Secular Right | Reality & Reason

TAG | Climate Change

Feb/15

1

Jumping on the Popemobile

pope-obamaCross-posted on the Corner

It’s only fair to wait and see what Pope Francis has to say about the environment and climate change in his forthcoming encyclical, although, on the basis of a number of his comments on the topic so far, I don’t see any particular grounds for optimism.

The Obama administration, however, clearly sees an opportunity.

The Guardian reports:

America’s top environmental official has assured the Vatican that the pope and Barack Obama are singing from the same hymnal when it comes to fighting climate change.

In a visit to the Vatican, Gina McCarthy, the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), conveyed a message to the pope that Obama shared his view that fighting climate change was a moral obligation.

“I want him to know that the president is aligned with him on these issues and that we are taking action in the United States,” McCarthy told the National Catholic Reporter ahead of the meeting.

She went so far as to suggest that Obama was “working with the pope” when it came to climate change.

That alliance, between Obama and the pope, followed from the view that leaders have a moral duty to preserve the earth and protect those most at risk from the consequences of climate change, McCarthy said.

“I think the most important thing that we can do, working with the pope, is to try to remind ourselves that this is really about protecting natural resources that human beings rely on, and that those folks that are most vulnerable – that the church has always been focused on, those in poverty and low income – are the first that are going to be hit and impacted by a changing climate,” she said.

EPA officials said McCarthy used the meeting to applaud the pope’s efforts to fight climate change, and to brief the Vatican on Obama’s plan for cutting greenhouse gas emissions that are driving global warming.

It’s worth noting that it is the administration that is saying that it is working with the pope, rather than the other way around (it doesn’t appear to be a Cuba re-run). Nevertheless the administration is clearly making an effort to capitalize on Francis’s popularity. That’s good politics.

Whether the result will be good policy is an entirely different question.

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Dec/14

28

Coming to a Pulpit Near You?

Pope against frackingCross-posted on the Corner

The Guardian, excited:

[C]an Francis achieve a feat that has so far eluded secular powers and inspire decisive action on climate change?

It looks as if he will give it a go. In 2015, the pope will issue a lengthy message on the subject to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, give an address to the UN general assembly and call a summit of the world’s main religions.

The reason for such frenetic activity, says Bishop Marcelo Sorondo, chancellor of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, is the pope’s wish to directly influence next year’s crucial UN climate meeting in Paris, when countries will try to conclude 20 years of fraught negotiations with a universal commitment to reduce emissions.

“Our academics supported the pope’s initiative to influence next year’s crucial decisions,” Sorondo told Cafod, the Catholic development agency, at a meeting in London. “The idea is to convene a meeting with leaders of the main religions to make all people aware of the state of our climate and the tragedy of social exclusion.”

Following a visit in March to Tacloban, the Philippine city devastated in 2012 by typhoon Haiyan, the pope will publish a rare encyclical on climate change and human ecology. Urging all Catholics to take action on moral and scientific grounds, the document will be sent to the world’s 5,000 Catholic bishops and 400,000 priests, who will distribute it to parishioners.

According to Vatican insiders, Francis will meet other faith leaders and lobby politicians at the general assembly in New York in September, when countries will sign up to new anti-poverty and environmental goals.

In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it…”

We will, of course (!), have to see what the encyclical actually contains, but talk of “the god of money” already suggests that both reason and reality may struggle to make themselves heard.

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Nov/14

1

“Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder”

Socorro, NM, May 95 (photo AS)Cross-posted on the Corner

Just when you think that the misery that climate change is bringing in its wake can get no worse, there is this.

Grist reports:

…From depression to substance abuse to suicide and post-traumatic stress disorder, growing bodies of research in the relatively new field of psychology of global warming suggest that climate change will take a pretty heavy toll on the human psyche as storms become more destructive and droughts more prolonged. For your everyday environmentalist, the emotional stress suffered by a rapidly changing Earth can result in some pretty substantial anxieties….

Lise Van Susteren, a forensic psychiatrist based in Washington, D.C. — and co-author of the National Wildlife Federation’s report — calls this emotional reaction “pre-traumatic stress disorder,” a term she coined to describe the mental anguish that results from preparing for the worst, before it actually happens.

There is, in my view, a perfectly reasonable case to be made that man may be contributing to the way that our ever-changing climate changes. That’s one thing, but how some choose to express their belief in that proposition can be something altogether, well let’s just say, less reasonable.

