Laudato Si, Carbon Dioxide as Pollution, and Moral Pitfalls

Last week saw the newest papal encyclical, Laudato Si, reach our doorsteps (or computer monitors), surrounded by months of buzz and days of speculation following a leaked early release.  Encyclicals are important documents, as they guide the Church and its teaching.  Nothing about an encyclical makes it infallible teaching on faith and morals simply because it was written by the Pope, but its words can carry considerable weight depending on the context and circumstances.  It has been said and confirmed numerous times that this document was supposed to help sway the upcoming UN conference on the subject of climate change, so there is some physical weight to it in the very least.

It pains me to say this, but after reading the document, it has left me more confused than edified.  It isn’t because there isn’t solid teaching about stewardship and the interrelationship with nature that comes as a part of human existence, which has always been a part of the Catholic faith, but rather that the picture painted in the document is one that is hard to square with the vision of humanity as I have been taught to see it on very specific grounds.

In the spirit of discussion, which is supposedly encouraged by Laudato Si, I felt at least compelled to explain some of my confusion in the hopes that it will further the conversation.  I obviously cannot discuss the entire thing, but I do want to bring up a few points.

A.) DEFINING MERIDIANS

Fr. George W. Rutler wrote an intriguing piece at Crisis Magazine regarding the perils of blending science with moral teaching from the Papal office, noting particularly the debacle of Pope Alexander VI when he attempted to establish a meridian dividing the world between Portugal and Castile as well as the events surrounding Galileo.  Later, of particular note, are the statements from Fr. Georges Lemaître, the author of the Big Bang Theory (yes, it was first theorized by a Catholic priest), to the pope:

As far as I can see, such a theory remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question… It is consonant with Isaiah speaking of the hidden God, hidden even in the beginning of the universe.

He also had this to say to his fellow scientist, Albert Einstein:

The doctrine of the Trinity is much more abstruse than anything in relativity or quantum mechanics; but, being necessary for salvation, the doctrine is stated in the Bible. If the theory of relativity had also been necessary for salvation, it would have been revealed to Saint Paul or to Moses… As a matter of fact neither Saint Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.

Fr. Lemaître’s statements were beautiful in their simplicity in regards to the intersection of science and religion.  Science is, at its core, humanity’s attempt to understand the order inherent in creation.  The truth is out there, from the dawn of the universe, as we attempt to discover it, and it doesn’t contradict the very nature of God.  However, it stands apart from the questions regarding creation itself and the greater mysteries of the universe.  For those issues, the issues that relate to our eternal lives, we have had the truth revealed to us.  It’s a stark contrast: the truth is handed to us through revelation and is undeniable when it comes to our faith and morals, yet we are left to discover the wonders of the universe on our own.

The trouble, then, is mixing the divinely immutable with the gradual process of uncovering scientific truth.  Although the ultimate truth of science will never change, our understanding of it does frequently as each new piece is discovered.  So, there is great peril in elevating any scientific theory towards the level of faith and morals, because the vision of scientific theory is only as good as our modern ability to see.

B.) CAN WE OVERLOOK SPECIFICS?

In an article by George Weigel, he attempts to give meaning to the encyclical with the title “The Pope’s Encyclical, at Heart, Is About Us, Not Trees and Snail Darters.”  He goes on to explain, after listing some very specific questions that come to mind:

What does Francis write in this complex and inevitably controversial document that might speak, as a good pastor should, to the flaws in humanity’s understanding of itself today, and that might point us in a more noble direction? A lot, it turns out — if you read Laudato Si’ as an encyclical primarily about us, and not primarily about trees, plankton, and the Tennessee snail darter.

The main thrust is that the encyclical is not really about specific scientific and economics topics, but is really a cultural piece about humanity.  In essence, don’t get bogged down by the specifics and concentrate on the general.  I could understand this line of thinking (Pope Francis is, in fact, trying to speak of a holistic human ecology that goes beyond just the environment), if it weren’t for the fact that Pope Francis spends so much time and goes into so much detail about very, very specific scientific and economic topics.  At least half, if not more, of the 246 paragraphs in Laudato Si arguably address such modern scientific and economic topics.  I don’t think we should give those a pass when discussing the entirety of the document as if it is mostly a metaphysical discussion.

