stock tip? con game?

By Diogenes (articles - email) | Jul 13, 2007

Easily the oddest story coming out of Rome this week is the news that the Vatican has become the world's first "carbon-neutral" state, by planting enough trees in a Hungarian forest to offset the Vatican's CO2 emissions. The announcement was made jointly by Planktos, a for-profit environmental firm, and the Pontifical Council for Culture.

And if you're now wondering why the Pontifical Council for Culture is handling questions about CO2 emissions, you're beginning to share our bewilderment.

The American Papist blog had a long and thoughtful piece on this story, asking the right questions. Notice that I don't say the Papist asked all the right questions, because there are so many questions that could be asked. Still, I'll confine myself to just one:

Cui bono?

It's obvious what Planktos gets out of this deal: A whole lot of publicity. Two days ago I hadn't heard of Planktos. Now I have, and so have you. The firm hopes that you and I will buy our own plots in the Hungarian forest, so that we too can be carbon-neutral. Now they can show us a quote from Cardinal Poupard, implicitly endorsing the idea. It's not often that a Prince of the Church plugs a commercial product.

But what does the Vatican get? Yes, Planktos made an in-kind contribution; the Vatican won't actually pay for those trees planted in Hungary. That's nice, certainly. But it's fairly standard policy in the advertising biz. When you see the star quarterback in a TV spot endorsing a local automobile dealership, you can be reasonably sure he didn't pay the list price for his new SUV. And in this case the Vatican doesn't have anything as tangible as an SUV: just a piece of paper attesting to its sponsorship for a tract of forest land. Which is... well, it's nice. But it still leaves you wondering why the Vatican-- why the Pontifical Council for Culture-- would think it's enough to justify a commercial plug.

Our friend the American Papist is rightly troubled by this line in the press release:

Planktos/KlimaFa has further committed to work with the Vatican and the Pontifical Council of Culture to develop methods to calculate the CO2 emissions of individual Catholic churches and offer ecorestoration options to turn their carbon footprints green.

You can almost imagine the Planktos salesman's line, approaching, say, the head of a Mexican diocese: "Gee, Bishop NaciĆ³ Ayer, the Vatican wanted to be carbon-neutral. I just thought you'd make it a high priority for your diocese, too."

And just by the way, what sort of help does Planktos expect from the Vatican in determining the CO2 emissions at your parish? Ordinarily you wouldn't expect to find that sort of expertise in the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Enough. Just thinking about the whole thing makes me hot under the collar-- thereby contributing to global warming. I'm going to run out and plant a tree. But for the foreseeable future, whenever you mention the Pontifical Council for Culture, I'm going to think about that forest in Hungary, and how fast the trees are being planted there.

Yessir, you could almost say there's one born every minute.

Richard Cross holds a doctorate in psychology, who has taught at the university level, including at Franciscan University. He is currently an educational researcher and consultant in the field of psychology and related disciplines.
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  • Posted by: sparch - Feb. 10, 2010 10:20 AM ET USA

    Do we choose the old protestant, mainstream traditional churches or as indicated, each new sprout that has an axe to grind against the Church? Come to think of it, most mainline protestant churches have an axe to grind against the Church. Could wind up undermining our Church in favor of the obscure denominations.

  • Posted by: voxfem - Feb. 09, 2010 11:15 PM ET USA

    Actually, it might be useful. I hear people say that we have more in common than we recognize and that we should focus on the ways we agree rather than the ways we disagree. Maybe listing the areas of agreement would give a better picture as to how true that statement is.

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Feb. 09, 2010 7:21 PM ET USA

    So with the ebbs and flows of various Protestant "doctrines," what we need is not a catechism, which would be printed, but a blog, that can be re-edited minute by minute. Wait a minute, that actually describes the doctrinal statements of most Protestant denominations.

  • Posted by: ChoosingLife - Feb. 09, 2010 6:33 PM ET USA

    Isn't this kindasorta contrary to what Pope Benedict said in this article? Church has ultimate authority to interpret Bible, Pope reminds scholars http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=4415

  • Posted by: - Feb. 09, 2010 4:23 PM ET USA

    His Eminence, God bless him will soon be 77. Not old for any man with a sharp mind and orthodox spine. But perhaps in the case of His Eminence, he may want to think of a more relaxed position, say, of collaborating with his ecumenical pal, His Grace, Rowan Williams. They could be the Laural and Hardy of ecumenism.