Friday, 19 June 2015



Please note: I am not having a go at Pope Francis, the Catholic Church or Catholics in general and my sister in particular.

The head of the Catholic Church has chosen to write an encyclical about the relation between humans and the environment. An encyclical is a letter, written by the Pope, to some or all Catholic bishops.

Pope Francis highlights other encyclicals like “Pacem in Terris” (Peace on Earth), written at the height of the cold war by Pope John the 23rd. 

I don’t intend to review the whole thing, but I’d like to comment on just four paragraphs from Chapter 1, WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR COMMON HOME.

Unfortunately, these paragraphs read like a Greenpeace press release. I’ve split up the text into individual sentences with Pope Francis’s on the left and my comments on the right

Paragraph 23  
The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. I agree.  That’s hard to argue with.
At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. I agree.  I would have said all of the essentials: air, food, water etc.
A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. Consensus has nothing whatever to do with science. In 1904 the scientific consensus was that light travelled through the “luminiferous ether”. Albert Einstein said it didn’t.  He was right. Everybody else was wrong.
In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Since 1993, sea level has risen at the rate of 3.2 ± 0.4 mm per year. At that rate it would take between 7 and 9 years to rise one inch and between 278 and 357 years to rise one metre.
Source: University of Colorado
Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. Non-sequitur. A little warming is probably a good thing.  Beats the pants off an ice age.
It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. I checked the references to the encyclical.  There are no references to scientific papers.

There is not a “great” concentration of CO2.  It’s about 400 parts per million. A one kilo (2.2 pound) bag of rice contains about 50,000 grains.
400 parts per million would be about 20 of those grains grains.

If the IPCC is to be believed, humans put about 8 Giga tonnes (Gt) of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. Nature puts out about 190 Gt or 23 times as much.

Source: Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change, Fifth Assessment Report.
Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. As noted, these gasses are not concentrated.

There is little argument that so-called ‘greenhouse gasses’ like CO2 absorb some heat. The amount of heat and subsequent temperature rise is by no means settled.

The best estimate is about 1 degree Celsius for a doubling of CO2, over a period of hundreds of years, if nothing else changed, like clouds.

If the little bit of warming produced more clouds, the effect would be unmeasurable.

Anyone who claims to know for certain is telling a porky.
The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Without fossil fuels humans would return to a subsistence existence.

According to the World Bank, the number of people living in abject poverty has declined by 52 % since 1981.

I agree nobody should live in poverty, but that’s not a bad effort.

Key factors in raising people out of poverty are a strong economy and the availability of reliable, inexpensive energy.
Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes. The IPCC estimates about 25% of human CO2 emissions are from land use changes, turning land over to agriculture.

Incidentally, the desert of the Southern Sahara (Sahel) has become greener since the 1980s. In Burkina Faso, there is more grassland and trees and farmers have experienced a 70 % increase in cereal production. The most likely cause? Increased atmospheric CO2.

Source: The Sahel is Greening, GWPF.
Paragraph 24  
Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction of part of the planet’s biodiversity. The single biggest question in the global warming debate centres on whether the slight warming caused by increased CO2 is amplified or dampened by the atmosphere. It all depends on clouds.

If more clouds develop, they’ll block the Sun and that will cool the atmosphere. If fewer clouds develop, it will heat up more.

Since there’s no evidence of run-away warming at other times in Earth’s history when CO2 increased, it seem likely that the mild heating produces more clouds which cools things off again.

The rest is scaremongering.
The melting in the polar ice caps and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous release of methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can further increase the emission of carbon dioxide. About 90% of the ice on Earth is at the South Pole (Antarctica). Greenland has most of the other 10% with the rest at the North Pole and a bit in glaciers.

The North Pole ice floats on water so even if it all melted, it would do nothing to sea level.

The one that matters, Antarctic ice has been mostly increasing.

I’m not aware of anywhere where methane frozen in tundra is being released, but I could have missed something and will cheerfully stand corrected.
Things are made worse by the loss of tropical forests which would otherwise help to mitigate climate change. One of the reasons more land is being reclaimed for agriculture is that land previously used for food production is being used for biofuel.

Biofuel production increased from essentially zero in 1975 to over 80 million tonnes in 2015.

Source: F.O. Licht, C. Berg
Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain. CO2 is not pollution. The Pontiff himself exhales about a kilogram of the stuff every day.
Sea water has a pH of about 8.1 ± 0.3  making it slightly basic or alkaline. Pure fresh water is neutral and has a pH of 7. A strong acid has a pH of 4. A strong base has a pH of 12.

