Krauss and Pinker on the Pope’s misguided climate-change bicycle

June 19, 2015 • 12:00 pm

Scientific American asked physicist Lawrence Krauss to comment on Pope Francis’s long encyclical on global warming. Krauss’s piece, “Ideology subsumes empiricism in Pope’s climate encyclical,” gives to the Pope with one hand but slaps him with the other.

Krauss lauds the Pope for the his no-nonsense acceptance of anthropogenic global warming, and his warning that climate change has the most severe impact on the poor. But then Krauss faults Francis for his solution, which is apparently to blame consumerism and rule population control out of bounds (see quotes at bottom). Krauss:

An encyclical wouldn’t be an encyclical without theology however, and that is where problems arise. In a chapter entitled “Gospel of Creation” Francis ruminates poetically on the nature of man, the mystery of the cosmos (my own area of study) and the special duty Christians have to respect nature, humanity and the environment. It’s beautifully presented and sounds good in principle. However, his biblical analysis leads to the false conclusion that contraception and population control are not appropriate strategies to help a planet with limited resources.

. . . Here, ideology subsumes empiricism, and the inevitable conflict between science and religion comes to the fore. One can argue until one is blue in the face that God has a preordained plan for every zygote, but the simple fact is that if one is seriously worried about the environment on a global scale population is a problem. A population of 10 billion by 2050 will likely be unsustainable at a level in which all humans have adequate food, water, medicine and security. Moreover, as this pope should particularly appreciate, the environmental problems that overpopulation creates alsodisproportionately afflict those in poor countries, where access to birth control and abortion is often limited.

. . . The Catholic Church and its leaders can never be truly objective and useful arbiters of human behavior until they are willing to dispense with doctrine that can thwart real progress. In this sense, the latest encyclical took several steps forward, and then a leap back.

In an email discussion of this piece among several of us, Steve Pinker wrote that the Pope didn’t go far enough (remarks quoted with permission):

I’d say several steps back, actually. It’s not just reproductive rights. The pontiff continues in the millennia-long Catholic tradition of vilifying technology, commerce, and ordinary people enjoying the fruits of material progress. So he puts the blame on economics and consumerism. But the solution to climate change is not to moralize from on high and implore people—particularly the poor people who he claims to sympathize with—to learn to be abstemious for the common good and do without central heating, electric lights, and efficient transport. Billions of people aren’t going to do that. Not even the Pope—especially not the Pope—is going to do that. The solution is economic and technological: a global carbon tax, and investment in the development of new energy technologies. The Pope shows no signs of acknowledging this, because it leaves him and his church no special role.

In Chapter 6 of The Bicycle, the pontiff includes a section called “Towards a New Lifestyle,” blaming individual consumerism while, in the previous chapter, he exculpates population growth. I quote from the text (my emphases):

(Chapter 6) 206. A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. “Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act”. Today, in a word, “the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle”.

Nota bene from Chapter 5:

50. Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.

Apparently, condoms are not the solution. But who would ever think that the Vatican would see population growth as the cause of any problem? As Krauss notes, here we see a direct conflict between a scientific and a religious solution.

86 thoughts on “Krauss and Pinker on the Pope’s misguided climate-change bicycle

  1. It’s great to see someone pointing this out openly.

    Also, in general, there can never be a solution to the sustainability crisis that does not involve the complete eradication of religion. Because the first necessary condition for getting out of ecological overshoot is understanding your proper in the cosmological order. And if you are religious, you do not understand that by definition…

    1. In that case we are doomed. It is improbable to an arbitrarily high degree that religion could be eradicated prior to life as we know it being devastated by the sustainability crisis that looms directly ahead.

      1. In that case we are doomed.

        I don’t know about you, but I don’t know that I know anyone who even has a better than 50% chance of being alive in 100 years from now.
        (Barring some major advances in medical technology. But they’d need to be multiple advances, and pretty major ones too. Along with major social changes. I know a few people under 20, so I stuck another decade onto the deadline.)