Still, I agree that it is “about us” in the end.  However, there is a particular thing “about us” that leads to some contradictory points of view.

C.) CONTRADICTION IN APPROACH

Amongst several such cases, there is an apparent contradiction in approach to many of the topics in the encyclical.  There are things said with relative certainty, yet are later stated to be open for discussion.  Most notably, in paragraph 14, Pope Francis has this to say:

Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”. All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.

There are two key concepts here, and they form the basis of much of the thinking throughout: a.) there is a human made crisis, and in this case, it’s environmental, and b.) you are an obstructionist (or a “powerful interest” with ulterior motives) if you do not agree.  In fact, you are not only an obstructionist, you may very well be sinning because of it as he quotes Patriarch Bartholomew in Paragraph 8:

For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins.

Part of the problem is defining “environmental crisis.”  Pope Francis goes into specifics about what he thinks that entails, which include general pollution (paragraphs 20-22), climate change (paragraphs 23-26), water (paragraphs 27-31), and biodiversity (paragraphs 32-42).  One of these four topics, however, is not like the others.  Pollution, water quality, and biodiversity are general topics with multiple contributing factors.  Climate change, however, is a very specific scientific theory in of itself, and can affect any of the other three topics at hand.  It’s also a specific scientific theory that is still up for debate.

Pope Francis ultimately tries to point out that he is not out to settle science in paragraph 61, but still gives the same grave warning throughout:

On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views. But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair. Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems. Still, we can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation; these are evident in large-scale natural disasters as well as social and even financial crises, for the world’s problems cannot be analyzed or explained in isolation.

Besides debate about the frequency of natural disasters, I think one ultimately can draw the conclusion from all of this that 1.) there is an environmental crisis, 2.) it is human caused, 3.) part of that crisis is climate change, 4.) you are an obstructionist if you do not agree, 5.) climate change is a sin, and 6.) even though the Church is not going to settle science, the previous statements are predicated on the science being settled.  If the science was NOT settled, if debate must still be encouraged by experts, then the label of obstructionist is not appropriate to describe someone with honest disagreements.

It is personally hard to mesh all of this together and it leaves a sense of contradiction.  Honest debate, respect divergent views, yet there are “facts” (facts being not up for debate or divergent views) that cannot be disputed.  So, the hope isn’t for finding an honest answer to questions revolving around the science stated or finding an appropriate response.  The facts are real, and the hope is that you recognize that.

D.) SINGLING IT OUT

I have my disagreements with catastrophic anthropogenic global warming theory.  I disagree with most of the statements made by Pope Francis in paragraph 23, whether it be the claims of “disturbing warming” or “increase of extreme weather events” or the claim that humans are mainly responsible for the variation in temperatures as of late. But, those are up for debate.  I don’t mind debating it, and I’m open to hearing the other side of the discussion.  That’s not the reason I’m singling the topic out, though.

I harp on climate change for a reason.  General discussions of pollution and water quality inherently have local connotations: because there is pollution in the Amazon River does not necessarily mean there is the same pollution in Lake Erie.  They are general in discussion but specific in effect.  Dumping a chemical in the water specifically has the result of the chemical generally being present in the water, and that has specific results no matter where it happens.  It is labeled pollution for a reason, since we are talking about contaminants in the natural environment, and contaminant connotes an impurity or rendering something unsuitable or unusable.  There is also a hint that these activities aren’t inherently necessary and can, hopefully, be eliminated.

Whereas water pollution can mean any number of things depending on the pollutant, climate change is different.  Climate change is specific in discussion and specific in effect, and it has global connotations.  We are talking specifically about carbon dioxide as a result of human activity, it is aggregate amongst all humans, and it affects the entire world.  The main thrust is treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant like any of those nasty chemicals that get dumped into a river.  However, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.  It doesn’t contaminate or make things impure.  It is naturally occurring and a part of the carbon cycle.  It is plant food.  The presence of carbon dioxide does not harm life on this planet, but actually sustains it as plants breathe it in, fix it as biomass, and breathe out oxygen.  It is VITAL to life on earth, not something that makes life unsuitable, it’s inherently necessary, and can’t be simply eliminated.  It stands in contrast as a part of this discussion, because part of being a pollutant is that it should not be there at all for the sake of the purity of whatever system we are talking about.

