earth's ecosystems and therefore that these changes should be avoided or slowed." (Toward a New Approach to Climate Impact Studies, sec. 16.1, Will Steffen).
In another publication from May 2011, and bearing the very seal of the Pontifical Academy I found this statement, "We call on all people and nations to recognise the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants."
Ultimately, this was a conclusive read for me.
I trust the Holy Church and the wisdom of the scientists it employs. Their agenda isn't research money, but truth, which is one of the most sacred values espoused by the Church itself.
Of course, I'll admit, my argument here is a logical fallacy, an appeal to authority - albeit the highest one on the matter I might add.
So what about all those objections? Where are they coming from and why are some scientists saying no? The answer has much to do with American politics and capitalism, and even the nature of science itself.
Science is skeptical by nature. A scientist who can find evidence that challenges a broadly accepted theory can make a reputation that may last for their entire career. It's a powerful incentive to review the work of other scientists and to detect their shortcomings and flaws.
To discern facts, scientists must submit their work and results (potential facts or conclusions) for peer review. Those of you who are scientists already know how this works. For those who may not know, peer review means that other scientists in the discipline try to replicate the results of the original research as well as detect flaws in methodology. If enough scientists agree with the methods and the findings then they may come out in support of the research or simply remain silent. In cases where they detect a problem, they speak out.
Virtually nothing in science is free of debate. There are millions of people around the globe who work as qualified scientists and getting them all to agree on even the most basic facts can be a daunting task. However, consensus is sometimes formed on certain issues and debate becomes virtually nonexistent. Eventually you end up with a situation where most scientists remain silent on an issue, or publish supporting research, and very few continue to argue against it.
This isn't the same as objective truth, however it can come pretty darn close. It's how we know many things with a degree of certainty - so certainly that we trust our lives and livelihoods to them every day.
This graph, shared by Phillip Plait, does much to drive home the point of that fact. Personally, I do not feel the graph is entirely scientific, however it makes a good illustration.
In any case, I trust in the most careful research performed by the Church, for the good of all the people on Earth. Which brings me to my final point, from whence does denial come?
The chief accusation is that climate change denial comes from industrial interests who stand to lose the most from public acceptance of anthropogenic global climate change in America. These interests have supported public policy think-tanks and politically conservative scientists to publish material that questions the validity of the ongoing research.
A common accusation is that climate change researchers are fear-mongers who wish only to pad their wallets with grant money. I ask, how much money is truly available for scientists who are simply restating what the rest of the world already seems to know and accept? It would seem to me there would be greater rewards for a scientist who can disprove the claims of the climate change fear-mongers.
Therefore, I would expect such a scientist to present evidence that proves anthropogenic climate change is a myth so he might claim his Nobel Prize. Likewise, I expect a journalist to expose the conspiracy and be awarded her Pulitzer. Yet none ever has.
Instead, I found that according to Suzanne Goldenberg, who published an article in The Guardian on February 14, 2013, that between 2002 and 2010, conservative billionaires donated almost $120 million to more than 100 anti-climate change groups, financing their charges that global warming is a hoax. Need more proof? Look at how fast the bloggers attacked her. There was nothing wrong with her reporting, except she ran afoul of the think-tanks and money she exposed.
This wasn't money paid to objectively study the issue. It was money paid to write against it. It reminds me of the efforts of big tobacco to slow the avalanche of evidence that smoking was dangerous. Yes, even today the tobacco companies can find scientists who are willing to claim that tobacco smoke isn't dangerous.
But if you follow the rule to follow the money, there is our culprit.
Regardless of all that, even if I'm full of baloney, this is still a Catholic issue and the Church has spoken about our need to recognize anthropomorphic climate change and to consider new behaviors because the current ones are harming fellow Catholics - indeed all people around the world. The Catholic Church, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have called for recognition and change saying, "As people of religious faith, we bishops believe that the atmosphere that supports life on earth is a God-given gift, one we must respect and protect. It unites us as one human family. If we harm the atmosphere, we dishonor our Creator and the gift of creation."
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And then there's this from the Pope and the Bishops (Pope Benedict XVI, et. al.), shared by the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change.
The bishops and the Church aren't out to score votes, which is part of the reason why I trust their conclusion. Personally, I have conservative viewpoints on many issues, but I am a Catholic before I am anything else politically.
I know at the end, it's an appeal to authority, but I promise you, it is backed by genuine science.
For those of you who still doubt, might it be time to reconsider?
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