  2. A commenter on TFA, and the head of Secular Pro Life Perspectives, made the argument that the Pope is correct, because the people having all of the babies only make a dollar a day, so it’s not like they are going to have a large carbon footprint if they have 10 kids per family, right?


    1. 1) Those people do not want to stay like that

      2) Whoever is claiming that poor people do not wreck their environment needs only take a look at picture of Haiti from space.

  3. This seems to be a case of a glass being half full or half empty. Yes, many of the policies and stances of the Catholic Church contribute greatly to the problems we are seeing, including global warming and climate change. But it is MOMENTOUS that the Pope has stated that these things exist and are terribly serious problems, threatening the future of mankind, even if he doesn’t change certain stances of the Church. I would rather have him 50% right in drawing more of the world’s attention to global warming than 100% wrong in ignoring it.

    1. Although I think his insistence on uncontrolled population growth is pure evil, I did like this:
      “Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act”.

          1. Although to be fair, the pope himself does make an effort to be austere, and he’s castigated several bishops for their overly luxurious lifestyles. Not much I know, but an improvement.

    2. “it is MOMENTOUS that the Pope has stated that these things exist”
      Why is that momentous? Simply acknowledging what we all know to be the case is not what I would call earthshaking news. The fact that he is not aligned with the republicans and evangelicals on the issue doesn’t impress me one bit. what matters most is proposing effective solutions, and as long as Francis views the world through Catholic dogma colored lenses, we won’t see anything worth noticing, let alone celebrating.

      1. Simply acknowledging what we all know to be the case is not what I would call earthshaking news.

        It can be for the RCC! Remember, this is the organization that took a few centuries to acknowledge that they may have been wrong about Galileo seeing moons orbiting Jupiter.

    3. I think it is damn ironic that you characterize this as “MOMENTOUS.” That is not a positive endorsement of the Pope!

    4. That’s my opinion as well. I agree with Pinker and Krauss in their criticism of the encyclical, but it is progress to see the Vatican acknowledge the problem of climate change. I really doubt the world would ever have seen anything like that encyclical from John Paul II or Benedict XVI.
      As things exist in the world today, someone is gonna be the Bishop of Rome and I’m pretty sure Francis is a better option than most of the alternatives. A half-measure of progress is preferable to none at all.

      1. If anything, it showed how pathetic the GOP Presidential hopefuls are on this issue, as many (including the Catholic Jeb shrub) chided the pope for his encyclical. Oh joy to think one of them becomes President in 2016.

        1. Yes, shrub III dismissively crapping on the Pope was a delightful moment in politics. Let’s hope it will cost him a lot of the catholic vote, though we shouldn’t hold our breath.

          1. From what I understand many / most Catholics in the US (if forced into an affiliation) are Democrats already … (which is bad enough, but …)

  4. I’m sure the pope is concerned with overpopulation, especially when the population in question isn’t catholic.

    1. Just a comment that doesn’t apply to many areas of the world where Catholics live in large numbers: Many years ago I knew a physician who introduced caudel anaesthesia into the maternity ward of a local San Jose hospital. The hospital was a Catholic hospital, and the maternity ward was always constantly busy, so busy that this doctor had to get a cot and live in a tiny space in the maternity ward because her services were constantly needed. A few years later, “the pill” came on the market. Despite the fact that Catholics were forbidden to use contraception, activities in the maternity ward plummeted to about 25% of what they had previously been. I cite this as evidence that Catholics very often do NOT follow their religion’s policies on reproduction. All it takes is education and availability — two things not present in some countries — to sharply reduce new births. It does NOT take coercion.

      1. Precisely. In fact Italy and Spain are the countries in Europe with the lowest birth rates. Even Catholics have enough sense to ignore their religious leaders.

