In his latest encyclical Pope Francis will apparently describe global warming as a ‘major threat to life on the planet’. If the leaked reports are accurate, his Holiness is absolutely right. Here are some examples of the havoc ‘global warming’ has wrought in the past decade:
“Honduras:US-backed security forces implicated in the killing of more than 100 peasant farmers involved in disputes with palm-oil magnates.
Kenya: Teenage boy shot in February this year while protesting against a ‘wind park’ in Nyandarua.
Mt Elgon National Park, Uganda: According to a newspaper report, more than 50 locals killed by park rangers and 6,000 evicted to make space for a ‘carbon offset’ plantation.
Britain: According to a report in the Independent, as many as 15,000 people may have died unnecessarily last winter because they could not afford to heat their homes.
Even allowing for media exaggeration, every year around the world thousands are dying, and many hundreds of thousands (especially in the developing world) being immiserated, because of ‘global warming’.
But what appears not to have occurred to the Pope is that it’s not ‘global warming’ itself that is responsible. Rather it’s the measures adopted to ‘combat’ it: from green taxes forcing the vulnerable into fuel poverty to renewable energy and carbon-offset and palm-oil projects helping to drive up food prices, lay waste to the world’s virgin forests and disenfranchise those native peoples whom this crusading, progressive pontiff has hitherto professed to place at the heart of his ministry.
This is worrying, for papal encyclicals are a serious business. They comprise letters sent out by the Pope to his bishops, usually in order to clarify his personal credo on Catholic doctrine. Pope Francis’s predecessor Benedict XVI, for example, issued three: one on Faith, one on Hope and one on Charity. And while they may have flirted with hand--wringing leftiness, they were unfailingly erudite (ranging from Virgil to Nietzsche), judicious, cautious and ultimately apolitical. Not so this bombshell, which — if it comes out as predicted — simply couldn’t be more contentious, more loaded or more thoroughly irresponsible. The familiar phrasing — ‘consistent scientific consensus’, ‘numerous scientific studies’, ‘above all due to human activity’, ‘urgent and compelling’ need for policies that reduce carbon emissions and ‘replace fossil fuels’ — suggests that Pope Francis has swallowed every last dubious assertion of a corrupt, self-serving global climate-alarmist establishment that looks less and less like the disinterested guardian of empirical truth and more and more like science’s answer to Fifa.
If this encyclical were some dodgy thesis tossed off for an environmental studies PhD at the University of East Anglia, it wouldn’t be such a problem. But it’s what his flock of 1.2 billion now ‘officially’ believes; and it’s what their more greenie-lefty priests will be assiduously promoting every Mass from now on, with endless bidding prayers invoking ‘sustainability’, ‘future generations’ and the need to ‘combat climate change’ through ‘renewable energy’ and ‘fossil fuel divestment’. For the more sceptical, old-school Catholic who stubbornly prefers God to Gaia, Sundays are about to get very tedious indeed.
Why would the Pope do such a thing? The charitable explanation is that he has simply been got at by the powerful and persuasive lobby that decided it needed a bit of religious heavy firepower in the run-up to the latest (still almost inevitably doomed) UN climate conference in Paris this December. That was my assumption when I reported on Ban-Ki Moon’s visit to the Holy See last month: ‘UN parks its tanks on Vatican’s lawn.’
But I now suspect it might be worse than that. The Pope has an advanced diploma in chemistry (from the University of Buenos Aires), which has led environmentalists to crow that he must know whereof he speaks. In my experience, though, this often means the opposite. Quite the most aggressively ignorant figures on climate change — such as the Royal Society’s Nobel prize-winning president Sir Paul Nurse — come from strong scientific backgrounds. Too readily do they trust the integrity of their colleagues in the Lysenkoite field of global warming; too arrogantly do they assume that this is a matter only trained scientists can comprehend — which blinds them to the social, economic and political ramifications and encourages them to make pronouncements well above their actual knowledge base.
Add to this the fact that this particular Pope has a regrettable tendency, in his public conversations, to shoot from the hip. Perhaps he feels he is being spontaneous and real — the people’s Pope. But the fallout can be disastrous — as it was, for example, when he suggested that the Islamist massacre of the Charlie Hebdo journalists was a bit like the punch you’d give to someone who’d insulted your mother.
You can get away with sort of thing when you’re a right-on South American cardinal. When you’re Pope, though, it’s different. You have responsibilities not just to your flock but also to the ongoing existence of your religion. A religion, let’s not forget, which has survived and thrived for centuries not by embracing whatever groovy cause happens to be flavour of the month but, on the contrary, by sticking to the high religious principles which are what make it distinct from the secular world. As the Church of England has already discovered, lose that distinctness and you lose your congregations. Is the Mother Church on the verge of committing the same cardinal sin?