Millennialist hysteria is not, of course, a new phenomenon. But, to be fair, it’s not all that hellish for those that embrace it. I suspect that with that, um, “pre-traumatic stress disorder” comes a certain excitement too, of a girding up for the End Times, of a preparation for that definitive battle to save the planet, stave off Satan or whatever the particular apocalypse may be.

And the unbelievers just will not listen:

Grist:

What’s even more deflating for a climate scientist is when sounding the alarm on climatic catastrophes seems to fall on deaf ears.

But that too all is not all bad. The willful ignorance of those who will not pay attention to that alarm reinforces the sense of moral superiority felt by those who do. Sinners make it so much easier to be a saint.

And that sense of mission, how it burns.

Grist:

For activists like Mike Tidwell — founder of the nonprofit Chesapeake Climate Action Network and author of The Ravaging Tide: Strange Weather, Future Katrinas, and the Race to Save America’s Coastal Cities — part of being on the front lines means being outspoken and passionate about the cause. But while activism may be a more forgiving platform to express emotional stresses than within the scientific community, the personal toll of the work goes largely undiscussed.

“You don’t just start talking about unbelievably fast sea-level rise at a cocktail party at a friend’s house,” Tidwell says. “So having to deny the emotional need to talk about what’s on your mind all the time … those are some of the burdens that climate aware scientists and activists have to endure….”

….Perhaps it’s time for those deeply involved in climate science to come forward about the emotional struggle, or at the very least, for those in mental health research and support to start exploring climate change psychology with more fervor. And reaching out to scientists in particular could be a huge opportunity to better explore the world of climate psych, says psychosocial researcher and consultant Renee Lertzman.

“There’s a taboo talking about it,” Lertzman says, adding that the tight-lipped culture of the scientific community can be difficult to bridge. “We’re just starting to piece that together. The field of the psychology of climate change is still very, very young … I believe there are profound and not well-recognized or understood psychological implications of what I would call being a frontliner. There needs to be a lot more attention given to frontliners and where they’re given support.”

“The field of the psychology of climate change” is “very, very young”? I don’t think so.

The chosen, the elect, the saved, the righteous, the “frontliners”.

It’s a very, very old story, but with a new script.

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NYC, Sept 2014 (AS)Independent Catholic News:

The Holy See has called for “an authentic cultural change” to combat climate change which is man-made and therefore man’s responsibility. That was the focus of an address delivered last night to the UN Climate Change Summit in New York by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

And, of course, there’s this:

For its part, Vatican City State, though small, is undertaking significant efforts to reduce its consummation of fossil fuels, through diversification and energy efficiency projects. However, as the Holy See’s delegation at the COP-19 in Warsaw indicated, “talking about emission reductions is useless if we are not ready to change our lifestyle and the current dominant models of consumption and production”

.The appeal of hair shirt and collectivist dream has not, it seems, gone away.

Of course, to the extent that there is AGW, it is not entirely unconnected with the fact that there are now some seven billion of us on the planet. I would not, of course, expect the Vatican to alter its opposition to contraception, but those who read its sermons on climate change should remember that this is one “change” that it is not prepared to countenance. That’s up to the church, of course, but it would be nice if it acknowledged that this stance comes with an environmental cost.

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Green churchFrom Climate Progress:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Speaking to three administrators for the Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday, David Kepley, an elder and deacon at the Providence Presbyterian Church, quoted Leviticus.

“God said ‘the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants,’” he said. “‘Throughout the land that you hold, you shall provide for the redemption of the land.’”

To be wasteful of the land’s bounty … is not just unproductive, but is an affront to God.

The verses, Kepley said, allude to several themes. For one, God has encouraged us not just to draw sustenance from the land, but to replenish it — to act as stewards of Creation. For another, the verses compare humans to “renters” in God’s house, meaning we can’t just trash God’s house with unmitigated pollution.

“To me this means that to be wasteful of the land’s bounty or to despoil it with substances that are harmful to people or other life forms is not just unproductive, but is an affront to God,” Kepley said. “In my view, the EPA has identified one of those areas where we humans have ignored our role as good stewards of the Creation.”

Kepley was just one of at least 28 religious leaders who urged the EPA at two D.C. hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday not to weaken — and at times to strengthen — its proposed regulations on carbon emissions from coal plants. The proposed rule represents the Obama Administration’s most ambitious move yet to combat one of the main drivers behind climate change.

…On Tuesday and Wednesday, leaders from Presbyterian, Episcopal, Evangelical, Lutheran, Methodist, Quaker, and Baptist congregations spoke out in strong support of the rule, with most speakers calling it a moral obligation to God. Leaders from Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, and Baha’i groups also testified in support of the rule.

