These days, scarcely a month goes by without another prominent scientist quietly abandoning the tottering climate-change bandwagon. Climate activists increasingly lament how opinion seems to be shifting against them. It’s likely, however, that among the last hold-outs will be self-styled “progressive Christians.”
From the moment the climate debate heated up within the halls of faith, Cardinal George Pell — the Catholic archbishop of Sydney and one of the College of Cardinals’ intellectual heavyweights — has been arguing that the scientific consensus on this matter is far from settled. Today in London, Pell delivered a lecture for the Global Warming Policy Foundation in which he presented his most comprehensive case to date for why he thinks the consensus is open to question and the moral and economic reasons to be wary about proposed climate-change solutions.
In the full text, provocatively entitled “Eppur’ si muove” (after the apocryphal saying attributed to Galileo), Pell exhaustively details the scientific evidence that the consensus can’t quite account for and underscores what he calls “the climate movement’s totalitarian approach to opposing views, their demonising of successful opponents, and their opposition to the publication of opposing views, even in scientific journals.” He also notes that the economic costs associated with various climate proposals are likely to weigh heavily on the world’s most vulnerable people. “Are there any long-term benefits from the schemes to combat global warming, apart from extra tax revenues for governments and income for those devising and implementing the schemes?”
Pell draws an interesting analogy between the biblical account of the Tower of Babel and particular policy measures demanded by climate activists. Drawing upon the work of distinguished physician-philosopher Leon Kass, Pell notes that the narrative of humanity’s attempt to build a tower that would reach the heavens may be understood as a metaphor for man’s “presumptuous attempt to control or appropriate the divine” and (citing Kass) “the all-too-human, prideful attempt at self-creation.” On this basis, Pell writes: “We should ask whether our attempts at global climate control are within human capacity [or] likely to be as misdirected and ineffective as the construction of the famous tower in the temple of Marduk, Babylon’s chief god.”
In short, Pell isn’t suggesting there’s nothing to be concerned about — “I am not a ‘denier’ of climate-change” — nor does he claim that his perspective is the only possible Christian position on climate change. His key points are simply that (1) the scientific debate is not over, (2) the climate movement has always seemed more driven by ideology than evidence, and (3) this isn’t a basis for implementing extremely costly policies.
There is a broader context to Pell’s remarks, and that is Catholic hierarchy’s growing concern about some of the climate-change movement’s most aggressive allies: the Greens.
It’s no secret that when it comes to those moral questions that are truly non-negotiable for Catholics (e.g., abortion, euthanasia), Greens invariably take the most permissive positions. Their hostility to robust religious-liberty protections is a matter of record. Moreover, anyone who delves into “deep Green” literature soon discovers frankly humanophobic ideas. Such are the concerns of some Catholic bishops that, before elections were held in the Australian state of New South Wales in March this year, Pell and most of the state’s Catholic bishops issued an unprecedented pre-election statement warning their flocks against the more troubling, less publically mentioned parts of the Greens’ party platform.
But wait — doesn’t all this put Cardinal Pell at odds with Benedict XVI, whom some have dubbed the “Green Pope”?
The short answer is no. First, it’s hardly news that Pell and Benedict have been good friends since then–auxiliary bishop Pell served as a member of then–Cardinal Ratzinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith throughout the 1990s. It’s hard to think of another cardinal who has been more supportive of Benedict’s powerful critiques of the “dictatorship of relativism.”
Second, Benedict himself has wondered on many occasions (including during his recent Bundestag speech) about the disconnect between many peoples’ contemporary angst about the environment and their seeming indifference to what Benedict calls the “human ecology” of the natural law, which provides the only truly rational basis for human freedom, dignity, and civilization.
Leaving aside efforts to establish nonexistent tensions between cardinal and pope, the usual suspects — secular and religious — will surely excoriate Pell for this lecture. But in an age where far too many Christian thinkers are way too submissive to transitory intellectual fashions that make them acceptable at fashionable cocktail parties but also partakers in profound intellectual incoherence, it’s refreshing to know not everyone is so intimidated.
— Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute. He has authored several books including On Ordered Liberty, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy, and his 2012 forthcoming Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and America’s Future.