      2. There’s a big conflict between church and state in Catholic Indonesia too. The government recognizes they badly need to do something about overpopulation and have introduced community workers to promote and supply contraception and offer free tubal ligations. The Church there, which is also embroiled in some child abuse scandals, which they’re doing nothing about, is opposing the government’s moves. Meanwhile, people with huge numbers of children they can’t afford to look after are trapped in slums.

        1. There was a similar problem in the Philippines, what with the all out ban on all forms of contraception.

          There were families who were living on a dollar a day and desperately trying to feed 10+ kids on that.

          And this is why children get sold into prostitution…but hey, if human suffering is good, then I guess that’s a feature, not a bug, right?

        2. Catholic Indonesia?

          Did you really mean that? Or the small Catholic minority in Indonesia?

          Sure, there are many families in city slums with large numbers of children there, but they’re mostly Muslims.

          The country is over 85 percent Muslim – but surely you knew that?

      3. In Catholic Brazil, women are in the habit of getting their tubes tied, usually right after their second child is delivered.

  5. If the science-denying Catholics won’t listen to the Pope on the issue, they won’t listen to anyone.

    Realizing this, I must conclude that Pope Francis’s encyclical was of tremendous importance to the environmental cause.

    1. I agree that the Pope’s encyclical is of tremendous importance. Don’t denigrate it just because it contains a lot of Catholic doctrine. It also spreads the belief that climate change and global warming are real, and that they threaten the future of mankind.

      1. If someone only takes away the lesson “climate change is real,” that’s a good thing. But if someone takes away both the lesson “climate change is real” and “don’t use condoms,” I think that’s probably a net loss for society. The opinion of the general populace isn’t going to have an enormous effect on climate change policy, but it will on birth rate.

        So yes, I think we can denigrate it somewhat. Because as a ‘package deal’ its pretty bad. Liberals only gain if they assume the populace is going to read it with liberal-tinted glasses, and let’s face it, if we thought the populace had liberal-tinted glasses, we wouldn’t need the Pope’s message in the first place. IOW, the encyclical is only going to have a positive impact on those who probably didn’t need to hear it in the first place.

      2. I would say, don’t denigrate the encyclical because it buttresses its point with Bible-derived morality, as that’s its greatest strength — Let’s not forget, that it’s addressing the faithful!

        So far, we’ve had many religious wackos trying to interpret the Bible as telling Catholics that they are free to do whatever they want with the planet. Pope’s calling out this bullshit couldn’t come sooner!

        1. Popes do not address only the faithful. They see themselves as shepherds. They are more interested in finding the sheep who have gotten lost from the flock, or were never in the flock to begin with.

          If they were only addressing the faithful, there would be no need for their encyclicals — preaching to the choir is not their gig.

      3. Why insist on such an accommodationist stance? Why can’t we acknowledge the positive aspects and criticize the negative ones? Such as Krauss did? That is the most ethical and pragmatic approach, in my opinion.

        1. Darrelle,

          this isn’t about accommodationism or atheism, it’s about a tremendously important call coming from the top Catholic authority to move away from burning fossil fuels and stop destroying the planet in the process. It’s already made many religious wackos in positions of power up in arms. That’s what’s showing us that its impact is overall positive.

          1. It’s a call to move away from burning fossil fuels, stop destroying the planet in the process, and not use condoms. Yes the first two are good, but the package as a whole is not.

            As I said before, the only people who this will have a positive influence on are the ones who will selectively read it in support of the first two and ignore the last point. But if you are that sort of person, you probably didn’t need this encyclical in the first place.

          2. If you think that after this encyclical the population of Catholics is going to explode worldwide, I think you’re exaggerating this aspect of his message on global warming.

            What’s truly attention-grabbing in Pope’s new encyclical and making Catholics worldwide to examine their current stance on global warming, is the Pope’s long-awaited call to Catholics to become good stewards of the Earth’s finite resources. To stop the mindless consumerism that threatens to devour our planet, our rain forests, etc. It communicates to the public that the economic ideology of constant growth on a finite planet is fatally flawed.

