Acton Institute Powerblog

Laudato Energy Abundance

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While it has been pointed out repeatedly by your writer and others in this space that Pope Francis’ Laudato Si contains much to recommend it for the beauty, compassion and depth of spirituality contained within, there remains much that is problematic. For example, there’s this:

At the same time we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness. As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

All this is consistent with Pope Francis’ warning that fossil fuels are contributing to climate change, but what he should be advocating for is energy abundance rather than this:

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

Yet, how does the Pope reconcile his call for reduction of fossil-fuel use with his call for cleaner water and increased green space in the following quotes?

Here’s Pope Francis on water:

One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and infant mortality. Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a question of industrial waste.

And, forgive me for pointing out, this seems more derived from Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” than from Roman Catholic doctrine,

here’s Pope Francis on green space:

Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighborhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We are not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.

Regarding water, the pontiff should take note of Alex Epstein’s comments in the video below. The author of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels discusses (around the 58:40-minute mark) how energy abundance can lead to cleaner water, including desalinization of saltwater and irrigation of deserts.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s Robert Bryce notes Pope Francis’ desire for green space is incompatible with wind and solar energy for stated goals to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 80 percent by 2050 (80 by 50):

How might 80 by 50 work? Wind and solar energy can’t do the trick. Even ignoring their gargantuan land-use requirements, their incurable intermittence, and the fact that we can’t store large quantities of electricity, those two forms of energy production cannot provide the enormous amounts of energy we need at prices we can afford. James Hansen, one of America’s highest-profile climate scientists, has made that point, saying that ‘renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future.’

Furthermore, writes Bryce, the costs for the 80/50 goals implemented in Germany and proposed by politicians in the United States are exorbitant:

What would 80 by 50 cost? None of the Democrats has provided a cost estimate, but we can get an idea by looking at Germany, which has set a goal of getting 80% of its energy from renewables by 2050.

Germany has already spent $100 billion on subsidies for renewables and its environment minister, Peter Altmaier, has estimated that hitting its 80 by 50 target will require spending another $1.3 trillion over the next two decades. The U.S. economy is four times as large as Germany’s, and U.S. energy consumption is seven times as large. Reaching 80 by 50 in the U.S. would likely cost more than $5 trillion. For reference, the cost of ObamaCare over the next decade is projected at $1.2 trillion.

By all accounts, even his own, the Pope isn’t an economist or public policy wonk. His call to the world to clean up its act is, of course, welcome as it’s always important to encourage conscientious stewardship of the planet. He might strengthen his message, however, if he recognized energy abundance benefits both the Earth and its 7.2 billion inhabitants.

Bruce Edward Walker has more than 30 years’ writing and editing experience in a variety of publishing areas, including reference books, newspapers, magazines, media relations and corporate speeches. Much of this material involved research on water rights, land use, alternative-technology vehicles and other environmental issues, but Walker has also written extensively on nonscientific subjects, having produced six titles in Wiley Publishing’s CliffsNotes series, including study guides for "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest." He has also authored more than 100 critical biographies of authors and musicians for Gale Research's Contemporary Literary Criticism and Contemporary Musicians reference-book series. Most recently, he was managing editor of The Heartland Institute's InfoTech & Telecom News. Prior to that, he was manager of communications for the Mackinac Center's Property Rights Network. He also served from 2006-2007 as editor of Michigan Science, a quarterly Mackinac Center publication. Walker has served as an adjunct professor of literature and academic writing at University of Detroit Mercy. For the past three years, he has authored a weekly column for the mid-Michigan Morning Sun newspaper. Walker holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Michigan State University. He is the father of two daughters and currently lives in Midland, Mich., with his wife Katherine.

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