Iron Eyes Redux!

Early this year I wrote a post in anticipation of the Holy Father’s then-planned encyclical on the environment.  As stewards of creation, man of course has a clear responsibility to the environment, which the Church has expressed in many ways through the years.  My concern was that he not take on the role of Global Science Officer.  While I’ve only made it through twenty percent or so of the actual document, it seems that my concerns have been realized.  But it’s not just the science that bothers me, it is the seeming political and economic naivete about the problems.  Here are a few quotes with some initial reaction.

People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general.

To the extent that these are in fact massive problems (after all, cooking and heating are preferable to the alternatives), can we not draw a distinction between largely free market societies with a rule of law and the autocratic or lawless societies where fertilizer may in fact cause serious pollution?  Although there have been and are occasional problems with fertilizers et al. in the U.S., on balance they have created a bounty of agricultural productivity that has kept food cheap and available for the poor.  To the extent that agrotoxins are “widely” polluting the landscape, it is not in western-style democracies with free markets and sound legal systems.  Maybe that should indicate where to look for the source of the problem.

The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.

I’m sure in parts of China, Russia, Africa, South America and elsewhere in poorer, authoritarian countries with unjust legal systems this is a big problem.  I’ve not noticed it in the U.S. or the western industrialized countries.  Economically prosperous countries do not treat themselves this way.  If you want to stop this where it is happening, support free markets, accountable political systems and the rule of law.  Filth problem solved….

…most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled.

I don’t know the global numbers, but roughly 70% of the paper manufactured in the U.S. is recycled.  In Europe it is a few percentage points higher.  Again, you want to fix this elsewhere, support free markets, accountable political systems and the rule of law.

There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees….

Is that even true?  Since when did environmental degradation become a primary driver of immigration?  Who came up with that?  Even if true, where is the degradation taking place?  In countries without free markets, accountable political systems and the rule of law.  I sense a theme developing here.

There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.

If the Holy Father is going to become our Chief Science Officer, he should learn a few things about energy density and the cost of so called renewable energy.  If he wants to make the poor poorer, just make them subsidize wind energy and use the corn they grow for biofuel.

There is no question that God tasked us to be good stewards of His creation, and that obsessive consumerism is not the path back to Him.  I hope that the rest of the document is more theological in tone and spiritually fruitful.  Because the first ten pages seem to contain some standard U.N. tropes.  In the first post, I raised the concern about how we can give a religious submission of mind and will to a document in which the Holy Father calls on us to accept certain scientific premises, and even worse, to implement specific technological “solutions.”  It seems that is well beyond both the charism of his office and his practical experience.  And from what I’ve read so far, I’m guessing that most of the Vatican folks who helped craft the content of this encyclical have never had a course in thermodynamics or statistics.  Which would be o.k. if only they would realize that the root causes of the localized pollution problems they listed are political!  And yes, I realize that the ultimate root of all problems is a lack of Christian discipleship, but faith and bad government will not fix any of this.

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