          3. Is there anything new in the Catholic Church’s position towards birth control? I don’t think so. What’s new is its position towards global warming.
            I really cannot see how this is a negative change overall.

          4. I agree. I have been trying to say that all along. mIf we expect the Catholic church to do an about face on all the issues we disagree on, we will be sorely disappointed. That will never happen. But the recognition that global warming/climate change are happening, the sheer admission of their importance, is momentous.

          5. Frankly, I think that “momentous” is too strong a word to describe this. But this is definitely positive.

          6. “Don’t denigrate it just because it contains a lot of Catholic doctrine. It also spreads the belief that climate change and global warming are real, and that they threaten the future of mankind.

            That sounds like accommodationism to me. That says, “don’t criticize the parts that are wrong, only praise the parts that are correct.” Same thing.

            As I said before, why can’t we both praise and criticize?

            You think the Pope’s encyclical is having a positive impact? I’d agree, while clarifying “with respect to the climate change debate.” Another question worth asking, I think, is “could the Pope’s encyclical have had a more positive impact?” It seems real clear to me that the answer to that is yes.

            And the fact that that would be expecting too much from the RCC is precisely the reason why criticizing the bad parts is not just a good idea, it is also the right thing to do.

          7. Indeed – part of why science is incompatible with religion is that criticism works in a very different way in science. (Ideally, of course.) One appeals to evidence, draws conclusions, etc. and no matter who you are you can say it and have the topic debated and if you’re convincing, you win. Or rather, you get your name in the books for the ages. In religion, there is debate, but it is all “authority driven” in the wrong way, as we have seen. (I don’t even know if the pope lists his coauthors!)

  6. The pope means well, but when you got sky-fairies in your belfry, that makes clear thinking kind of hard.

    On Fri, Jun 19, 2015 at 1:01 PM, Why Evolution Is True wrote:

    > whyevolutionistrue posted: “Scientific American asked physicist > Lawrence Krauss to comment on Pope Francis’s long encyclical on global > warming. Krauss’s piece, “Ideology subsumes empiricism in Pope’s climate > encyclical,” gives to the Pope with one hand but slaps him with the other. > “

  7. The Catholic Church has a vested interest in promoting misery. No misery, no great market to expand into, only people happy with their lives who do not care very much about Catholicism. The waves of migrants entering Italy won’t find any shelter in the massive palaces of the Vatican. Secular democracies will be left with the migrant problem to deal with. Theocracy and hypocrisy are two sides of the same coin.

  8. Well, overpopulation is part of the issue, and overpopulation causes several problems besides. The Pope probably is ignoring this mostly because it doesn’t sit well with his church’s stance on reproductive control and women’s emancipation. Moreover, it would certainly be too broad to condemn technology, economics, and the like en masse.

    Yet, the most conspicuous contribution to global warming and carbon pollution is a high number of hyperconsumers throughout the most affluent countries that have low regard for the environmental impacts of their industries, most obviously the USA and the UK. Moreover, they push a lot of their high-polluting industries “over the border” – for instance, the UK government ignores both airline travel and imports entirely when assessing its climate impact – and encourage agricultural industries to raise more meat and clear more land, resulting in loss of trees and other green areas. There’s also an uncomfortable amount of delaying tactics and just plain sidestepping and downplaying the issue politically. Not to mention many of the bullshit arguments thrown up by deniers were sown by corporate-aided think tanks trying to justify the very industrial practices that cause the problem.

    The problem isn’t technology and economics per se, but in their systems’ current incarnations.

    1. Technology and economics are tools and I agree that the way they have been used is a major cause of this problem. Inextricably tied up with population growth.

      A key thing to keep in mind is that techology (& science) and economics are the only tools that can possibly see us through this challenge without horribly devastating consequences for the entire human race, not to mention the rest of the current inhabitants of our biosphere. Effectively utilized, of course. That is the trick.

