The Pope’s Carbon and Luther’s Katherine

Pope Francis the other day expressed his full support for ‘carbon taxes’ – carbon ‘pricing’, if you will – a punitive measure to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels, combustion of which produces carbon dioxide, which causes, as the current ‘consensus’ has it, global warming, apparently, now, of the apocalyptic sort.

The Holy Father is quoted as saying:

For too long we have collectively failed to listen to the fruits of scientific analysis, and doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,

Before adding,

faced with a climate emergency, we must take action accordingly, in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations…we do not have the luxury of waiting for others to step forward, or of prioritising short-term economic benefits

Benefits, such as heating our homes, driving our automobiles or cooking our meals.

I, and any number of others have written of this before, and if one gets tired of repeating oneself, one can only imagine what readers feel. So forgive me for reiterating that the science is not settled; in fact, very few things in science are settled, and even those few – gravity, atomic structure, Newton’s laws of motion, relativity theory – are still open to modification, perhaps even refutation. As one statistics textbook has it, ‘if there is one thing always present in inductive research, it is doubt’. And, what is more, ‘climate change’ fails the basic test of a scientific hypothesis, in that it cannot be refuted, for is not the climate always changing, the causes of which are complex beyond the human mind to grasp?So count me amongst the doubters.

Besides the dubious nature of measuring the temperature of something as old and as vast as the planet Earth, nor, if things are getting a wee tad warmer, whether that may not be a beneficial thing (it is cold and rainy where I write, and has been for some time, and snow still lingers across the U.S.), we also have the inherent limitations of the Holy Father’s teaching charism. Now, we may lay aside any natural capacity he has to teach, upon which I personally cannot comment. But, in his office as Pope, he can only speak definitively, even authoritatively, and can only bind in conscience, on matters of faith, morals and to some extent disciplinary things. Beyond that, Pope Francis is free to his opinion, but he should be wary of airing such epistemologically fragile utterances, given the authority inherent in his office.

The thing about ‘carbon pricing’, under which we are now suffering in Canada under Justin Trudeau, is that it is basically a tax upon ‘life’, for all life is carbon based, uses carbon and emits carbon. Carbon is not a pollutant, nor is carbon dioxide, necessary for plants to ‘breathe’, nor, dare I add, is life.

To my mind, ‘climate change’ is an adult-version bogeyman to scare people into obeisance. For if we admit that every new ounce of ‘carbon emission’ is detrimental to the Earth, what we are saying, whether implicitly, unwittingly or not, is that human life is detrimental to the pristine harmony of Earth. Hence, we should limit the number of humans, the scope of their activity (Cars! Airplanes! Furnaces! Oh, my!) and even their span of life – especially the ‘carbon heavy’ end-phase – and leave it all to the birds and the bees.

I must respectfully disagree with the Holy Father. I would retort that the globe-trotting climate-zealots, jetting around and staying in five-star hotels, sipping Chablis over gourmet meals after a swim in a heated indoor-outdoor swimming pool, should try paying for basic gas and furnace oil in rural Ontario on a fixed and limited income, like so many of the old folk around where I live, with at least six months of bitter winter cold.

I will leave you with two quotations from two different authorities:

First, God, from His first book: Go forth and multiply and subdue the earth. 

Second, Blessed John-Henry Cardinal Newman, from his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk:  if I am obliged to bring religion into after-dinner toasts, (which indeed does not seem quite the thing) I shall drink—to the Pope, if you please,—still, to Conscience first, and to the Pope afterwards.

We are now discovering that the two may not always agree.

On that note, the other day was the Luther’s wedding anniversary – June 13, to be precise, which struck me for some reason. Yes, that Luther, Martin by name – ‘here I stand and can do no other’ – and his winsome companion Katherine van Bora, a nun who, urged on by Luther’s preaching, escaped from her convent with a group of others hiding out in the fish-delivery wagon. Luther, himself a renegade Augustinian priest, found husbands for all the escaped nuns, except Katherine, so, after some dithering, he married her. Or at least attempted to do so, since they were both still under their vows of religion, making their marriage canonically invalid, whatever status their ‘irregular situation’ had in their own conscience and the eyes of God. She bore ‘Sir Doctor’ Luther – that was apparently how the good wife referred to him – six children, half of whom lived to adulthood, and their domestic situation seems to have been, if not always happy, at least relatively peaceful and tolerable. Luther died first (he was 41, she 26 when they tied the knot on this day in 1525), leaving Katherine in rather dire financial straits without his professorial and pastoral salary in those pre-pension days. ‘Katy’ was industrious, however, and pulled things together through some rather grim times, until she too passed into eternity, after catching a chill, ironically falling off a wagon – literally, not figuratively – similar to the one in which she and her companions had fled the confines of religious life three decades before. Landing in a watery ditch, she caught a chill, and died three months afterwards at the age of 56. Her last words, apparently, were ‘I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth’.

One wonders at the vagaries of the conscience. In this case, Luther and Katherine might well have done better to listen to the Pope, but, whatever the eternal fate of Dr. and Mrs. Luther, we know that God ultimately brings good out of all things, even our wayward decisions. And we may take some consolation in that.