Pope Getting It Wrong on Galileo (Again)

pope galileo wrong

It’s been said both within and without the Vatican that the encyclical from Pope Francis regarding the environment and climate change is an effort to show that the Roman Catholic Church is on the side of science this time, as opposed to when, in the 17th century, scientist Galileo Galilei was accused of heresy by the Inquisition for claiming that the Earth revolved around the Sun (and was forced to deny his own science and put under house arrest for the balance of his life).

I would suggest, however, that this misses a fundamental point when it comes to comparing these two scientific and societal controversies: i.e. the relationship of the Earth to the Sun in astronomical terms versus the contemporary science of global warming a.k.a. anthropogenic climate change (which curiously enough some actually believe might be more about the relationship of the Earth to the Sun in climatological terms).

The point being missed in the comparison is this: When Galileo put forth his astronomical theories, he was effectively on his own, with only his own scientific reasoning and evidence on his side. The scientific consensus of the time was as it always had been, that the Sun revolved around the Earth, which was the center of the Universe. This made it pretty easy for the Church to pick on Galileo. All of the other scientists knew which side their bread was buttered on, and were doubtless glad enough to see troublesome old G.G. get his comeuppance.

So much for the concept of consensus in science. We are consistently assured that well over 90 percent of scientists agree with the theory of anthropogenic climate change, as if there even is one solid undisputed theory, and as if this poll of scientists somehow establishes the actual facts in the heavens and here below.

The truth is that it only takes one scientist with a single fact that contradicts a theory in order to disprove that theory. By that standard of reckoning, in the case of anthropogenic global warming or “climate change,” the debate continues to rage on.

It is neither difficult nor courageous for the Vatican to throw its lot in with those who believe in a generalized theory of anthropogenic climate change that requires urgent correction (and who therefore by definition advocate a colder world). It is the favored point of view of all kinds of international intelligentsias and elites seeking to hold sway. Supporting this “consensus” is every bit as easy as beating up on Galileo was.

Supporting this “consensus” is every bit as easy as beating up on Galileo was.

pope galileo wrong

If the Vatican were instead to single out a scientist who is standing against the “consensus,” with only his own scientific reasoning and evidence to support him, then it might well be said to be a fitting penance for the treatment meted out to Galileo Galilei.

I realize that this comes a bit late for the encyclical, but one such scientist I would offer to Pope Francis for consideration would be William Soon, who theorizes (rather radically I guess) that it is variations in the Sun’s activity that are by far the greatest influence on the Earth’s climate (a climate which I think 100% of scientists would concede has never stopped changing). His is one of a variety of opinions competing with the comfortable consensus that appear in a recently published book called Climate Change: The Facts. Willie Soon, for his efforts, has been vilified and effectively branded a heretic and worse by that comfortable consensical crowd that the Roman Catholic Church now has thrown its moral weight behind. But what if he’s right and the Church only concedes it three hundred years from now after incalculable human suffering caused by the pro-global-cooling movement? How is the pope to know? How was he to know? That really is the point. The pope isn’t to know. He doesn’t actually have to take a position on this at all. He could instead concern himself with religious matters, and leave matters of science, economics and politics to those who are schooled in them, and who hopefully are also schooled in the spiritual (this would be where the Church could actually make a difference at a deeper level).

Pope Francis in his encyclical also comes out against what’s often called “consumerism.” How you define that word might vary (which is a problem common to any “-ism”). On this he is on significantly more solid ground, in the sense that a worship of things, of possessions, and an indulgence in material excess, is bad for an individual’s soul. No one who believes in God can sincerely argue with this. Pope Francis is known for his simplicity of lifestyle, and his frugality, and I for one have no hesitation in commending him on this; it’s a refreshing change for the man claiming to occupy the seat of St. Peter. (It arguably should never be otherwise.) But in crossing over from giving a prescription for the health of the soul of the individual to instead prescribing global economic policies, I think that Pope Francis errs, and tragically so.

Pope Francis is concerned about the poor, but is failing to understand the correlation between the buying of things and the growth of jobs. (He might want to talk a little to a fellow Christian like Monsieur Bono Vox about how to really help people trapped in deep poverty.) Again, no one should be devoted to things, but simply advocating that everyone buy less—however edifying it may seem—is not helpful to the poor on a macro-economic level. But then the pope is not an economist! Why should he be expected to understand this? (Why should he expect himself to understand this?)