  9. I belonged to a catholic conservative group, similar to the infamous OPUS DEI. The doctrine inside them is: must have as much sons as nature gives you. Only natural birth control. Anybody understands that if we apply that politic the ecology blows up in two generations. But:
    -Vatican needs more people to be indoctrinated –and inside family is the best place– and so to pay the tithe. The more sons catholics have, the more their religion grows or at least mantains.
    -Muslims: please study their growth populations rate. Why this happens??? Because to get paradise you have to marry (woman goes to paradise only carried by his husband), have to educate sons in religion, and as much as your son practices religion you get points to go to heaven. What do you prefer, to live like a Muslim starving but reach paradise or live in a beautiful earth and go to Hell??

    With those religions, you can be sure: no ecology will be seriously done, despite many claims the Pope.

  10. Yeah, I actually said, “good start Pope Frank but I look forward to you allowing birth control” when I heard about this on the news.

    1. Remember the “good start” he had with the gays? The “good start” he had with the Church Child Rape Scandal? Where did those “good starts” end up?

      Déjà vu all over again.

  11. Of course this encyclical is not ideal – it came from the Catholic Church. However, it’s better than anything that’s come from the Church before on Climate Change, and that has to be a positive. If nothing else, he’s opened up the debate in the US.

    News reports here about it note the fact il papa has acknowledged Climate Change is largely man made, and is widely seen as a step in the right direction, but is causing controversy in the Republican party in the US. And that’s the point – only in US right wing politics is this a controversial issue.

    The encyclical does say that abortion is not compatible with looking after the planet, but who would really expect it to say otherwise? On FNC, it was the supremely illogical religion correspondent Lauren Greene who was given this assignment. Her reporting was that it’s hypocritical of liberals to use it to bolster their case because it opposes abortion.

    Supreme f**kwit judge Andrew Napolitano thinks the pope’s stance will cause a schism in the Church.

    (This is something else I wanted to write about on my website. )

  12. If he would have at least got the science correct! But nowhere in all this do I see any reference to the carbon footprint of RCC Inc. That of Tebart van Elst (bishop of bling) alone must have been ferocious. The pope is trying to be part of the solution but in fact he’s a big part of the problem

  13. Of course the Pope’s beliefs on contraception are ridiculous, but Pinker in particular gives a straw man with regards to the consumerist point. Francis is making a moral argument that would be just as true if a secular atheist said it.

    The fact is that the particular kind of material progress we have witnessed in the past few decades is built on mountains and mountains of waste. It’s facetious to pretend that the Pope is saying we should do without central heating or electricity, he’s talking about all the pointless tat and crap that we idolise in order to keep the economy spinning, whether it’s food we don’t need that’s based on unsustainable, ecosystem-destroying agriculture or mindless gadgets that keep us distracted from the good life with vacuous entertainment.

    We already know that contraception is not going to be the direct answer to population control anyway; affluence and women’s empowerment is the answer. But once we have that, we can still benefit from energy, medical and information technologies while trying as a species to construct a society that isn’t so disgustingly predicated on the consumption and ownership of rubbish. We need to cultivate a more mindful, less wasteful culture and it doesn’t take a Christian to understand that. Nor does saying it while Christian invalidate it.

    1. Good post, Mr. Hackett. Although I would think that rather than call for less waste, what is needed is more recycling of waste. After all, what is one person’s vacuous entertainment is another person’s piece of art and/or livelihood. If we had to pick whose values to emulate when deciding what is the ideal, my values would be best, of course.

      1. JS Mill would say that the philosopher knows best. I’m not saying he’s right and I’m not saying we could ever give someone authority to choose, but I don’t believe in complete cultural relativism. I think it is possible to make convincing arguments, for example, that reading about celebrities and playing video games for hours every day is an objective waste of one’s time on the planet. On the larger point, I agree, but we mustn’t be too defeatist about the possibility of producing less overall!

