In light of the recent COP summit – that is, ‘Conference of the Parties’ – in Glasgow in December, Prince Charles has declared that we need to get on a war footing with climate change. Enough of this pussyfooting around with incrementalism, with death to carbon by a thousand cuts! We have to get serious, and he’s joined in this new call for a crusade by leaders around the world, including Trudeau, Biden and our own Holy Father, who has called this the moral issue of our day.
Rather than tilt at windmills, it is requisite in any battle, as Sun Tzu says in his Art of War, to first know thy enemy. Might we therefore ask for a clear and precise definition of ‘climate change’? Karl Popper was correct in claiming that a scientific hypothesis must be framed in such a way that it can be disproven. At the risk of presumption, here we will articulate three possible hypotheses, and the problem with each.
Hypothesis #1: The Earth is heating up. This was the theory bandied about until recently, and still used when convenient, with every forest fire, drought or heat wave.
There are two problems: The temperature of the Earth is notoriously difficult to measure, with such variability across its surface, on land and on the sea (and, we might add, above and under them both). Some places are getting colder, others warmer, and many fluctuating, almost all of this due to our neighbourhood star, and how much solar energy each given place receives.
Temperatures also vary across time. There is the wide difference between the solstices, with often a sixty-or-more degree difference between summer and winter, due solely to the effect of the Sun’s glancing rays across the earth’s surface, tilted fifteen degrees.
If we extend this time frame across decades, centuries, millennia and aeons, things become even more disputable. Dinosaurs used to roam about in a rather tropical Alberta, Canada, where it is now snow-covered half the year. And Greenland used to be green. Ice and tropical ages come and go, and may return again. To put it mildly, there is a lot of uncertainty – and hubris – in thinking we alter the planet’s temperature by changing human behaviour.
Whether the Earth is getting warmer, or colder, depends also upon one’s baseline. Where do you begin? Even within the smaller time frame of the ‘industrial era’ (itself an ambiguous and debatable term), the famous – or infamous – hockey-stick graph looks a lot different if a slightly different starting point is chosen. The deceit and duplicity was evident in the East Anglia debacle a decade or so back, with fudged data and deliberate obfuscation that even the obeisant secular media had to admit. They are more careful now, but the leak leaves one with more than a little sense of doubt.
Hypothesis #2: With global warming on the rocks, what they now seem to imply is that the climate is becoming more violent, that is, as they often put it, ‘catastrophic’, more sudden and unpredictable, with surging storms and sudden swings. If anything, this is even more difficult to prove (or disprove) than the Earth’s heating up. I have a habit of reading what happened on this day in history, and it is often odd what sites such as Wikipedia choose to include. But one thing they do mention are severe weather events, many of the most violent of which well pre-date industrialization, and we can presume the pre-historic climate was at least as violent.
Whether this had anything to do with carbon is dubious, but it certainly was not anthropogenic.
Which brings us to hypothesis #3: Nature is becoming more violent to us. This is the one that convinces most people, moved less by reason and data, and more by story and anecdote, especially those that most affect them: Images of the wreckage wrought by floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes speak more persuasively than graphs and numbers.
Ironically, perhaps, this is also the one that should be most convincing to Catholics, but not for reasons the COP crowd might propose. They think it’s all about excess carbon emissions. For the Church, it’s more about excess sin.
As Pope John Paul puts it, in his 1984 letter on suffering, Salvifici Doloris:
Though it is not licit to apply here the narrow criterion of direct dependence (as Job’s three friends did), it is equally true that one cannot reject the criterion that, at the basis of human suffering, there is a complex involvement with sin.
We cannot (usually) trace a given suffering to a given sin, as Christ implies of those crushed by the tower of Siloam. But there is nonetheless a real and inexorable connection between sin and human suffering, including that caused by natural disasters. As Christ predicted, towards the end, when wickedness would be multiplied and men’s love grow cold, there would be corresponding earthquakes, floods, famines, stars falling from the sky, and the very heavens shaken.
Yet the current solutions on offer will only make things worse: An implicit, and often explicit, call for more access to contraception, abortion and euthanasia to cull the carbon-causing herd, and then limit the movement, activity, reproduction and life itself for what humans are left in a hyper-controlled, communistic regime. Private property and freedom of movement abolished. A veritable neo-Manicheism, every new child a burden upon the world.
They even speak in religious terms, of ‘redeeming’ carbon credits, of sacrifice, atonement, of hushed reverence for the healing of a wounded, living planet.
But the gods they serve are strange, and the sacrifices they demand are not ones with which the true God would be pleased. Au contraire: The sins in which we are immersed, and which they will exacerbate, cry out to heaven for vengeance, and heaven answers accordingly.
The Earth was made for Man, not Man for the Earth. The Church’s solution? Yes, a morally sound ecology and care for our planet, but one founded upon true repentance, conversion, to goodness, joy in life, children a blessing, the Earth replete with families and freedom.
The real war, pace the princes of this world, is against sin. For it is only by living in harmony with God, each other, ourselves and our own nature, that nature will live in harmony with us.
It’s at least a hypothesis worth testing.