Acton Institute Powerblog

G8 Bishops Statement

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In preparation for the G8 summit in Japan in July, the Catholic bishops’ conferences of the respective G8 nations have collaborated and released a joint statement to their political leaders. I mean to diminish neither the importance of the topics addressed nor the respect due to the bishops’ teaching by saying that such statements are usually rather bland and predictable. This one, however, contains some interesting language concerning, in particular, global warming. “We urge you,” the bishops exhort, “to deepen your commitments and actions to reduce global poverty and address global climate change.”

And later, this:

The costs of initiatives to prevent and adapt to the harmful consequences of climate change should be borne more by richer persons and nations who have benefited most from the emissions that have fueled development and should not unduly burden the poor.

At the risk of reading too much into this language (one must assume, after all, that it was carefully chosen), consider the terminology: “reduce” poverty, “address” climate change. Not “stop” climate change, or even “reduce” it, but “address” it. Combine that formulation with the later passage concerning the consequences of climate change for the poor. Admittedly, this could be read in several ways, but one possible way to read it is this: If rich nations are going to take measures to address climate change that have economic costs, rich nations need to bear those costs, not impose them on other nations.

In sum, although the statement devotes much space to the issue of climate change—which is comprehensible in light of its importance as a topic for the G8—the emphasis is almost exlusively on climate change’s impact on the poor, including the impact on the poor of efforts to stem climate change. In light of the ongoing debate about what the effects of climate change will be (good or bad) as well as whether human action can significantly influence it one way or the other, this seems to me exactly the right approach to take.

It has also to be noted, however, that the bishops continue to press for increased foreign aid to developed nations. Made in the context of the G8, one must assume this means government aid. It is too bad that they do not display some awareness of the increasing evidence that government aid has been largely ineffective (arguably, counterproductive) in this cause. To their credit, they do stress that “the poor must be empowered to be drivers of their own development.” Wouldn’t it be refreshing if they also said something along these lines?:
“We urge the governments of the wealthy nations to promote the development of poorer nations by taking the following measures: 1) refuse to dispense aid to or through any government or agency that has a record of corruption; 2) foster the activity of private foreign aid agencies through deregulation and tax benefits; 3) abolish tariffs on foreign goods and subsidies to domestic production.”

Kevin Schmiesing Kevin Schmiesing, Ph.D., is a research fellow for the research department at the Acton Institute. He is a frequent writer on Catholic social thought and economics, is the author of American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895-1955 (Edwin Mellen Press, 2002) and is most recently the author of Within the Market Strife: American Catholic Economic Thought from Rerum Novarum to Vatican II (Lexington Books, 2004). Dr. Schmiesing holds a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Pennsylvania, and a B.A. in history from Franciscan University ofSteubenville. Author of Within the Market Strife and American Catholic Intellectuals, 1895—1955 (2002), he serves as Book Review Editor for the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also executive director of


  • Joe DeVet

    Though the USCCB statement to the G8 does not say so specifically, as Dr. Schmiesing points out, the sense of the statement that most recipients will infer is that it calls for global warming intervention (as have other documents produced from the Vatican and other Catholic sources.) It is regrettable that the Church is opening itself to another Galileo-type embarrassment, by again prematurely choosing sides in an unresolved scientific debate. It also opens itself to calling for contradictory public policies–mitigating “global warming” and looking out for the poor. Any known attempt to mitigate global warming (say, Kyoto or the like) will have drastic adverse economic consequences. The rich will be inconvenienced, but the poor will be economically devastated by such an action.

  • Dona

    I agree that this could be a Galileo-type embarrassment for the Church. At best, it is bad science promoted by the man who claims to have invented the Internet, Al Gore; no thinking person would follow him anywhere ever. My thoughts on Global Warming are that it is a theory proposed by godless people who are determined to control others in their lifetimes. I prefer to think that God is in control and these others are very poor substitutes at best.

  • Lynn Vincentnathan

    Mitigating global warming could be the best thing that ever happened to our economy. My husband and I are saving $hundreds each year from reducing our greenhouse gases by over two-thirds, without lowering our living standard (even increasing it slightly) — money which we now have to donate to the poor.

    The poor can also benefit from the Kyoto off-sets — get all the best, most efficient tech for free from companies and countries having to off-set their emissions.

    We would also do the poor and ourselves and future generations a great favor by reducing global warming’s effects of increasingly severe droughts, heat deaths, intense flooding, intense storms, wildfires, disease spread, crop failure, and sea rise.

    Please read NATURAL CAPITALISM to see how America can reduce its greenhouse emissions by over three-fourths without lowering productivity –

    We need a more “can-do,” and prayerful spirit about global warming. I’m sure the Lord will help us all to reduce our emissions and lead happier, healthier, more spiritual lives. We just need to surrender our all to Him. He will lift us when we stumble, like a kindly father lifts his child, if we only hold up our arms to Him.