Labeling carbon dioxide a pollutant creates an inherent moral dilemma, because humans, by their very existence, produce carbon dioxide. Virtually every economic activity, or any activity for that matter, that humans undertake, from building hospitals to having camp fires to simply breathing, produces carbon dioxide.  If carbon dioxide contaminates, then human existence, at the very end of that logic, is toxic to the planet.  Particularly because, at the top of the food chain, we only consume and don’t truly produce for anything else.

Even if one only considers it a pollutant above a certain level (which possibly violates the definition of pollutant), and there is a certain threshold or capacity of atmospheric carbon dioxide that we should not pass, then there is a de facto limit on activity that can be undertaken before we hit that limit. We can cut emissions and limit activity as much as we can, and that is considered good under this encyclical as a reduction in greenhouse gasses is the end goal of changing our paradigms of production and consumption (such as eliminating fossil fuels in paragraph 165). However, that is only “sustainable” in a stable population. Each additional person lessens the amount of activity allowed by others and adds to the toxicity that humans bring. If I cut my emissions in half, but have a child who can also maintain the now reduced level I have reached, that has brought us right back to the level we started with (which was declared dangerous and caused me to reduce my activity in the first place).

A good analogy is the weight limit of an elevator.  Let’s say an elevator can only hold 2,000 lbs., and 10 people that are 200 lbs. each want to board the elevator.  This is dangerous, because you are pushing the operational capacity of the elevator.  The 10 people then decide they need to change and get healthy, and each of them loses 50 lbs.  Now, totaling 1,500 lbs. between the 10 of them, they can board the elevator without risk and have all become healthier in the process.  This is, in essence, what we are being asked to strive for.  To become healthier for the sake of the elevator, because we are called to maintain the elevator.

There is a catch, though.  What happens when the population changes?  What if four more people want to board the elevator?  Let’s say that each of these four new people are of the same healthy weight as the other ten.  The new total weight is 2,100 lbs., and you are now worse than when you started even though all 14 people are doing what was originally considered healthy and good.  Now, each person has to lose over 7 more pounds to get under the weight limit of the elevator, and if they hope to get back to the 1,500 lbs. they were at previously, each person would have to weigh about 107 lbs. instead of 150 lbs.  The original 25% reduction in weight now has to be closer to 50% per person to maintain the same level of comfortable safety.

Humans inherently have weight.  It’s a part of who they are.  They can’t weigh nothing.  If we value the elevator system in of itself, and we need the elevator for transportation, then human presence can do nothing other than bring it closer to the tipping point of breakdown if we all need to ride it at once.  That, unfortunately, is the exact role of humans when we commoditize ourselves as carbon footprints.  There is a limit, and our existence only gets us closer to that limit.  We are a burden, literally, and the elevator needs stability to sustainably operate.

E.) POPULATION CONTROL

How, then, can anyone view that picture and not come to the conclusion that controlling the population numbers is a legitimate way to make that system work?  If it is true that, in paragraph 23, “a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity,” there are only two answers to the problem.  Either you control activity, or you control the number of active participants.  The end goal is “sustainability,” a word used in some form 27 times throughout Laudato Si.  Sustainable means being able to maintain something at a certain level.  The only way you can maintain emissions at a certain level is by, as I said earlier, stabilizing the population or stabilizing the level of activity regardless of the active members of the population.

Whichever way it goes, the ceiling doesn’t change, only the contributions underneath it.  Laudato Si really aims at activity, notably changes in production and consumption.  However, unless you can change things to the point where a near endless number of system participants can be supported, you will always inevitably run the risk of eventually hitting the ceiling (albeit slower than before, perhaps).

The reality is, for every percentage point reduction in activity you can muster, you can only add a certain number in population before you are right back where you started.  If the 7 billion people on this planet reduced their emissions by 25%, to the point where they impacted the planet as if only 5.25 billion people were here, then you’ll be back to square one by the time there is 9.33 billion people (a number most believe we’ll hit by the middle of this century).  Considering people, including Pope Francis, believe we are at the “breaking point” if not even beyond that, as if the carrying capacity of the earth has been well established, then we are in a constant struggle to stave off destruction.  How can population control not be considered as a solution to always stay under the ceiling?

