October 12, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Pope Francis calls the destruction of the environment sinful, but is he getting his facts straight on climate change?
Science suggests otherwise.
Even before the publication of his encyclical on the environment Laudato Si, Pope Francis commented on the potentially destructive influence of man on the environment on numerous occasions. But he has taken it one step further, calling destroying the environment a “sin” during his message during the World Day of Prayer for Creation in early September.
One of the central arguments Pope Francis takes up within the debate over the protection of the environment is the idea of “climate change,” in the past simply called “global warming” — a topic pushed by the UN in order to change legislation on an international scale.
“Global warming continues. 2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 will likely be warmer still. This is leading to ever more severe droughts, floods, fires, and extreme weather events,” the Pope explained.
But the destruction of the planet is not the Pope’s only worry. He connects climate change to a human dimension, saying “climate change also contributes to the heart-rending refugee crisis. The world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are the most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.” Here, climate change becomes a moral issue.
By claiming that the “destruction” of the environment is “sinful,” the Pope emphasizes an “integral ecology” in which “human beings are deeply connected with all of creation.” While the call for the care and stewardship of creation is certainly in the heart of the Christian message from Genesis onward, Pope Francis might not be receiving accurate information — from a purely scientific perspective — and there are questions that his advisers could only be interested in “saving” the planet.
LifeSiteNews spoke with Tomas Sheahen and Hal Doiron, independent scientists involved in climate change research. Both scientists were invited to give their input in a workshop on global warming held by the Heartland Institute on April 28, 2015, in the Vatican, where it was demonstrated that global warming is not a crisis.
In the center of the argument against global warming is, on one hand, a scientific basis of evidence and, on another hand, the fact that “global warming alarmists invariably support population control to reduce human consumption of energy and natural resources. They want to make energy more expensive to discourage its use, even though this punishes the poor, women, and children who benefit most from affordable energy.”
[Editor’s note: The opinions and statements by the two interviewees do not necessarily reflect the position of the Heartland Institute. Both authors clarified that the Heartland Institute has exerted absolutely no influence on what they have said or presented in any events they have organized and where they were invited to speak.]
LifeSiteNews: Tom, thank you for granting us an interview. Can you please tell us about your reaction to Pope Francis’ statement that climate change and the destruction of the planet is a sin?
I really am very sympathetic to Pope Francis’ warnings about destruction of the planet. I have visited Argentina and observed that his “pile of filth” remarks are appropriate. It really is a sin to disregard the planet for your own convenience.
However, climate change is a totally different matter. There really are no “climate deniers.” Nobody denies that the climate changes; it does so all the time, for totally natural reasons. Moreover, it does so on multiple different time scales: annually, on an 11-year sunspot cycle, on a scale of 2/3 century due to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the Roman and Medieval Warm Periods, and so on to hundreds of thousands of years. There is nothing any of us can do about that except adapt to the ever-changing climate.
It is a major mistake to conflate climate change with pollution. They’re two entirely different matters. We do not know how to control the climate, but we do know how to control pollution. If other countries had environmental controls on their factories that are like those in America, they wouldn’t have bad smelling air or unsafe water. Think for a moment about the modern “tertiary” sewage treatment plant: you can drink the water coming out of it. We know how to do things right environmentally.
As I read the entire Laudato Si, again and again I found myself in strong agreement with Pope Francis’ concerns about treating the earth properly and being stewards of God’s creation. I hope that people in other countries will heed his words about the sin of degrading the environment and start building facilities to avert pollution. Perhaps the price the Pope had to pay to get the UN to endorse his encyclical was to throw in a few paragraphs about climate change. I’m inclined to forgive him for that because I know the climate is going to keep right on changing no matter what anybody says.
LifeSiteNews: It seems that man – as a biological species on earth – is not even capable of changing the climate. Can you comment?
This point is the “tip of the iceberg” of an even more important worldwide problem: Most people are “numerically illiterate,” a condition also known as “innumeracy.”So many statements begin with “I’m not a scientist, but… ” and then go on to recite some fashionable rumor. Most people are incapable of grasping the meaning of the ratios of very large and very small numbers.The phrase “one in a million” is adequate to get by on.The factors affecting the climate – ocean currents, air movement, mountain ranges that get in the way and alter weather patterns – routinely involve many gigatonnes of mass moving around. Next, look at people: suppose the average person has mass of 50 kg and there are six billion people; that’s 3 x 10^11 kg = 3 x 10^8 tonnes = 0.3 gigatonnes.Humans are really, really small compared to nature. All our industry put together across the globe doesn’t add up to one “El Niño” weather pattern.
