Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

Global Warming, Global Repentance

By Dr. Jeff Mirus ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 01, 2012

Uncle Jeffrey’s Law is a simple one: If you are looking for something striking to write about, scan the recent headlines made by bishops. A perfect case in point is Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s joint statement with other Christian leaders requiring all of us to repent for climate change. Cardinal O’Brien presides over the See of St. Andrews and Edinburgh in Scotland.

At the risk of a bad joke, one must presume he has been playing too much golf. Otherwise, one would imagine that a Churchman might find time to emphasize the Christian imperatives of self-denial, worldly detachment and concern for the poor without tying it to whatever popular agendas happen to float like dead fish to the top of the water hazard. Yet the already notorious “Ash Wednesday Statement” does exactly that, proclaiming in no uncertain terms that “repentance means finding creative, constructive and immediate ways of addressing the danger” and “for our generation, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels has become essential to Christian discipleship.”

First of all, repentance does not depend on finding a creative solution to anything, let alone for problems which simply may not have constructive and immediate solutions. Our salvation does not depend on our ability to keep the globe cool, though it does very much depend on whether we can overcome our own personal selfishness, including our excessive attachment to all those things—such as affluence and material possessions—which are not God.

But there is more wrong with this statement than its misguided notion of repentance. Its cardinal sin (forgive the pun) is to make sin depend on a human theory. In this case, presumably, repentance would apply only to those who accept the theory, whereas those who think the theory is so much bosh are presumably free to be fat and happy. But that’s not how sin works, or the spiritual life, or our care for our own souls.

By now one would expect it to be clear to anyone beyond the first hole that the “science” of global warming is highly disputed. Yet it has become an establishment thing. One can more or less follow the grant money to figure out how this came to pass, and one can reasonably posit that what drives the grant money is largely the need of the reigning liberal mindset to have a moral cause, combined with its inability to admit what the true sources of morality actually are. It is always bad, my dear nieces and nephews, when politics drives science...or religion.

In any case, critics of the global warming thesis have typically been shouted down and deprived of funding. This is so despite the fact that some fairly significant exposés have shown a remarkable disregard for evidence among climate change alarmists (e.g., Climategate), and the fact that all scientists now realize the infamous hockey-stick model of warming, so often used to scare the you know what out of just about everybody, has been completely and totally discredited. Not to mention the now legendary waste of government funds on alternative energy startups which accomplish nothing.

Evidence counter to global warming abounds, including serious studies of “greenhouse gases” in the atmosphere which suggest that nearly everything claimed by climate change crusaders is almost certainly wrong. See, as just one highly accessible example, William Hopper’s article in the June-July 2011 issue of First Things: The Truth about Greenhouse Gases. Now Hopper is not just anybody, and he is especially not just anybody like me. He is the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University.

If you probe under the politically-correct surface, you will find a plethora (that’s an excess or overabundance, for the younger relations) of evidence and argument just like this. Only the other day, a friend of mine who also holds a doctorate in science in physics (I won’t reveal his identity since he was speaking casually over lunch) suggested that there is a strong case, based on the cyclical decline of sun spot activity, that we are about to enter into a global cooling period. Within ten years, he says, global warming could well become a self-evident myth, just like the frivolous ice age scares of the 1970s. A sensible person might want to pause for at least a little while before spending trillions on a potentially non-existent problem.

Now don’t get me wrong. We are certainly experiencing some climactic change (or other), but the earth is always experiencing climate change. Over the centuries this has caused everything from migrations of people from one place to another to local decisions to switch bread-and-butter crops to plants that do better in warmer, or colder, climates. Even if the globe is in a warming phase now, this should hardly surprise us, nor is it in the least unprecedented. In any case, we know neither how long this will last, what combination of factors causes it, or whether we humans can—or should—do anything about it. How good are our weather predictions more than about three days out, anyway?

Still, I want to repeat my most important point: You are free to sift the evidence as you will and draw your own conclusions. Just keep your grubby theoretical hands off my personal repentance. I do have sins to worry about. I have a pretty good idea of what they are. I even know what needs to be done about them. And I can tell you this: I do not intend to waste a perfectly good Lent on so vain and foolish a distraction as global warming. Nothing could be more harmful than to adopt such an artificial means of feeling smug and pious, and my own spiritual shallowness will not be affected one way or the other by the use or non-use of fossil fuels.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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  • Posted by: impossible - Mar. 07, 2012 12:16 AM ET USA

    I'm reminded of the First Commandment and also of the reminder about rendering unto Caesar what is his and unto God what is his. Prelates should stick to that on which they have competence - matters of faith and morals and not on concrete solutions to issues about which faithful Catholics can disagree. Not my idea. It's what the Church says.

  • Posted by: JJF - Mar. 02, 2012 8:53 AM ET USA

    I understand the motivation of some climate scientists - funding, and I understand the motivation of some politicians - power. I even think I understand the mainstream press - follow the crowd. However, I do not understand the motivation of some bishops who insert morality into a secular subject about which they are ignorant.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Mar. 02, 2012 8:27 AM ET USA

    Although I work in the physics department at my university, my Ph.D. is in atmospheric science. I first read the theoretical basis for your friend's prediction in a 1920 book called "Physics of the Air." Recent research by the Danish Space Research Institute explains that strong solar wind from solar storms and sunspots blows cosmic ray particles out of the solar system. These particles produce cloud condensation nuclei and thus rain. An increase in cosmic rays means more clouds and cooler temps

  • Posted by: - Mar. 02, 2012 1:57 AM ET USA

    I have a solution for the climate change crisis. There should be a requirement for all climatologists to place their bets today on 6 mos, 12, 24, 36, 48, 60 months, 10 years, etc. You put the bets on a public website and monitor against realtime data. Anyone out of say 10% +/- deviation loses funding for life. At the same time, you require their institutions to endorse their work or fire them. If they end up being say 50% +/- off, the institution loses all fed money for 50 yrs. No more crisis!!

  • Posted by: Justin8110 - Mar. 01, 2012 8:27 PM ET USA

    I'm sorry but this Cardinal seems to have lost his faith. The salvation of souls are at stake, not the salvation of Gaia from too many carboon footprints.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Mar. 01, 2012 6:29 PM ET USA

    Great focus- salus animarum...raison d'etre. Unfortunately, Pope Benedict's words and actions provide ample reinforcement for the cardinal's disorientation. Go GREEN, and Go GREEN Now! It is what it is. Pope Benedict has worked to save the Church in a dark time. He has acted in justice and without regard for personal political viability or popular sentiment. Deo Gratias! But he is a "green" pope if there ever was one. Keep the Faith, Dr. Mirus, keep the Faith!