Population control stands in contrast to Catholic social teaching and theological issues, which Pope Francis cursorily reaffirms, after already painting the global warming picture, in paragraph 50:

Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.

In essence, population growth is fine and the real problem is activity.  But then, look at the friends the Church is keeping on this subject.  For most environmental groups, population control is the main solution to the problem.  If you look at the core beliefs of most environmental groups, I believe you will see population control in some form because, again, human existence is the core problem and the easiest path to sustainability is to maintain numbers.  The UN, which the Church is courting and trying to persuade in this effort, has many documented cases and references in terms of its support of population control.  It’s not exactly a secret.  Just take the recent statements of Christiana Figueres, the UN climate chief:

“So is nine billion a forgone conclusion?” Dalton asked. “That’s like baked in, done, no way to change that?”

“We can definitely change those numbers and really should make every effort to change those numbers because we are already, today, already exceeding the planet’s planetary carrying capacity, today,” Figueres responded. “To say nothing of adding more population that is really going to overextend our capacity. So yes we should do everything possible.”

You will find a long list of supporters of population control amongst the advocates of sustainable development.  The two go pretty much hand in hand.  Yet, the Catholic Church is one of the staunchest opponents of population control, through its messages of protecting life from the earliest stages onward.  Whether it be opposing abortion, sterilization, or contraception, the Church has maintained a firm belief in the sanctity of life, and it stands in stark contrast to the very people the Church is now trying to court.  Again, it’s a contradiction in terms.  We are being taught through this encyclical that human activity, through carbon dioxide, is a pollutant to this planet, but are being told to ignore the solution to it that is readily apparent from that line of thinking.  I don’t think you can have both.  Yet, there is some form of acknowledgment of both in paragraph 60:

Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited. Viable future scenarios will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution. This makes a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.

Should we generate a solution between those two extremes?  Is the extreme that human existence is inherently a threat to the planet be something we even want to consider?  When you suggest that that is one extreme and we need to find a middle ground, are we to admit that humanity is half of a scourge to the planet?  Yet the people of that extreme, or close to that extreme, are those with whom we are now seeking an alliance with in the end.  Population control cannot exist along side free demographic growth, so there is a conflict here in Laudato Si.  Unless married couples are now supposed to keep carbon footprints in mind as an added dimension to discerning whether they should be open to bringing new life into the world, it’s hard to separate the painting from the paint that is being used.

F.) WE’RE NOT MONSTERS

I agree with the theological core that Pope Francis presents in terms of stewardship and God’s creation, even of a notion of a shared human ecology.  There is not much to debate there, and he does a good job at stating the need for stewardship.  However, I completely disagree with the polar view that this brand of environmentalism presents, including how it has been framed by Pope Francis.

It is presented that you can fall under one of two categories.  You are either a proponent of things like global warming and want to save the environment (since they are conflated together as the same concept), or you are a Captain Planet villain that enjoys dumping toxic waste in the rain forest for no other reason than the fun of it. I, myself, am a conservationist. I think we should do everything within our power to conduct our lives in accord with the natural world, but the natural world should never take precedence over human dignity.  So, my life stands in stark contrast to this paradigm of being either A or B. I disagree with global warming, AND I think we need to do a better job of being responsible for our common home.  This document ends up making me feel confused and guilty that I am not doing enough.  Perhaps I’m not doing enough, but I’d rather that stand on its own with theological backing than be linked to a scientific theory that has the potential of being wrong and/or aligns itself with interests contrary to my faith.

I think my feelings are best summed up by a close look at a Bible verse used in paragraph 96:

In talking with his disciples, Jesus would invite them to recognize the paternal relationship God has with all his creatures. With moving tenderness he would remind them that each one of them is important in God’s eyes: “Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God” (Lk 12:6).

The call is to see the importance of creation.  However, we would do well to look at the very next verse and read them together.

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God.  Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

I’m sure many will see this as making a mountain out of a molehill by putting too much emphasis on the climate change portion of Laudato Si.  However, we are, indeed, worth more than sparrows in the eyes of God.  Laudato Si doesn’t make me question being Catholic or make me want to turn my back on the Pope.  I’m just afraid that the Church, by going beyond its call for stewardship and into the realm of human toxicity that goes along with much of anthropogenic global warming theory, is aligning itself with the wrong people.

