Op-ed: Pope Francis goes off the rails

  • By Rich Lowry
  • Sunday, June 21, 2015 12:09pm
  • Opinion

A quasi-religious movement now has a genuinely religious leader.

The pope’s encyclical on the environment is being hailed for its embrace of science, although it is about as scientific as the Catholic hymnal.

Pope Francis writes that Sister Earth “now cries out because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her.” Really? Is that what the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says?

The Catholic Church brings comfort and meaning to the lives of countless millions. That doesn’t mean that climate science, economic policy and cost-benefit analysis are its core competencies. No one has ever said: Yes, but what did Gregory VII do to fight the onset of the Medieval Warm Period?

All that matters to the media, though, is that Pope Francis has taken an apocalyptic climate alarmism and given it the imprimatur of the Vatican. The same people who dismiss the pope on more central moral matters, like the dignity of life, are now attributing to him an authority that might have made Pope Innocent III, who challenged kings, blush.

The document could have benefited from an editor cutting out the bizarre ramblings. The pope writes of “harmful habits of consumption,” including “the increasing use and power of air conditioning.” He argues that “an outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behavior.”

That’s assuming the outsider lives in a very cool climate, or doesn’t mind sweating. Anyone not so lucky probably thinks the inventor of air conditioning should be canonized.

While the pope pays lip service to technological advances, he doesn’t truly appreciate their wonders. The Industrial Revolution was a great boon to humankind. Consider the unrelieved misery — the disease, the poverty, the illiteracy — before around 1800, when if you weren’t an aristocrat, a general or a bishop, your life was probably nasty, brutish and short.

“The average person in the world of 1800 was no better off than the average person of 100,000 B.C.,” Gregory Clark writes in his book “A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World.” “Life expectancy was no higher in 1800 than for hunter-gatherers: 30 to 35 years. Stature, a measure both of the quality of diet and of children’s exposure to disease, was higher in the Stone Age than in 1800.”

But at least when everyone died at a much earlier age, we weren’t engaging in the ravages of the planet that so exercise Francis. This sinful assault on the Earth, by the way, largely consisted in taking otherwise completely useless glop from the ground and using it to power economic and technical advances that enriched average people beyond anyone’s imagining. This is obviously a secular miracle of the highest order.

And the bounty hasn’t ended. Something like a billion people have been lifted out of poverty in places like India and China in recent decades as they have embraced markets and global trade. The pope should be delighted, except he has a blinkered view of capitalism as a zero-sum game benefiting only the privileged.

In this vein, he writes of the “ecological debt” that exists “between the global north and south.” Well, if we are going to speak of debts, the global north gave the global south the modern world. (You’re welcome.) The best thing that can happen to developing counties now is that they can follow our example of economic growth driven in part by cheap energy.

For all that the pope portrays modern development as a long exercise in environmental devastation, it is the advanced countries that have the cleanest water and air, and are best prepared to adapt their way around any far-off environmental challenges.

His encyclical will be portrayed as the best thing the church has done since Pope Leo dissuaded Attila from sacking Rome, but on climate change, it merely bends to the fashions of the hour.

Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

More in Opinion

Gov. Mike Dunleavy discusses his veto of a wide-ranging education bill during a press conference March 16 at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire file photo)
Governor, please pay more attention to Alaskans

Our governor has been a busy guy on big issues.

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Priya Helweg is the acting regional director and executive officer for the Region 10 Office of Intergovernmental and External Affairs, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (Photo courtesy U.S. Department of Health and Human Services)
Happy Pride Month

This month is dedicated to acknowledging and uplifting the voices and experiences of the LGBTQI+ community

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict

Ballot booths are set up inside Kenai City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Perspective from an election worker

Here is what I know about our Kenai Peninsula Borough election system

Apayauq Reitan, the first transgender woman to participate in the Iditarod, tells the House Education Committee on March 30, 2023, why she opposes a bill restricting transgender rights. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The imaginary transgender sports crisis

House Bill 183 is a right-wing solution to a problem that doesn’t exist now and never will.

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Session ends with budget, dividend and bills passed

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Listen to PAs; support Senate Bill 115: Modernizing PA Practice in Alaska

Health care is rapidly evolving, demanding a more flexible and responsive system

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file photo)
Opinion: Hilcorp Alaska: Powering Southcentral Alaska — past, present and future

Hilcorp Alaska has and will continue to fully develop our Cook Inlet basin leasehold

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024 (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Collegiality matters

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Juneau Empire file photo
Larry Persily.
Opinion: Alaska might as well embrace the past

The governor, legislators, municipal officials and business leaders are worried that the Railbelt will run short of natural gas before the end of the decade