And this goes back to “climate change,” because the pope, it seems to me, is unfortunately allying himself with those who do not really have the progress of the poor as a very high priority. In fact, the poor, in the sense of the teeming masses consuming things and trying to improve the lot of themselves and their families, are the nub of the problem in the worldview of the hardcore advocates for a colder world. The prescriptions for reversing a warming world all involve a reduction of “consumption” and a rationing of energy use (most simply achieved by reducing the human population of the Earth). Making energy more expensive is the route that dedicated cold Earth enthusiasts are generally pursuing, by way of costly, massive and inefficient wind farms and solar installations. Buying “boutique energy” may be affordable and self-gratifying for the wealthy. Yet imagine on the simplest level that one’s electric bill goes up by 75% (maybe you’re one of those who doesn’t have to merely imagine this). For the wealthy, this is a relatively insignificant increase in expense, perhaps equivalent to ordering an extra dessert at a fancy restaurant one evening. But for the poor, or those on the margins of such definitions, a large increase to an electric bill that must be paid has a huge impact, and takes money away from other areas that might advance the well being of one’s family (e.g. buying books for the children to read, or, at a deeper level of poverty, nutritious food and medical care). There is no help for the poor in penalizing the use of cheap and abundant sources of energy, despite how much better it might make wealthy elites feel about themselves and their Mother Earth.

The pope has problems: no one can argue about that. He is residing in a Europe that in the largest part has turned away not only from Catholicism but from any Judeo-Christian concept of God. Taking action on that front would seem to be a pressing matter. If he thinks that allying the Catholic Church with this cold Earth and fundamentally anti-human agenda is going to win converts, I’d suggest he’s badly mistaken, although those who advocate for that agenda will be very happy to now be able to list the Catholic Church as one of their sponsors.

Also perhaps a slight problem for this pope is the fact that during his reign Christians are being exterminated across the Middle East and increasingly in other parts of the world. And even in the comfortable and complacent Western world, Christian beliefs that have endured for millenia are now being bracketed with bigotry and incurring the penalty of law. This barely touches the number of issues specific to Catholicism and Christianity that are pressing on today’s planet Earth, and so the pope has a full plate, it would seem, and yet he chooses to venture into the troubled, confused and politicized waters of “climate change.”

Will he receive credit, three or four hundred years hence, for being absolutely correct on the science, or will he receive scorn for having squandered his brief moment of authority?

I guess we’ll find out.

I Like New York in June

New York in June

New York in June52° (F), raw and raining is what it is on this June 2nd; the same as it was on June 1st. Now there are places getting much worse weather, so this is not any cry for sympathy. However, this is a beginning to summer unlike any yours truly has experienced in the last couple of decades in New York. The season may not officially begin until June 21st, but the warm 70° and 80°+ weather had always settled in for the long haul by the start of June. The current chilly snap feels like yet one more tentacle of this past winter that did not want to die, reaching up from the cold grave when we thought it had finally truly gone. Continue reading “I Like New York in June”

Post-Sandy: Weather, perception and public policy

The Cinch Review

ViewThere’s a famous cartoon by Saul Steinberg, called “View of the World from 9th Avenue,” which was a cover for the New Yorker magazine in 1976. It shows 9th and 10th Avenues in Manhattan in detail with cars and people, and then the rest of the world receding in size and significance, with bare rocks designating esoteric places like Texas, Los Angeles and Nebraska, and China, Japan and Russia featured as gray shores beyond a Pacific Ocean which isn’t much bigger than the Hudson River. The concept has been imitated many times for other locales, and it’s amusing because it contains a truth about human nature: That which is going on closest to us seems most important, and we’re generally satisifed to have the vaguest notions about people and places farther away.

I believe that the same kind of distorted lens affects our perception of weather events. The storm that just occurred is so much worse than storms previously recorded in history (even if it’s not). There is a much greater number of storms and much more damaging weather these days in general than there ever has been before (even if there is not). And even the really, really smart people who are in charge of us seem to be susceptible to this “View of the World from New York on Halloween of 2012.” Mayor Mike Bloomberg said the other day that: “What is clear is that the storms we’ve experienced in the last year or so around this country and around the world are much more severe than before.” Governor Andrew Cuomo is quoted as saying: “There has been a series of extreme weather incidents … Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality.” Well, indeed, what’s reality? Is it our immediate and emotional perception in the wake of a particular weather disaster or historical facts and numbers taken from a long period of time? Roger Pielke (professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado) has pulled out some of the latter:

In studying hurricanes, we can make rough comparisons over time by adjusting past losses to account for inflation and the growth of coastal communities. If Sandy causes $20 billion in damage (in 2012 dollars), it would rank as the 17th most damaging hurricane or tropical storm (out of 242) to hit the U.S. since 1900 – a significant event, but not close to the top 10. The Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 tops the list (according to estimates by the catastrophe-insurance provider ICAT), as it would cause $180 billion in damage if it were to strike today. Hurricane Katrina ranks fourth at $85 billion.