In the end, the question is this: have we bruised God’s creations by our actions, or do all of our actions, by their very nature, bruise God’s creation?

Advertisements

4 comments

  1. I have been interested to find that the only people who seem to dislike Francis’ encyclical are those who disagree with the science showing man-made climate change. This has been puzzling to me, because I really don’t see a way to dispute the science of it.

    While it’s true that we haven’t proven it in the strictest scientific sense of having a control Earth without human activity plus an experimental Earth with human activity, we all know why we haven’t done that – because it’s impossible.

    So in the face of revelations such as the one about the researcher, hired by the Koch brothers specifically to find holes in climate chance science, who ended up coming back to them and saying “sorry guys, I believe in man-made climate change now,” I have a hard time understanding why so many people still do not.

    Dr. Scott Rodin gave, I think, some very good insight into this last week on his blog “The Steward’s Journey.” I think you also touched on it in your last two points, and I think I’ve seen a few other people touch on them in their writings on the subject. Here are the three points, as near as I can see:

    1) Man-made climate change is a violation of my theology, because my theology teaches that God controls nature, not man.

    My response to that would be this: we all know that we influence our physical environment. If we move an item on our desk, God doesn’t move it back or prevent us from influencing our environment in this way. If we over-farm an area; God doesn’t stop the soil from eroding; if we pollute a river, God doesn’t clean it up and make it safe to drink again.

    At least, he doesn’t do it instantly. Arguably if nature is allowed to take its course, many of these problems are indeed self-correcting. But there are so many of us on the planet at this point, and our appetites are so voracious, that we aren’t giving nature a chance to fix the damage we’re causing to the environment.

    It made good sense several centuries ago to teach that man could not control the weather. However, in Jesus’ time, there were maybe 400 million humans on the planet; today there are nearly 20 times that amount, and we have high technology. It is therefore not unreasonable to speculate that 7 billion of us burning fossil fuels could be influencing the climate in just the same way that one of us can re-arrange objects on our desk.

    2) Man-made climate change is a violation of my theology because it teaches that humans are monsters who have no right to be on this planet.

    I disagree. Climate change, if it’s being taught correctly, does not claim that humans are monsters. In fact, it never makes the claim that we are evil, or that we are different in any way from every other creature on the planet.

    This attitude does sometimes develop among environmentalists, but it is a fallacious one. The issue isn’t that humans are destroying the planet; ending life on Earth may yet be beyond our powers, even if we unleashed our whole nuclear arsenal.

    The concern of climate scientists is that we are making Earth less hospitable for ourselves! Decreasing biodiversity, deforestation, pollution – these are all extremely serious concerns. But we should be concerned about them for selfish reasons.

    As opponents of climate change often point out, Earth has weathered many naturally caused extinctions and climate shifts.

    The thing is, climate shifts are generally not good for the creatures that were living in the environments that disappear because of them. That includes humans. For that reason, because climate change is bad for humans, more than because climate change is “bad for the Earth,” we should be very concerned about it!

    3) Man-made climate change is a violation of my theology because it leads to the slippery slope of population control, which de-values human life.

    Again, I disagree. Population control does not de-value human life. It is a new idea to us, and for that reason it is scary; in ages past, we had neither the ability nor the need to artificially limit our population growth.

    But what opponents of population control so often forget is that the reason we didn’t need to do that is that pre-industrial societies had a roughly 50% infant mortality rate and an average life expectancy in the mid-30s.

    We didn’t live in some utopic past where every life was valued; we lived in a past where people were dying young constantly of causes we have now learned to prevent. The result of our drastically decreased infant mortality and our drastically increased life expectancies (now topping 80 years on average in developed countries) is, predictably, that population is growing exponentially. Especially now that we’ve also made so many inroads into preventing population-decimating famines and plagues.

    The problem is, there’s no two ways about it – the Earth is a finite space. If our population keeps growing indefinitely, eventually our population will outpace our ability to prevent famine and plague. The scourges of old, that kept our population in check for so many millenia, will return.

    There is simply no way around this – it is a violation of the laws of physics to suggest that the Earth can carry infinite people without having some form of population control. The question is – do we want that population control to come in the form of devastating plagues and famines, or in the form of contraception?

    I suppose the question of which kind of population control we want – natural or unnatural – is up to every individual. I personally greatly prefer contraception to famine and plague.

