As a Catholic, first and foremost I urge everyone to actually read what is written – do not trust MSM summaries of it and don’t take the word of those who have a particular axe to grind. Read it yourself – decide for yourself what it all means. Encyclicals are meant to be read; prayerfully and with mercy and charity. But, also as a Catholic, permit me to speak a bit about it. Here are just a few bits I’ve looked over so far.
The first thing which caught my eye is this:
Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless.
This is an important thing to say – we are not actually entirely free agents. Our freedom granted by God can only be properly used when we are voluntarily choosing to do what is right. It is true that we can choose evil – that is built into our free will…but when someone chooses to do wrong, that is not an act of freedom. It is, actually, an act of self-slavery – someone riveting chains of servitude upon himself. There are indisputable truths to guide our conduct and we ignore this at our extreme peril.
Next up, this:
These (environmental )problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish… A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.
Indeed – and a throwaway culture is a terrible thing…both for people and things. Have you noticed that a lot of what we buy these days is low-quality trash? Just try to find a decently constructed desk, for instance…fake wood, cheap plastics; all of it falls apart in a few years. The desk I’m working on right now, however, isn’t like that. I got it at a garage sale. My guess is that it’s approximately 80 years old. It actually is nothing special – but as it is made out of real wood and put together with some thought to durability, I was able to strip it down and refinish it. It now looks wonderful…and will likely last another 80 years. I’m hopeful that one of my wife’s grandchildren will find it useful after I’m gone. If we have an attitude of make it cheap and make it for maximum profit, we’re doing things wrong…and that attitude towards things can all too easily be transferred to people. People and things have value – God created us all and called it all “good”. It is not for us to waste people, or things.
And, now, on to the global warming stuff that people are up in arms about:
The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.
Now, as all here know, I am an anthropogenic global warming denier. And I still am. But what the Pope talks about here is the consensus – yes, we all denigrate that consensus and understandably so – but the Pope, speaking for the Church, can’t really go against it. Believe it or not, the Church always has agreed to scientific consensus. Gallileo got in trouble mostly because he was claiming as established fact something which was at that time among the scientific community still theory (he was also a bit of a jerk who managed to tick off someone he shouldn’t have – but that’s something for another time). Right now, the consensus is that humans are contributing to global warming and the Church will go with that unless and until the scientific community reasonably comes up with a different solution – but even here we can see that factors other than purely human activity are acknowledged as being part of the problem.
I remain an AGW denier because I know what the fanatics of the environmental movement are up to – scamming us for power and money. If all they were doing is working on solutions to environmental problems, they’d get no complaints from me…but when I see them ranged to seize my property and my liberty in the name of fixing a problem which they can’t actually fix by their proposed solutions, I tell them to go jump in a lake. A bit more:
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.
Indeed – and I think we all agree with that. Please note that the Pope defines neither “clean” nor “renewable”. I happen to think that nuclear power is pretty clean and renewable.
Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.
Hard to argue with that. And this is especially true in Third World nations…but anyone driving through Los Angeles can’t help but think, “ugly”. I note that our Progressive friends seem to like the idea of cramming us proles ever more densely into large cities so that the environment will be better protected. Sorry, guys, but we get to use the world, too – that means a balance needs to be struck which might result in cities actually being more spread out.
There is also the damage caused by the export of solid waste and toxic liquids to developing countries, and by the pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home, in the countries in which they raise their capital: “We note that often the businesses which operate this way are multinationals. They do here what they would never do in developed countries or the so-called first world. Generally, after ceasing their activity and withdrawing, they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable”
A few years ago I read a news story about Steve Jobs and the release of the I-Phone – one thing struck my mind: apparently, there was some sort of screw up in the device and a lot of them had to be hastily re-manufactured in a different way. Jobs was pleased as punch because he was able to make a phone call to China and after the workers were dragged out of bed and given a cup of tea, they worked hard at it, fixing the problem. Woohoo! You know what kind of workers can be dragged out of bed and given a cup of tea and set to work? Slaves. Even if they were paid, they were still slaves. Jobs was using the story to illustrate why he thought that manufacturing jobs weren’t coming back to the United States – because American workers simply wouldn’t do that. He’s right – we still value human liberty (and decency) here in the United States and I’m just all sorry as heck that American workers won’t help Apple make 1/10th of a percent more profit on the latest bit of I-crap. My respect for Jobs dropped quite a lot when I read that story. But that is what outsourcing is for – to increase corporate profits by screwing over foreign and American workers (they get to be slaves, we get to be unemployed)…and if you think that a government like China’s (no free press, no free political life, no freedom of conscience) is a society which won’t allow industrial toxins to be dumped wholesale into the Yangtze River as long as the local Party grandee is bribed, then I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Remember, its not that Apple wouldn’t have made money on a fully USA-made I-Phone, they just wouldn’t have made as much. I understand the need to maximize profits – but I also understand what is right…and it ain’t right to export our jobs and our pollution to Third World nations so that the quarterly statement looks fantastic rather than merely great (we can look into the Big Government angle of this, as well – nothing like using the massive power of the American government to work things out so this can happen…and if you think our government isn’t bribed to heck and gone to make sure this stuff goes on at our expense, then I’ll sell that bridge in Brooklyn to you, again).
This is what I’ll leave you with:
… we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change. At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited. Viable future scenarios will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution. This makes a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to developing comprehensive solutions.
On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views…
When it comes to what, precisely, we are to do about environmental problems – as in all human problems – it is up to the prudential judgement of the people to make the final call. The Church does point out moral issues and does state what is clearly right and what is clearly wrong – but within these parameters, it is up to us to decide. Screwball leftists who think of humanity as a plague are wrong – but so, too, are those people who think that the mere operation of a free market will make everything ok – and that is because there never will be a totally free market; there will always be ways to game the system and people will take advantage as far as they are able.
The world is made for us to live in and use. We can have a cheeseburger. Build a dam. Construct a skyscraper. Drive a car. We just have to be responsible in how we do it – because while the world is made for us to live in and use, we weren’t given ownership of it. We are stewards, not proprietors. We have a responsibility, also, to try and leave the world a little better place than we found it. That can be as hackneyed as planting a tree in order to please our tree-huggers, but it can also be building a beautiful building that people one thousand years from now will enjoy. It all comes to how we view ourselves and our world – I view it and myself as creations of God; results of a supreme act of love. I’d like myself to be a nice as I can be, and the world to be as nice as it can be.
Read the Encyclical. See what you think of it, yourself. It is bound to disappoint different people on different things – but when someone is speaking the truth, that is usually the way it works out. But when you find the bits you dislike, I merely ask that you reflect upon just why you disliked it, using charity and mercy as your guide.