    2. “We already know that contraception is not going to be the direct answer to population control anyway; affluence and women’s empowerment is the answer.”
      Yes, but indirectly contraception leads to women’s empowerment. It may be the crucial one. The Pope doesn’t agree.

  14. Regarding the line that a population of 10B may be unsustainable etc., we must also keep in mind that the *majority* of our current 7B population do not have access to enough food, potable water, sanitary conditions, medicine, etc. In fact even in the USA there is a large percentage of people without. I would say even 7B falls in the category of “unsustainable”.

    1. Have no worries. SJWs on both the right and left have said that the earth can support a trillion people if we all simply “share”. Because it is just that easy!

      Oh, and technology will solve all of our problems, because it’s magic!!!!

      1. Of course these people like to look to technology as our saviour because then they are absolved of making changes that directly impact how they live.

  15. I agree with Krauss when he smacks the Pope with one hand, no surprise. But to the extent I still have a cultural Catholic crammed down there somewhere deep in my psyche — my inner ethnic blue-collar kid from Cleveland — I’m relieved to finally have someone in the Vatican I can pat on the back with the other hand, the first time since I was that kid and John double-X triple-I was rockin’ the Basilica.

  16. On one point of Pinker’s… people’s general resistance to carbon tax solution drives me crazy.

    In the brief period Australia had this tax it was one of the rare things we could be proud of, and up until its axing, it appeared to be working. I really don’t get why it was unpopular, apart from the fact that its description contains the word “tax”. It didn’t even increase the total tax burden.

  17. However, his biblical analysis leads to the false conclusion that contraception and population control are not appropriate strategies to help a planet with limited resources.

    Therefore the Vatican has a space programme to bring asteroids to Earth, or people to the asteroids? No?It’s the only even vaguely credible way to bring more resources to the surface of the planet. (Energy we could improve by various other means, but for material for “material goods” … you need material.)

  18. Pope Francis said:

    (Chapter 6) 206. A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. “Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act”. Today, in a word, “the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle”.

    Couldn’t agree more with the Pope here.

    Anyone who wants to better understand the tragic consequences of their reckless consumerism should see the video below:

    1. This is a well made documentary. It makes a world problem personal.
      What occurs to me watching this is the significance of personal greed and selfishness in causing mankind’s vast array of problems. The government ministers and business leaders are enjoying amazing wealth from continuing the status quo. There seems to be an opportunity for the Pope to insert the notion of “original sin” as a basis for understanding this phenomenon. Sex isn’t it, nor are apples or knowledge (metaphors?). It is our human capacity for selfish greed. And, we all know that this stems from our biologically determined predisposition for self, and kin preservation and continuation. It doesn’t get more “original” than that.

      1. ‘I talk to the wind
        My words are all carried away
        I talk to the wind
        The wind does not hear
        The wind cannot hear.’
        –King Crimson

        This earth is not sentient, but if it were the Earth would condemn us just as righteously as we are self-righteously condemning ourselves to extinction.

        We talk to the wind because of our anxious subjectivity, which for many religious people must be slaved by an expectation of heaven/Heaven. Why bother about this tired old stinking dying world when paradise awaits?

        Irony: you’re in heaven now, forever, but your grandchildren won’t be, as they never had a chance to be born, or even conceived/ensouled by the god you’re eternally living with ‘in the sky, lord, in the sky.’

  19. Environmental resistance factors such as starvation, loss of living space, pollution, wars in competition for resources, and etc. will naturally cull the human population at its carrying capacity whatever that might be, 12 billion or 20 billion? because of our species’ biotic potential, and our current position on the exponential growth curve. You can not escape the effects of exponential growth forever. If slow/normal environmental resistance doesn’t slow/stop growth then there will be a crash in the population to near zero numbers.