    It all comes down to what is good for humans. Not what is good for the Earth. Because what is good for the Earth as we know it is, ultimately, good for humans. We rely on the Earth for our survival and well-being.

    1. Thanks for the comments, kagmi! I appreciate the well thought out response.

      There are actually several issues within Laudato Si. One would be the contradictory notion of lamenting a blind faith in technology as “obstructionist” while simultaneously offering up technology and “more research” as solutions to problems. Another would be, arguably, the economic theories of Pope Francis, where he on one hand argues for the good of work yet on the other advocates solutions that would destroy millions of jobs. In the end, though, these aren’t necessarily tied to theological contradictions and are still centered on helping the poor more than anything. Global warming, however, potentially changes the view of humanity and seemingly stands in contrast to certain Church teachings at its root.

      Discussions of things like pollution are easy to tie to individual actions, and often those actions are linked to tangible ideas of waste. You can even argue that a lot of pollution can possibly be eliminated because they stem from things that are unnecessary, so much of pollution based arguments are voluntary in nature. Don’t litter, don’t use aerosols, drive less, etc.

      I think people may struggle with articulating it, but, in contrast, climate change has such a general outlook on the entirety of humanity that it necessitates a coinciding change in worldview. The pollution of carbon dioxide (which, again, I don’t like the label) involuntarily occurs by your very existence and can extend far beyond your control as a person. Carbon footprint is the perfect culmination of that worldview, where the base assumption is that you WILL have a negative impact on your surrounding, and it is your job to make it as small as possible.

      That aside, I’d rather leave politics out of it. Any mention of the Koch brothers is as much of a red flag about how you are approaching things as if I mentioned George Soros. There is plenty of data that, to me, suggests things about climate change that don’t lead me to catastrophic predictions. And that is part of the problem, because most of the arguments are about how dire the predictions are rather than the actual science. It’s no different than giving undue weight to a claim simply because of the seriousness of the accusation. Multiple failed models, the long pause in any warming trend, failed predictions of “popualtion bombs”, historical cyclical temperature/CO2 data, historical CO2 levels that were far beyond modern levels that never once led to an uncontrolled warming feedback loop, continued greening of the planet, solar activity, polar ice caps that have defied predictions and are nowhere near being ice-free, rates of natural disasters defying predictions, and even the most advanced monitoring network showing a cooling trend in the US are examples that to me cast doubt not on a general warming trend, but the catastrophic nature of it/large human contribution to it. Add into that controversies about excluding data, manipulating it, and non-scientific “adjustments”, I think there is plenty to discuss and cast doubt. Each of those could take up a whole blog post by themselves, however.

      In any event, the main thrust of my post was to discuss the moral dimension/effect of it more than the actual science. Basically, if true, I feel it stands in opposition to basic theological questions of man. So, either our assumptions of man need to change or the science doesn’t square with it. I read over your three points, and I think they are all missing the mark slightly.

      “1) Man-made climate change is a violation of my theology, because my theology teaches that God controls nature, not man.”

      I don’t think my argument necessarily makes that claim. Humans CAN have an effect on their surroundings. The California drought, although we can’t control the rain, has had a greater negative impact because our water usage has exacerbated the problem. The Dust Bowl in the 30s is another example where our farming techniques contributed to, but did not entirely cause, the problem. There are multiple layers at play, and most events go through things that are out of our control before our actions come into play. We can’t control the weather, but we can make end result more uncomfortable.

      It’s really a combination. The path is sometimes out of our control, depending on the scale, but we certainly can have an effect on the slope. If I dump garbage into a pond, the garbage in the pond is 100% my fault and any damaged caused by it is 100% my fault. When we are dealing with the climate of the entire planet, it’s a different story. Essentially, even though we can’t control the weather, it doesn’t give us a blank check to do as we please.

      “2) Man-made climate change is a violation of my theology because it teaches that humans are monsters who have no right to be on this planet.”

      Monsters isn’t the right term, per se, because it implies morality to basic biological functions. Things can have a negative impact but not necessarily be evil. Carnivorous animals that over-consume their food supply and die off have committed no sin.