LifeSiteNews: What scientific research have you stumbled upon in your career that convinced you that “global warming” as portrayed by the “CO2-is-to-blame” people is more of a hoax than reality?
My career includes time at the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute for Standards and Technology) where I actually measured infrared absorption by CO2. I may have been the last person ever to do so because the results are exactly what had been found about a century ago. In 100 meters, the most important band of CO2 absorbs completely; we call that “saturation.” In the atmosphere, absorption by CO2 was over 90 percent saturated in pre-industrial times and the increase in atmospheric CO2 from 300 to 400 parts per million adds only about 1 percent to 2 percent absorption. All that does is shift the altitude slightly from which water vapor (which is by far the dominant greenhouse gas) radiates infrared energy away into space. The empirical evidence today (worldwide satellite measurements) clearly shows that despite increasing CO2, earth’s average temperature is not increasing rapidly.
As for computer models, I have done a fair amount of computer modeling and I know that there are always parameters that you don’t know precisely, so you guess at them and hope they don’t mess up the calculation seriously. But every computer model has such deficient assumptions hidden within it, and you don’t know for sure that they won’t matter. Richard Feynmann phrased it perfectly a half-century ago: “No matter how smart you are or how good your theory is, if it doesn’t agree with observation, it’s wrong!” A computer model that is unable to “predict” the past is surely not to be trusted to predict the future.
LifeSiteNews: Why do you think the Pope gives these theories such a prominent voice in Laudato Si and also in his public remarks? Is he well advised?
My perception is that the Pope is getting terrible advice from some exalted churchmen who are seriously deficient in scientific knowledge. Foremost among them is Marcelo Sanchez-Sorondo, whom Pope Francis brought to Rome from Argentina. Sorondo was made the administrator of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences and later the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as well. Pope Francis himself has training in chemistry, but his supporting staff does not. Sorondo simply believed whatever the UN elites told him and inserted it nearly verbatim into Laudato Si in sections 23-26. That is extremely poor performance by a subordinate.
Under Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Martino was head of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and he made sure that both sides of the climate story were heard. Martino understood that there really is a scientific controversy going on, and hence you saw no sweeping Vatican pronouncements in those years. Benedict XVI’s staff understood and respected the proper role of science.
LifeSiteNews: Thank you, Tomas. Hal, thank you for granting us an interview! Did the remarks of Pope Francis that the destruction of the planet is a sin strike you?
I would wholeheartedly agree with Pope Francis that a true scientific finding that specific behaviors of human pollution of the planet, such as dumping toxic waste into rivers that kill wildlife and humans, is obviously a sin I would need to confess. I have always felt this way. I was raised on a large rice farming and cattle plantation that my father managed; our livelihood required protection of the land and fresh water resources for farming and ranching success in future years. My parents taught me right from wrong on many issues and my responsibilities for environmental stewardship weren’t just recently revealed to me by Pope Francis’ position, as discussed in the following Vatican Press releases on Sept. 1, 2016.
The problem I had with the part of this message related to climate change is that the Vatican seems to equate releases of CO2 into the atmosphere as a similar act of pollution as the release of more obvious and truly harmful toxic substances. While many scientists, politicians, and judges might agree with this definition of “pollution” regarding CO2 emissions, as a scientist who has studied the net benefits and risks of atmospheric CO2, I do not. I disagree that a complete and final scientific finding has been made which demonstrates that CO2 is a pollutant in the same sense as other non-controversial and clearly harmful toxic substances.
