Pope Francis has completed his tour of the United States, and I gave a dozen radio interviews on his visit, his encyclical, and his ideas about energy, climate change, economic development, and improving the lives of poor people everywhere. Hopefully my article will generate spirited discussion … and an actual “conversation which includes everyone” – to quote His Holiness – instead of just another lecture or continued cries about climate cataclysms by the closed circle of environmentalist advisors with whom he has thus far surrounded himself.
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A conversation … or a lecture?
Pope Francis and all of us could learn a lot from an actual conversation on energy and climate
We must “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home,” Pope Francis recently told the US Congress, frequently quoting from his Laudato Si encyclical. “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge … and its human roots concern and affect us all.”
I couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately, the pontiff seems more interested in a lecture than a conversation on climate change, energy and economic development, and improving the lives of Earth’s poorest families.
The pope’s advisors believe humans are destroying our planet and dangerously changing its climate. Instead of seeking dialogue with those who disagree with them, they denounce and try to silence contrarian voices. They dominated the Vatican’s April 2015 summit, while experts who question claims that climate change is manmade or dangerous were not invited or permitted to speak, or even ask questions during the summit; nor was their input considered during the encyclical’s preparation.
Many of those advisors (Jeffrey Sachs, Hans Schellnhuber, Peter Wadhams, Naomi Oreskes and others) hold views that can best be described as extreme: on energy use, climate change, population control, and how much poor nations should be “permitted” to develop. They are deeply involved in and profit greatly from a $1.5-trillion government-funded climate crisis industry that owes its continued existence to perpetuating the manmade global warming narrative and silencing those they vilify as “climate deniers.”
They have little knowledge of the enormous complexities of Earth’s climate system – and little concern about the impacts their policy prescriptions have on US or EU working classes, or Third World poor. Those people may be protected against climate risks created by computer models; but their livelihoods, living standards, upward mobility, health and welfare are gravely impaired by policies imposed in the name of preventing climate and weather events that are no different, more frequent or more extreme than those which have affected and afflicted humans throughout our presence on this miraculous planet.
Yet, an official document issued by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences after the climate summit declared that “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality,” its “decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity,” and we now have the knowledge, technological ability and financial means to prevent manmade climate change. The document’s title demands “transformative solutions.”
The Laudato Si (“Praise Be to You”) encyclical continues in a similar vein. The Earth “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” it declares. “Thousands of species are being lost” every year. “If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”
Right after calling for a conversation, Pope Francis told Congress, “Now is the time for courageous actions,” to “avert the most serious effect of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.”
None of these statements – nor proclamations and decrees from the White House and EPA – suggests that any of these church leaders, climate activists or government officials want anything remotely resembling a conversation. Furthermore, history and reality flatly contradict their assertions about climate disasters.
Coal, oil and natural gas began replacing wood, whale oil, water wheels, horses and human labor less than two centuries ago. Since then, billions of people have been lifted out of abject poverty, terminal disease, borderline starvation and early death. Average global life expectancy has soared from barely 30 (48 in the richest nations) in 1900 – to 71 today. American welfare families now live better than kings did in 1900.
Over just the last 25 years, again thanks mostly to carbon-based fuels, almost 1.5 billion people finally received the incredible blessings of electricity. And yet, 1.3 billion (equal to the United States, Canada, Mexico and Europe) still rely entirely on wood, charcoal and animal dung for heating and cooking. Every year, 4-6 million of them (mostly women and young children) die from lung and intestinal diseases, due to breathing smoke from open fires and not having clean water, refrigeration and unspoiled food.
Climate activists nevertheless continue to campaign against coal and gas-fueled power plants in energy-deprived Africa and Asia – while other environmentalists rail against hydroelectric and nuclear power, against GMO crops that would survive droughts and feed millions, and against pesticides and the spatial mosquito repellant DDT that could eradicate malaria, slash poverty rates and save millions of lives.
Radio host Thom Hartmann told me 1.5 million Syrian refugees were heading to Europe because of a drought resulting from fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions. He went into high decibel mode when I said his claim was absurd – that they were fleeing genocidal ISIS butchers who are cutting off children’s heads.
In Britain, 1,700 workers are about to lose their jobs at the Redcar steel plant, along with 4,000 supply chain workers and contractors and many more people in communities that relied on those jobs – because climate concerns force factories to pay a £8 ($12) surcharge on their electricity bills for every ton of steel produced. In the USA, EPA’s climate, ozone, water and other regulations are already costing thousands of jobs, and impairing the welfare of numerous families, for marginal or delusional health and climate benefits.
This is not “preferential treatment for the poor.” It is war on women, children, workers and the poor. It protects people against dangers that exist only in climate change computer models and press releases – while eliminating jobs, sending families to welfare lines, and perpetuating energy deprivation, disease and malnutrition that kill millions of people every year.
Coal-fired power plants certainly pollute Chinese and Indian cities. But they produce critically needed electricity and greatly improve living standards. Readily available emission control technologies will be added when their citizens demand it and growing economies make the systems more affordable.
These hard realities make climate change a critical moral and social justice issue. So it seems fair to ask why Pope Francis appears unwilling to have a real conversation about these human rights issues – and about the most fundamental issue of all: whether humans are actually causing a climate crisis.
Weather experts cannot provide accurate forecasts seven weeks or even seven days in advance. Predicting the number of hurricanes before the season begins, or even in the midst of a season, is a hugely daunting task. Even as its intensity began to build, and even as the storm began pounding the Bahamas, specialists could not project Hurricane Joaquin’s ultimate force, trajectory or possible US landfall. Why would we trust models that assume carbon dioxide causes of climate change and ignore numerous natural forces?
And why do we believe assertions that hurricanes and other storms will increase in number, intensity and duration because of CO2? Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, and yet this year marks the first time since 1914 that no hurricanes formed anywhere in the Western Atlantic, Caribbean Sea or Gulf of Mexico through September 22. And as of October 4, it has been 517 weeks since a Category 3-5 hurricane hit the continental United States. That’s a record dating back at least to 1900.
There is likewise no evidence that a single species has disappeared because of manmade climate change.
Finally, Pope Francis also decries “material greed” and worries about our “naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power,” under the “prevailing [capitalist] economic system.” In so doing, he fails to address the political greed that drives many politicians, bureaucrats and environmental activists. He seems to trust in the goodness of those who wield immense political power over what we think, say and do … and over the livelihoods, living standards and very lives of millions and billions of people – too often with little or no accountability for the consequences of their decisions.
So absolutely, let us have a real, open, robust conversation about these issues. And let us include everyone in it, because the energy, environmental and human rights challenges concern and affect us all.
Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow, author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black death, and coauthor of Cracking Big Green: Saving the world from the Save-the-Earth money machine.