Dissolved CO2 makes rain water and fresh water lakes and rivers slightly acidic. Dissolving CO2 in the oceans makes them slightly less basic.

The scientific claim is that since 1750, ocean pH has changed by 0.1 of a pH unit, about one third of the error of the pH measurement.

This change has no discernable effect on any sea creatures.

All the scary stuff comes from computer models.
If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. The University of Huntsville in Alabama (UAH) has recorded satellite temperature records since 1979.

UAH is considered one of the main authorities on temperature and the satellite records are not distorted by things like the urban heat island effect and adjustments.

The university reports that the Earth’s lower troposphere, where weather happens, is warming by 0.114 degrees Celsius per decade. That means it’s warmed by 0.4 degrees Celsius since since 1979.

Source: Dr. Roy Spencer, UAH
A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas. The poster child for sea level damage is a small island group in the Indian Ocean called the Maldives.

A researcher, Alex-Nils Morner reports that the sea level in the Maldives hasn’t risen, but, in fact, has fallen.

Even the President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik admited in 2012 that “The Maldives is not about to disappear”.

The government of the Maldives have been so unconcerned about rising sea levels that in 2011 they built a $US500 million golf course. No doubt for all the eco-tourists who come to see the place disappear.

Even if we were facing danger from sea level rise, the Dutch have proved for hundreds of years that it can be successfully dealt with.
Paragraph 25  
Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. Sounds like a bit of wealth distribution is on the (holy) cards.
It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Unlike war, disease, unclean drinking water, slavery, religious intolerance, starvation, lack of education, political intolerance etc.
Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. The best thing we can do for developing countries is help them develop cheap energy. For the foreseeable future this means fossil fuels.

All of the critical components of a society - food production, clean water, transport, health, education, commerce and industry – rely on inexpensive reliable energy.

”Alternative energy” sources may have niche applications. A couple of wind towers on Easter Island is probably a better idea than importing coal.
They are, however, massively expensive and inefficient.

By denying cheap energy to developing countries we sentence them to continued poverty.
Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. Additional atmospheric CO2 benefits agriculture.

Additional atmospheric CO2 benefits forestry.

Any sea level rise is best managed by adaptation in the form of dikes and channels. (Not necessarily golf courses.)

Slightly higher temperatures generally improves health. Many more people die each year from cold than from heat.
They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. This is certainly true in many developing countries.

Often their own corrupt governments are to blame.

It would be far better to help them develop cheap energy than force them to use enormously expensive, unreliable alternatives.

India is a particularly good example of a developing country that’s ignoring the bad advice it’s getting from the environmental movement. India’s Home Minister recently froze Greenpeace funds that were being used to try to stop development.
Read more here.
For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. And where, exactly, has this happened recently?

Throughout human human history, plants, animals and human beings have changed.

Success means adaptation.
There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. Absolutely without foundation.

In 2008 the UN General assembly predicted between 50 and 200 million environmental refugees by 2010.

In 2010 they revised the claim to 50 million environmental refugees by 2020.

I expect the claim will be similarly updated in 2020.
They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Tragically, poor people have plenty of reasons to flee their own countries.

War, famine, intolerance and corrupt governments are just a few of the reasons.
Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. There is more world-wide charity now than at any time in human history.
Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded. Not true.  There has been unprecedented response.

Help people develop cheap sources of energy and they will prosper.
Paragraph 26 This whole paragraph is vague, rambling, unclear and devoid of fact.
Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. Who exactly is doing this?  What exactly are they doing? What symptoms?
However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. As above.
There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. CO2 is not a pollutant.

Car exhaust (carbon monoxide) is a pollutant.

Denying the developing world access to fossil fuels is unforgivable.
Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. True.

That’s why people should have access to fossil fuels.
There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. To store what?
Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. In what? Of what?
Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. Increasing efficiency of manufacturing process has always been a goal for business and industry.

The only way to use fewer raw materials in a production process, given the same level of efficiency, is to produce less.
But these good practices are still far from widespread.  

I don’t intend to comment on the religious and spiritual content of the encyclical.

These few paragraphs tell me, however, that the Pope has embraced the mantra of the radical environmental movement. Rather than seeking to lift the developing countries of the world out of poverty, the policies he endorses will sentence them to lives of continued misery.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. No offense taken, Pat. Contrary to the belief of some, it is not necessary for Catholics to take as gospel every word that comes from the chair of Peter. The whole subject of global warming/climate change can use some reasoned discussion -- questions, considerations, citations. Whether Pope Francis, who is doing some wonderful things, will have added to intelligent interchange on this issue remains to be seen. Thank you for adding positively to the conversation.


Got a comment for me?