Arguing for such rules on a scientific basis is fine, but this, well….

Taxpayers will, of course, have funded this set of sermons ‘hearing’: Quite why escapes me.

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May/14

18

“Nostalgia for the Absolute”

hereticIn the course of an article triggered by the bullying of climatologist Lennart Bengtsson, Mark Steyn digs up this extract from a tremendous “imaginary address” by Yale law professor Stephen Carter to America’s Class of 2014, currently so busy, as Steyn puts it, “disinviting truckloads of distinguished speakers from their graduation ceremonies”:

The literary critic George Steiner, in a wonderful little book titled “Nostalgia for the Absolute,” long ago predicted this moment. We have an attraction, he contended, to higher truths that can sweep away complexity and nuance. We like systems that can explain everything. Intellectuals in the West are nostalgic for the tight grip religion once held on the Western imagination. They are attracted to modes of thought that are as comprehensive and authoritarian as the medieval church. You and your fellow students — and your professors as well; one mustn’t forget their role — are therefore to be congratulated for your involvement in the excellent work of bringing back the Middle Ages.

They never really went away (see Marx, K., to start with), but otherwise spot on.

And, yes, read the whole of both Steyn and Carter’s pieces.

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Apr/14

16

Two Faiths

Library of CongressWhile there are perfectly good scientific reasons for accepting the theory of AGW, the certainty, the fervor and the moralizing displayed by some in the climate change crusade look very much like a form of religious belief. Under the circumstances it’s no surprise to see this new faith incorporated into the teachings of more conventional churches.

The Guardian has an excellent recent example of this phenomenon:

Religious groups have urged Pope Francis to back a campaign to encourage millions of people, organisations and investors to pull their money out of the fossil fuel industry. Multi-faith groups in Australia and North America have sent a letter to the pope saying it is “immoral” to profit from fossil fuels. The letter, shown exclusively to the Guardian, says 80% of global fossil fuel reserves must “stay in the ground” if dangerous climate change is to be avoided.

The letter sent to the pope’s offices in February is co-signed by the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC) and US-based GreenFaith.

…GreenFaith executive director, the Rev Fletcher Harper, said: “Pope Francis’s support would provide a powerful validation of the moral rightness of divestment and reinvestment in response to the climate crisis, and would immediately signal the need for dramatic action. It would be of vital significance.”

The modish and tacky elision of ‘green’ and ‘faith’ is revealing enough, but a visit to GreenFaith’s website fills out the picture still further. It makes for grimly entertaining reading:

Worship leaders can integrate “raw” natural elements into worship services. For example, worship can include containers of water, earth, plants, leaves from local trees, or other natural elements placed in the worship space and visible to all. These natural elements can beautify a sanctuary and deepen worshipers’ relationship with God.

And so it goes on.

I was, however intrigued by this detail lurking in the Guardian piece:

The letter to the pope was sent a week before Australia’s Cardinal George Pell was appointed to an influential senior position within the Catholic church and the Vatican as the head of a new secretariat for the economy.

Cardinal Pell has expressed extreme scepticism of the science linking greenhouse gas emissions to climate change. In 2011 he delivered the annual lecture of the UK’s sceptic group the Global Warming Policy Foundation, founded by Lord Nigel Lawson, and claimed carbon dioxide was “not a pollutant” and animals would not notice a doubling of atmospheric CO2.
He said climate change campaigners were following a “mythology” which he said was attractive to the “religionless and spiritually rootless”.

I don’t agree with the cardinal on CO2 (the argument is considerably more complex than that), but I do agree with him (I agree with a cardinal!) when he talks about the appeal of a certain type of environmentalism to the “spiritually rootless”.

Like it or not, most people possess a religious instinct. To borrow that old X-Files line, they “want to believe” : greenery can fill that gap. It can, quite clearly, also garnish the faith of those who have already found a pew.

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Jun/13

23

Free Markets, No Thanks

Barbara WardBarbara Ward (1914-81), a former foreign editor of the Economist and much more besides, plays an important part in Rupert Darwall’s The Age of Global Warming, a new book that is, among other things, a fascinating intellectual and political history of the evolution of the climate change movement.

Ward believed in a form of mid-century command-and-control that was reinforced by her take on the Christian ethic (she was a fairly devout Roman Catholic). This passage in Darwall’s book caught my attention:

She lobbied the Second Vatican Council on Third World Development. In 1967, Pope Paul VI established the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, with Ward as one of its members. The encyclical, Populorum Progressio, ‘The Development of the Peoples’, with its criticism of ‘unbridled liberalism’, its call for ‘concerted planning’ and the creation of a ‘World Fund’ are all evidence of Ward’s imprint.

