Latest posts by H. Sterling Burnett (see all)
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I have written a great deal in the past seven months concerning the pope’s forthcoming statement on climate change. I’ve believe, contrary to the views of some of my friends and some politicians, the pope has a legitimate role to play in discussions of the appropriate response to the threats of possible human caused climate change, but I’ve also argued that to play a positive role, and encourage a life enhancing response to the challenge of climate change, the pope needs better information than he is apparently receiving. If Pope Francis truly wants to further Catholic Church’s mission of ministering to the needs of and improving the lot of the least fortunate among us – those living every day in poverty and want – it is critical he comes to recognize the science behind claims humans are causing a climate catastrophe is very uncertain, and restraining energy use to prevent an unlikely environmental apocalypse will cause more misery and harm than the dangers one might realistically expect from modest global warming, should it begin to warm again.
With this in mind, I’d like to recommend a few sources of information Pope Francis should examine before finalizing his encyclical on climate change. If he takes the information presented in these sources seriously, I believe he will come to the conclusion the world needs, and can safely use, more energy, not less.
While I will limit myself to more substantive sources of information, rather than editorials or short articles, every recommendation is intellectually accessible or understandable by lay audiences – in other words, you need not be a physicist or other scientific expert to grasp the facts and points being made.
I have previously recommended Pope Francis read Alex Epstein’s powerful book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. I reaffirm that endorsement now.
On video, the pope should view, Power to the People, a documentary presenting an honest assessment of the need for energy and many of the benefits and draws backs of different energy sources. This video was produced by the widely respected producer of educational materials, Free To Choose Media. While I personally think the video ignores some of the significant drawbacks of renewable energy sources, on the whole it presents a balanced view of the competing and complementary energy choices facing the world, and, as importantly, shows a clear understanding of role individual entrepreneurs, innovations and markets have played and will continue of necessity to play if the world is to have a brighter cleaner energy future.
Recently, a group of retired NASA scientists, many of them Catholics (Yes, as Raj on “The Big Bang Theory” points out and as ground breaking scientists throughout history have proven, you can believe in God and pursue knowledge through science), sent a letter to the pope detailing their work on climate change. In this letter, author Harold Doiron, writing on behalf of the more than 20 NASA scientists making up the group, The Right Climate Stuff, points out their independent research found:
Available data indicate we have time to improve the scientific understanding of the AGW issue before making critical decisions regarding CO2 emissions, with potentially severe adverse consequences. This is especially true for the poor in developing nations who need unfettered access to relatively inexpensive fossil fuel energy sources to improve their quality of life, while benefitting from higher atmospheric CO2 levels that provide for immediate needs of increased food production …There is no compelling scientific or humanitarian reason for immediate enactment of world-wide CO2 emission controls, as the UN is urging you to recommend in your soon to be released encyclical on the environment.
I would hope Pope Francis reads and considers the concerns expressed in the letter seriously.
Finally, if the pope is anxious to delve into the details of climate science to accurately understand the current state of the causes and possible consequences of climate change, I recommend he examine the work of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). It has line up of contributing scientists second to none, since 2008 producing a number of widely cited reports addressing different aspects of the causes and impacts of climate change. Whereas the conclusions publicized of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are determined by politicians, NIPCC’s conclusions are not determined by politicians, or the desire for future government research grants.
The poor need hope, as importantly, however, they need energy. Whether Pope Francis accesses and takes the information I’ve suggested to him to heart, may determine whether they have an ally in their aspirations for a better life in the leader of the Catholic Church.