To put things into even starker perspective, consider that from August 1954 through August 1955, the East Coast saw three different storms make landfall – Carol, Hazel and Diane – that in 2012 each would have caused about twice as much damage as Sandy.

While it’s hardly mentioned in the media, the U.S. is currently in an extended and intense hurricane “drought.” The last Category 3 or stronger storm to make landfall was Wilma in 2005. The more than seven years since then is the longest such span in over a century.

Another and broader point made by Pielke is one I will make in my own way: Since the beginning of time, the weather has been killing us. It’s been blowing us away, drowning us, and parching us. It’s destroyed our houses, wrecked our crops, and even forced us at times in large numbers to migrate. The occurrence of extreme weather events on a periodic basis is one of the most reliable features of the climate across much of planet earth. If such events stopped occurring, then that would be “climate change” indeed. Our tendency—all the more so in the modern age when we feel so relatively invincible—to want to live in places that are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events, like right on the edge of huge bodies of water, only increases the potential for damage and loss. Continue reading “Post-Sandy: Weather, perception and public policy”

Extreme weather has been blown out of proportion (says IPCC)

The Cinch Review

A report from—of all sources—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is throwing cold water on the idea that climate change, whether man-made or natural, is responsible for any net increase in damaging global extreme weather events. From this report by Andrew Orlowski (and the full IPCC report is at this link):

“There is medium evidence and high agreement that long-term trends in normalized losses have not been attributed to natural or anthropogenic climate change,” writes the IPCC in its new Special Report on Extremes (SREX) published today.

“The statement about the absence of trends in impacts attributable to natural or anthropogenic climate change holds for tropical and extratropical storms and tornados,” the authors conclude, adding for good measure that “absence of an attributable climate change signal in losses also holds for flood losses”.

Is that perfectly clear? Well, if you read those lines three or four times I think you’ll perceive that what it is saying is that there’s nothing to say regarding any increase in damage from extreme weather due to “climate change.”

So what about all the weird weather everywhere, and all the weather-related disasters of the past decade or so? Continue reading “Extreme weather has been blown out of proportion (says IPCC)”

Ireland donates towards climate change in poor countries

The Cinch Review

Ireland, which has recently been bailed out by the EU and the IMF to the tune of about 85 billion Euros, and is raising taxes and imposing the proverbial draconian cuts on everything, has decided to scrape up 23 million Euros of “additional” funds to “help poor countries deal with climate change.”

Ireland, as it happens, is also in the grip of an unusually cold pre-winter season at the moment, with bitter sub-zero temperatures and snow, for which public authorities, as ever in that usually temperate isle, are woefully unprepared.

Begob. You truly can’t make this stuff up.


Wind Farms Cause Climate Change

The Cinch Review

From the BBC:

Wind farms, especially big ones, generate turbulence that can significantly alter air temperatures near the ground, say researchers.

As turbines often stand on agricultural land, these changes could in turn affect crop productivity.

[…]

But Jonathan Scurlock, chief adviser on climate change and renewable energy at the National Farmers Union, said that using wind energy was “one of many measures, which can be [used] to mitigate climate change”. “The major threats to agriculture in terms of changing the air temperature come directly from the fossil fuel industry and deforestation, increasing CO2 concentration in the atmosphere,” he added.

[…]

But Dr Roy noted that even though wind farms were unlikely to have an effect on global climate change, “the impacts on local climate can be large”.

He also said that the study was not about comparing wind power to any other technology, but about considering and addressing possible side effects of this green energy.

“Wind energy is likely to be a part of the solution of the global warming problem,” he said.

“Often, in a rush to implement new technologies, we ignore possible side‐effects that may show up in the future.


What’s in question is local climate change. In the end, of-course, all climate is local. It doesn’t much matter to you if you’re told the world has gotten two degrees warmer when your house is buried in snow and your pipes are freezing. In any case, the law of unintended consequences continues to rule, while the global warming advocates with their grand schemes to remake the world continue to stumble ahead regardless.

Addendum: And of-course, as has become increasingly well-known, wind turbines are also unbearably loud for people living nearby.

CO2: The “pollutant” that life requires

The Cinch Review

In the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby responds to Al Gore’s recent opinion piece in the New York Times, where he continued his warnings of “unimaginable calamity” if we don’t take drastic steps to reduce human-based sources of “global-warming pollution.” (Gore himself happens to have invested enormously in carbon-offset schemes and other “green” ventures that are likely to thrive only with the kinds of government mandates he promotes.) Continue reading “CO2: The “pollutant” that life requires”