      I think it is a logical conclusion to say that our impact, in general, is negative under a climate change model because of how we treat carbon dioxide. Like I said above, commoditizing ourselves as carbon footprints follows that logic, because it is telling each person they a.) have an impact, and b.) need to reduce it as much as possible. There is no way of escaping your impact.

      Being on the highest end of the food chain on this planet makes us trend towards being pure consumers (as opposed to pure producers on the other end). In the middle, creatures consume but also produce for other creatures, whereas we do not. We are utilizers of resources because of our position. We can still utilize resources for a greater good, including that of nature (being the only species truly capable of conservation). However, treating ourselves as footprints on nature rather than a part of it does cast humanity in an ultimately negative light. I just think it’s impossible to see the world through carbon footprint lenses and not come to the conclusion that humans are a negative impact. It leads to a conclusion that it isn’t morally wrong that we are here, but it would be better if we weren’t.

      I do agree, though, that we should strive to make this world the best that we can. I just don’t think that the solutions presented to stave off a crisis that may not exist offer that.

      “3) Man-made climate change is a violation of my theology because it leads to the slippery slope of population control, which de-values human life.”

      We’ll have to disagree here. Population control that is self-imposed, as in each individual making the choice for themselves, still carries the weight of personal choice and may not de-value human life from your perspective (although Catholicism disagrees from a theological view), but it is an ineffective method because it still allows the freedom to choose to have as many children as you want/can handle. Truly, the only way we can limit the population of the ENTIRE WORLD is through institutionalized methods. And that, indeed, is a slippery slope of de-valuing human life. We already have plenty to go on for that, as eugenics was truly a form of institutionalized population control and was full of moral peril to the dignity of the human person.

      All of that aside (this reply is a post in of itself!), you ultimately are making my point at the end of your comment. Global warming, if anything, has put the focus on the finite. Carbon dioxide thresholds, resource depletion, sustainability (can there ever be a sustainable use of a finite resource beyond never using it in the first place?), etc. You, yourself, have come to the conclusion that population control is necessary. Not because humans are monsters, but because we need to protect our living space. My point is exactly that: stability of population numbers is an inescapable conclusion of global warming theory when we label the natural products of human activity as a pollutant. If the Catholic Church agrees on the dire situation that we are in, it cannot possibly do so without it being in direct opposition to its theology of the human person. It has created a moral pitfall where we are to hold one thing as an article of faith, but are told to combat a crisis that ultimately can only truly be achieved through a means that violates that article of faith.

      You, of course, can disagree with that theology, which is fine. But for a Catholic, it causes a contradiction.

      1. The thing is – I was raised Catholic myself, and I know many devout Catholics who believe in climate change. Knowing what I know of Catholic theology, I have a hard time seeing how climate change causes a theological contradiction in any way. Neither the Bible nor the Church, to my knowledge, has ever taught that such a thing is not possible.

        I also don’t think it’s possible to separate the moral aspect from the science. Morality is ultimately a question of how we effect those around us; it is inseparable from the study of action-and-consequence. Which actions are moral is dependent upon what effect the actions will have; so it is impossible to separate the study of the morality of our actions from the study of what effects our actions are having. And science is the best way (and therefore arguably the only morally acceptable way) of determining that.

        I can definitely see how previous climate models that turned out to be incorrect could undermine one’s confidence in current predictions. However, I also feel it worth pointing out that in my local area, the predicted effects of climate change have been very clearly coming true for about the past 15 years. Stupidly enough, the effects we’re seeing in my home state (Michigan), are basically watered-down versions of what was seen in the Michael Bay movie “The Day After Tomorrow.”

        Everybody in America is aware of the “polar vortex,” which has brought record low temperatures to most of the United States for the past 2 years. Some have even used this vortex to argue that global warming isn’t happening – the problem is, this is exactly what was predicted to occur as a result of global warming disrupting equatorial-polar convection currents in “The Day After Tomorrow.” Which is why the main obstacle that movie’s protagonists had to deal with were subzero temperatures.

        We’ve also gotten to deal with tornadoes, just like that movie’s protagonists. Prior to 2012, there hadn’t been a property-damaging tornado in Michigan in 50 years. Now we deal with these on a routine basis, often outside of the traditional “tornado season,” which I was taught in elementary school was impossible. In fact, just last night somebody was killed in a tornado in my home state – this is something that simply didn’t happen in Michigan prior to 2012.