    Or we can impose environmental resistance “artificially” with birth control.

    I wonder which scenario the Pope thinks is more humane?

    This is high school ecology basics whether the Pope likes it or not.

  20. Oh, and technology will solve all of our problems, because it’s magic!!!!

    Technology IS magic. And it will solve the biggest problem.

    Because the biggest problem is not overpopulation, or consumerism, or lifestyle. The problem is too much CO2 in the atmosphere, caused mostly by burning fossil fuels. And renewable technology will fix that.

    If this sounds simplistic to you, then you don’t really understand how important it is the keep your eye on the f-ing ball.

    Reducing our population is an effort that will take generations. But the window to build the huge amounts of renewable energy farms we need will close in ~two decades, if we hope to save civilization as we know it. Getting those solar, wind, and tide systems up and running NOW is a million times more urgent than population control.

    Every time we talk about anything other than planning, building, and deploying new renewable infrastructure we are interrupting the conversation we need most to be having.

    And maddeningly, after twenty years of arguing about global warming, we still really have not had that conversation.

    1. “The problem is too much CO2 in the atmosphere, caused mostly by burning fossil fuels.”

      That’s all well and good, but we have to realize that our move to clean energy solutions won’t happen overnight, and thus stressing the need for reining in our consumption that leads to, among other things, mass deforestation (that exacerbates global warming) of the planet, is also very important.

      Also the existence of, say, energy-efficient technologies such as LED light alone, isn’t an answer when people on the whole don’t feel the urgency of the issue, and hence don’t even bother investing in them.

      It’s therefore very important that Pope Francis decided to increase people’s awareness of the problem.

    2. Further, to suggest, for example, that we can continue to waste ~40% of the food being produced (produced at huge environmental cost I should add), and just sit on our hands waiting for the solar energy to take over doesn’t seem like a very good idea to me.

    3. The problem with the ‘technology is magic’ folks is that they eschew conservation, and put all of their eggs into the technology basket.

      They simply ‘hope for the best’.

      Oh, the earth’s aquifers are falling below replacement level? No problem! Technology will fix it, so keep having billions more children people! We will *always* find more resources, and if we don’t, well, a genius will come along and invent something magic! Like, maybe the Star Trek replicator! That will solve everything!

      And then there is the law of unintended consequences. Sometimes the perfect solution can turn around and bite you in the butt!

      And we must *not* forget, that anything we do costs *energy*. Oh, we are running out of water? Cool, lets move to desalinization! But, desalinization is extremely energy intensive, so that’s not gonna solve anything is it? And *everyone* needs water to live. So, a growing population…yeah

      Also, if we look at human history, it is filled with endless cycles of intensification and depletion. Resources are running low. So we invent a new technology which results in an abundance of resources. Things are good, so we breed like rabbits. And then…all those resources get depleted…so we invent new technologies to intensify production…and on and on. If you look at the history of any civilization, and it’s resulting collapse, you will see this cycle repeated endlessly until they could go no further, and had to abandon the land.

      At some point, we will hit a brick wall.

      Some links:

      Recent food crises and war/revolution:

      The water table is dropping all over the world, NASA study:

  21. So- basically what the Pope is saying is that we can continue to have as many babies as possible; we just all need to resign ourselves to being desperately poor.

  22. Joseph Heath has a useful op-ed on the topic in todays [June 20] NYT. The comments, however, seem to overwhelmingly take the Pope’s side over his. Those comments also display an abysmal lack of understanding of either economics or psychology. If these Times readers are representative of our “intelligent” populace, we are doomed.

  23. Pinker: “The solution is economic and technological: a global carbon tax, and investment in the development of new energy technologies.”

    It would be interesting to see the calculations that brought Pinker to these conclusions. Exactly how does he know that these policy and technological fixes will be adequate? Or, is it expected that, because he is Pinker than I, that I should accept his conclusions because he is “higher above me that heaven is hell?” (Quote from a Judge Roy Bean sentencing.)

