Prudence, civility needed in climate change debate

November 26, 2010

Eye on Faith and Science

I was speaking last week to a men’s spirituality group when a question came up about what the church believes about global warming.

Pope Benedict XVI has spoken about the topic many times, most recently at last month’s Synod of Bishops for the Middle East: “Today we see that with the climate problems, the foundations of the earth are threatened, threatened by our behavior,” he said.

Caring for God’s creation is a hallmark of Catholic social teaching, and the pope, bishops and many other Catholics have been supportive of efforts to deal effectively with environmental problems.

In that vein, when the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement on climate change nine years ago, they acknowledged the wide scientific consensus that the phenomenon is happening and that humans are a contributing cause. Today, the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, which supports and complements the USCCB’s Environmental Justice Program, is among religious groups at the forefront of the issue.

At the same time, church officials — then and now — also acknowledge that they are not scientists and that responsible scientific research is what’s needed to enhance our knowledge about the issue.

Still, the issue is important enough and serious enough, and there is enough evidence at this point, to require prudent action in addressing the threats posed by global warming, particularly because of the devastating effects it could have on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. In other words, as the bishops said, “if enough evidence indicates that the present course of action could jeopardize humankind’s well-being, prudence dictates taking mitigating or preventative action.”

Good science. Prudence. Both are needed as the world addresses the issue of climate change. I would also add one more thing: Civility as the science and its public policy implications are debated.

An associate professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul is among those pushing for more civility and clearing up misinformation that clouds the debate. John Abraham says the scientific community needs to present the science about climate and greenhouse gas emissions objectively and dispassionately if there’s any hope of convincing sincere skeptics and getting them on board to find solutions.

He has launched a website to connect the news media to about 50 national experts on various topics related to climate change.

“We need to depolarize the debate,” Abraham recently told the StarTribune newspaper. “As long as we are polarized, we are stalemated.”

Hopefully, his efforts will be a positive step to help the media and the general public better address this important issue.

About Joe Towalski

Editor of The Catholic Spirit, husband, dad, baseball fan(atic), astronomy buff. Follow me on Twitter @towalskij

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  • Maureen Pekar

    Let’s be civil in discussing Catholic Climate Change! It is very easy for you to be civil because you agree with the Catholic Bishops position. Here is a letter I sent to my Bishop in Diocese of Orange California.
    January 6, 2011

    Bishop Tod D. Brown,
    PO Box 14195
    Orange, CA 92863

    Dear Bishop Tod D. Brown,

    This past year I have become aware of the social justice agenda from the diocese and wider Church. What caught my attention was the inclusion of “Global Warming” oops “Global Climate Change”. What does the Catholic Church really know about this issue? (Matt15:8-9) There is continuing debate and no consensus on this issue, however, it seems that the Church has chosen its side. The Global Climate Change and Green Movement use obfuscation and lies to promote their agenda. They suppress conflicting research to support their claims of catastrophic man-made global warming. (See Cool It by Bjorn Lomborg and other references)

    I believe that the Green Movement and Global Climate Change include anti-Catholic dogma. These secular religions believe that the problem starts with too many people on earth. Is that what we believe? Many of the leaders of these movements do not believe that God created the earth. They believe that it evolved from who knows what, and they have the power to control the climate by controlling us. Who do they think they are, God Almighty?

    They believe that no cost is too high to achieve their dubious goals. 1. The Sacramento smelt are protected; the farmers be damned. 2. Millions of African people die of malaria because some environmentalists thought that DDT would cause irreparable harm to the environment. Not all scientists agreed. 3. California now has “green policy” laws that make it too expensive to run a business here, leading to high unemployment. The poor, and everyone else for that matter, have to pay more for food, clothing and shelter. These are just three examples of many. I know that the Church doesn’t want high unemployment and an increase of poverty especially in the Third World so why are we preaching these theories?

    We were created by God to be free, not slaves to one theory after another. We need to use our common sense. I think that the Catholic Church has been duped into preaching this in our Churches so that parishioners, who still have confidence in the Church, will vote these theories into the force of law. The Church should teach what it knows and not scientific half truths and lies. Our confidence in the Church may soon be shaken. I cringe in the pew when I hear these new secular religions advanced during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Please, stop it.

    I am also proposing that conservative Catholics be included in the dialogue, proposals and positions that come from the Catholic Church. There should be an out reach to the conservative faithful before we all direct our support elsewhere.

    Prayerfully and with all due respect,

    Maureen Pekar
    St. Anne parishioner for 35 years

    Cc: Council of Conservative Catholics, Pastor Robert Vidal, Georgeann Lovett (Social Justice Director, Diocese of Orange), Diocese of LA, Cecilia Calvo and EJP (Social Justice of USCCB), Orange County Catholic (Newspaper Diocese of Orange), Tidings (Newspaper Diocese of LA)

    • Joe Towalski

      In fact, there is a strong consensus among climate scientists regarding global climate change. The “social justice agenda” you speak of is rooted in our rich heritage of Catholic social teaching that has been articulated by popes, bishops, priests, religious and lay people to help guide the church’s members in building a just society that respects human life, human dignity and, yes, God’s creation. Environmental stewardship is not a partisan issue, although some people falsely frame it as one. Because God created the world, we need to have a deep reverence and respect for it. We must take good care of it, and that extends to taking prudent action to address climate change, the effects of which stand to hurt the poor and vulnerable the most as agricultural and ecological systems are disrupted. We need to address climate change for the sake of our children and grandchildren. Our Catholic moral tradition demands no less.