Most often, whether a substance is considered to be harmful or not depends on its concentration of exposure. A typical example is use of BOTOX (botulinum toxin) for facial cosmetic treatments, migraine headache relief, etc. In small doses, this toxin is approved for such treatments. In larger doses, this toxin is extremely dangerous. Plants, animals, and humans cannot co-exist on this planet without certain minimum levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, about 150 parts per million by volume (ppm). Plants grow much better with more CO2, while health concerns for humans only begin at breathing concentrations of 8000 ppm, more than 20 times the present level of 400 ppm in our atmosphere. The atmospheric CO2 concentration that might cause problems for the earth’s climate, somewhere in between the 150 ppm that plants need to grow and the 8000 ppm that humans can easily tolerate, is highly speculative and very uncertain. The correct answer is clearly not a settled science on which Pope Francis can confidently rely for the definition of when CO2 emissions become a sin. Certainly he doesn’t mean that exhaling CO2 at 40,000 ppm with every human breath is a sin. Would he argue that having a family with 10 children would raise atmospheric CO2 levels enough to constitute a sin?
The earth has, through natural processes, experienced atmospheric CO2 levels of 7000 ppm, about 17.5 times the current 400 ppm, with fossil fuel burning since 1700, at most contributing about 100 ppm of the present value. I don’t believe science has determined what an ideal level of atmospheric CO2 concentration would be nor at what levels harmful climate effects would occur. My recommendation to Pope Francis is that he pray for wisdom and discernment on this issue before deciding what is a sin and what is not. My interest is in finding out what God will reveal about this subject, which I would define as figuring out the scientific truth of this matter. I believe that answer will come through prayers for wisdom and discernment on this issue, as well as better scientific knowledge about the benefits and risks of CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere.
LifeSiteNews: Do you see an influence of the UN in Pope Francis’ reasoning regarding everything environmental?
Yes, far too much influence from the basically political agenda of the UN, focused on creation of UN-led global government control, redistribution of global wealth, and global population control as part of the true meaning of “sustainable development.” I would recommend that Pope Francis focus more on the full range of moral issues associated with what the UN wants to accomplish with its “anti-CO2” and “sustainable development” agenda. I recommend the book by Alex Epstein, “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels,” for enlightenment on these issues.
LifeSiteNews: You have an impressive background and career. Could you tell us what we can say as Catholics and scientists about climate change and how we should deal with it?
This concern about climate is a potential threat that we need to understand much better before deciding what, if anything, to do about it. From my study of this issue, we should focus on answers we get from analysis of actual data. Consistently, such approaches reveal our climate has a small sensitivity to atmospheric CO2, and do not agree with climate projections from un-validated climate simulation models that provide the alarming scenarios. In my NASA experience, we were not allowed to use un-validated models for critical design or operational decisions involving human safety. The available data show that we do not have a rapidly developing climate problem requiring swift, corrective action. Problems should be defined in terms deviations from normal in the specifics of what, where, when and how much if we expect to determine true root cause. This rational-thinking, root-cause analysis and decision-making approach I learned in my manned space career has not been applied to the global warming concern.
Our climate has not deviated from normal and natural variation limits of the last 10,000 years of a very stable climate. We have plenty of time to remove the excessive uncertainty from present un-validated model projections of climate change and understand this potential problem much better before we decide on the best way to mitigate any real risks we may define. Our research team of retired and very experienced NASA scientists and engineers developed and validated a simple climate model that indicates a maximum of only 1C of global average warming by 2100 with a continued policy of un-restricted use of fossil fuel resources. This model also projects that by the time all currently identified coal, oil, and natural gas reserves on the planet are consumed, global average surface temperatures could only rise a maximum of 1.2C. We should take at least five more years to remove the present large uncertainties in human-caused climate change projections, with better research leadership and focus on key research priorities and proven analysis methods consistent with the Scientific Method before we try to decide what, if anything, we need to do about this concern.
LifeSiteNews: Do you think that the environmentalist agenda feeds off the guilty conscience of people in a society that breaks the moral (and natural) law wherever it can, as it seems? Do you think environmentalism is a “catalyst,” a sort of justification for an individual to calm his guilty conscience?
I consider myself to be a highly educated and experienced aerospace scientist/engineer with a strong appreciation for all sides of environmental arguments. I am constantly seeking the scientific/economic truth about environmental issues. My engineering training and experience tells me that these arguments, pro and con, need to be carefully weighed and quantified before taking a firm position on any specific issue.
I believe many in the extreme environmentalist movement who want governments to interfere with free markets for energy generation from fossil fuels, nuclear sources, and renewable options are following causes they don’t clearly understand from a scientific or net benefit to society standpoint. I’m not a psychologist and I don’t know why they think the way they do.