    1. I think Pinker is taking this from the general consensus of experts in the fields of economics and alternative technology. A bit of reading on the subject reveals as much. I doubt if he personally calculated anything.
      As for whether they are effective, I think it depends on how much of the right sort of carbon tax, and how much is invested in new technology. I have not yet heard of anything that sounds remotely as potentially effective. Mostly opposition to these approaches comes from vested interests in the status quo. Their alternatives usually involve a risky wait-and-see. Do you have a reasonable alternative, and did you do the calculations?

      1. The solutions have been hovering around for decades; carbon tax, investment in alternative energy infrastructure, making the costs of oil and gas and coal properly reflect their environmmental impact*, etc. We have a surfeit of solutions; just read any book about how the economy could be restructured to reduce carbon emissions.

        The problem isn’t lack of solutions. It’s too many rich leeches and uninformed or even misinformed members of the public who cause the politicians (or are the politicians deciding) to drag their feet and hide behind endless papers and conferences.

        *There is no way coal, oil, and gas would remain the cheapest fuel on the planet if their prices reflected stuff like this. That’s why companies hide, downplay, or straight up ignore such stuff. In other words, they dump the costs on other people and then convince us that their low costs are the reason we should stick with their produce. In any other industry, this would be a massive scandal, but here, it’s just work as usual.

  24. “This entry was written by whyevolutionistrue and posted on June 19, 2015 at 12:00 pm and filed under Catholics behaving badly, climate change.”

    On a scale of “behaving badly,” from The Inquisition to The Bicycle, where would the latter be?

  25. An ideological fault line is whether we can improve our situation best by declaring new rules from top down, with taxes and laws; or whether the best approach is asking everyone individually to change their ways, which is a bottom up approach. Changing laws and imposing taxes pressures economy to react, perhaps in three ways: evasion into a different country where there isn’t such pressure (like no laws or little government oversight, thats where global tax comes in), new technology as Steven Pinker suggested, too, that work around the pressure and third, by changing products and consumers with press relations, marketing and advertising (making it hip to buy “green” products).

    This seems to make the top down approach most effective, yet the people on top are also mere individuals once they leave their office. They are suspectible to the same zeitgeist that represents attitudes and and which feedbacks into culture, influencing everyone from the bottom up. Nobody outside of North Korea believes to be reigned by smarter, more far-sighted politicians and in democracies, politicians must have the feeling their ideas will be received well and make a re-election more likely. Marketing and PR, even if instigated from a headquarter, become a way of bottom up influence. Once conditioned that “green is hip” cosumers demand other companies to provide green goods as well.

    With that on the table, it’s great that the Catholic Church eventually contributes to a greener zeitgeist, however Lawrence Kraus and Steven Pinker are correct, too. There could be a stronger explicit signal to policy makers as well, and they could more directly improve the situation by having it revealed to them that family planning was always and eternally god’s will all along (I’m sure some combination of words can be switched from literally to metaphorically or the other way around to bring about god’s “obvious” demands).

    What is however an ill-fated idea to ask consumers to refrain from nice things everyone else is enjoying. Changing habits, individually, makes no discernible difference whatsoever. A form of hypocrisy and public theatre-play is perhaps necessary. Fly into the holidays, but at the same time you really want to appear “pro green” so that zeitgeist, bottom up, and decision makers, top down, can bring about the changes.

  26. My central concern is that research and critical analysis (as opposed to guesswork and presumption) reveal which alternatives give the biggest bang for the buck/resource/effort/feasibility, listed in order of the most cost-effective, and at what point one or more of those alternatives will be actually effective and reducing atmospheric carbon to what point.

    So far, all I hear is a lot of guesswork in this regard, and a lot of careers are being built and a lot of money is being made, whilst “Rome” continues to increase the atmospheric carbon load.

    No more straw-men, please.

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