Delightful.

Interesting to see that the Vatican was moaning on about ‘unbridled liberalism’ at a time when it existed, well, nowhere. It’s a handy reminder that Benedict XVI’s disingenuous attacks on ‘financial capitalism’ and similar-sounding comments from the likable sort-of-Peronist who has succeeded him, represent just the latest manifestations of a long strand in Roman Catholic thinking.

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Apr/13

7

What Americans ‘Believe’

NH, Nov 1999 (AS)Here’s the Guardian in full “wacky Americans” mode:

About one in four Americans suspect that President Barack Obama might be the antichrist, more than a third believe that global warming is a hoax and more than half suspect that a secretive global elite is trying to set up a New World Order, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

The survey, which was conducted by Public Policy Polling, asked a sample of American voters about a number of conspiracy theories, phrasing the questions in eye-catching language that will have the country’s educators banging their heads on their desks. The study revealed that 13% of respondents thought Obama was “the antichrist”, while another 13% were “not sure” – and so were at least appeared to be open to the possibility that he might be. Some 73% of people were able to say outright that they did not think Obama was “the antichrist”.

The survey also showed that 37% of Americans thought that global warming was a hoax, while 12% were not sure and a slim majority – 51% – agreed with the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment and thought that it was not. The survey also revealed that 28% of people believed in a sinister global New World Order conspiracy, aimed at ruling the whole world through authoritarian government. Another 25% were “not sure” and only a minority of American voters – 46% – thought such a conspiracy theory was not true…

The Guardian being the Guardian, the questions the paper highlights are those that make the (presumed) right look nuts. It goes unmentioned that 14 percent of Americans apparently believe that believe the CIA was instrumental in distributing crack cocaine into America’s inner cities in the 1980s – and that another 30 percent are “not sure” about this dastardly plot.

More broadly, however, I always wonder whether people truly believe what they say they do in response to questions in surveys such as this. If as many as a quarter of all Americans really think that Obama is (or could be) the antichrist, wouldn’t they make a little more noise about it?

As for global warming, it’s impossible not to note the way that the writer goes to such pains to assert his own orthodoxy with additional commentary (“the overwhelming majority view of the scientific establishment”) that has no equivalent elsewhere in the piece, suggesting just a little defensiveness, something that might not be entirely inappropriate at a time when even the AGW true believers at the Economist can write this:

It is not clear why climate change has “plateaued” (see article). It could be because of greater natural variability in the climate, because clouds dampen warming or because of some other little-understood mechanism in the almost infinitely complex climate system.

Now, as I have written before, I am, to use that loaded term, no ‘denier’ (as conventionally understood, at least: I just believe that some of the AGW faithful need to ponder the implications of those words “infinitely complex” with a little more care). I certainly don’t think that AGW is a “hoax”, as that word is conventionally understood. That said, my guess would be that many of those who used that term were merely using it as a way to express their all too understandable suspicion that “global warming” has, for some, become something of a racket, based on a “consensus” that is not quite so soundly based as the public is usually told.

And then we come to the ”sinister” global conspiracy. The Guardian’s writer spiced up the actual question (adding that adjective, and removing the qualifier that the plan was to take over the planet “eventually”) which was as follows:

Do you believe that a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order, or not?

That’s something of a stretch, to put it mildly, but read another way, there is plenty of truth to the idea that a supra-nationalist class is moving away from the idea of sovereign national democracy, and replacing it with regimes and treaties that are, if not authoritarian, certainly post-democratic. The EU is the most notorious example, but some of what the UN has been aiming at, whether it be with regard to climate change, the control of narcotics and, recently, firearms could be seen that way too. It’s melodramatic to describe this as a conspiracy (and much of it is being done in plain sight), but it is a reality, and it’s not too hard to imagine those who disapprove of it, wishing to register their discontent by labeling it with language more normally used for dark intrigue and shadowy cabal.

Then again, some people are just nuts. Take a look at the full survey. It’s a good read…

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Mar/13

24

Hmmm

St FrancisPope Francis, unsurprisingly given the name he has chosen, devoted quite a bit of time to the environment in his inaugural homily.

We shall have to see whether the conclusions drawn by this reporter (for Religion News) reflect his own biases or is indeed what the pontiff does have in mind.

The pope’s homily was striking for its repeated references to environmental protection, highlighting what is likely to be a central theme of his papacy and setting up the 76-year-old pope as a leading activist against climate change.

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