        I must admit it also helps that, for the decade or so prior to the onset of the polar vortex, my home state experienced freakishly warm weather. There was a point in the early 2000s where temperatures rose above 80 degrees in February; my family also had problems with our traditional New Year’s parties because, while we had traditionally used the snow in the front yard to keep food and drink cool during the party, for most of the 2000s there was no snow, and downright warm weather, on New Year’s Day.

        In summary, the fact that my home state has had three distinct climates in the last half century – going from a place known for its massive amounts of snowfall, to a place with warm weather throughout most of the winter, to a place with tornadoes and temperatures routinely venturing below -20 degrees Fahrenheit – and the fact that I was told to expect low temperatures and tornadoes years in advance by climate change scientists – definitely makes it easy for me to believe what the global meteorologists are telling us about climate change being a thing.

        Of course, I still struggle to wrap my head around in what way climate change is contradictory to Catholic theology. The only possible way I can picture that working is from the angle of population control – which, as I’ve mentioned, I’m sorry, but that’s just a physics problem. The Earth’s surface is clearly finite.

      2. Science can lead to a general conclusion separate and apart form any moral underpinning. Just because A leads to B does not inherently make it moral or immoral, it’s just stating a fact (or theory). Likewise, A can be justifiable or excused in certain circumstances even though it leads to B, which has little to do with proving or disproving that A leads to B. You can state what will happen when a bullet enters a person’s body when fired from a gun without knowing why the gun was fired.

        In terms of some local examples from Michigan that you are using, that brings up a point worth noting. You speak of torandos as if they have increased in frequency from your vantage point, showing a visible indicator of some form of catastrophic climate change. This would go along with the “increase in frequency and severity” claim. however, look at the data from the NOAA.

        https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climate-information/extreme-events/us-tornado-climatology/trends

        There is “little trend” in the frequency or severity of tornados. In fact, I would argue that in the very least there is a downward trend in F3+ by looking at that graph. So, just because there have been more than expected in your local region doesn’t tell the whole story, and again, data like this should make you scratch your head if the claim is we should be getting more, stronger storms over the same period.

        That’s just an example. Again, each one of these points can take up a whole blog post. Mainly, though, I think you’ll see a lot of things that defy predictions, and a lot of trends we attribute to modern man are only continuations of trends that started long before we could have possibly had an effect.

        As for moral contradiction:

        “Of course, I still struggle to wrap my head around in what way climate change is contradictory to Catholic theology. The only possible way I can picture that working is from the angle of population control – which, as I’ve mentioned, I’m sorry, but that’s just a physics problem. The Earth’s surface is clearly finite.”

        That is exactly my point. Catholic teaching is opposed to population control because it violates the dignity of the human person, and certain forms, like contraception or sterilization, are opposed because of theological views of the body. Yet, as you are seemingly concluding, and I’m saying it is inevitable, accepting catastrophic anthropogenic global warming leads to solutions that vioalte those principles because you HAVE to inevitably conclude that population stabilization is necessary. You said it yourself. It’s physics.

        We won’t get to the point of covering the Earth under current theory, though. If we are at the breaking point now, as we speak and as is stated in Laudato Si, I think it is impossible to not believe that human population needs to be stabilized, at the very least, to avoid disaster. Yet the very methods of population stabilization are opposed by the Church in practically all forms. You can’t have both.

        Again, this is all because of the fact that, if carbon dioxide is a pollutant, then the problem isn’t merely a human activity problem. It’s a problem naturally intrinsic to humanity. If we could work towards eliminating our carbon footprint, that’d be one thing. But we can’t, because we have a carbon footprint by simply being alive and breathing, let alone any activity we undertake. Besides the population control dilemma, this fundamentally changes the view of the human person. If carbon dioxide is pollution, and pollution is morally wrong, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that any action that produces carbon dioxide is morally wrong? And if it is only morally wrong relative to the surrounding climate and population at the time, you inevitably arrive at the same conclusion as already stated: population stabilization. And again, you can’t simultaneously agree with a system that ultimately arrives at that end while actively opposing all measures that achieve that end. And you arrive at that end directly through population control or indirectly by labeling carbon dioxide as toxic to the health of the earth.

        I’m not sure if that explains it any better. Again, I appreciate the frank discussion.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s