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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