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Category: Environmental Stewardship

Blog author: bwalker
Tuesday, October 13, 2015
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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:
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RS cover from 2014

RS cover from 2014

On Sept. 10, Rolling Stone magazine published a long article titled “Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics.” From the title alone you could tell where this was headed. Predictably, the magazine asserted that “deeply alarmed by the power of Francis’ message, an entire network of -right-wing Catholic organizations has been increasingly willing to push back against the Vatican.” In ticking off members of this “network” it said this about the Acton Institute and yours truly:

Then there’s the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, which is run by a Catholic priest named Robert Sirico — he’s the brother of actor Tony Sirico, best known for his portrayal of Paulie Walnuts on The Sopranos — and hosts forums with titles like “Government: Less Is More.” Sirico recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal attacking “Laudato Si'” for its “decided bias against the free market and suggestions that poverty is the result of a globalized economy,” though he failed to disclose the hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations Acton has received from extraction-industry giants such as Exxon Mobil and the Koch family.

I wrote a response to this article and sent it to Rolling Stone editors but they, not surprisingly, declined to publish it. Here it is in full:

To the Editor:

News Flash! Admitted pro-market think tank accepts donations from pro-market supporters. (“Pope Francis’ American Crusade — The pope takes on climate change, poverty and conservative U.S. clerics,” Sept. 10).

Of course this revelation is presented in Mr. Mark Benelli’s – what was it, op-ed, news analysis, hit piece? – as something far more sinister, implying, but not saying, that somehow The Acton Institute is controlled by the dark financial interests of evil capitalists, instead of the reality that (1) we hold to a position and (2) we invite others who hold to the same or similar positions to support us.

The deeper journalistic problem with this piece is its sheer superficiality in understanding Catholicism or what the Acton Institute (which, incidentally, is an ecumenical organization that works with people ranging from like-minded Evangelicals to observant Jews) does. This is understandable given that Mr. Benelli relies to a great extent for his research on the hyperbole from the fainting couch of one M.S. Winters who writes a breathless blog for the Rolling Stone of Catholic journalism, the National Catholic Reporter. (more…)

bt-resourcesThe very first command God gave to humanity was to “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Overall, I’d say we’re doing a pretty good job on that “increase the number” since we currently have over 7.3 billion people on the planet. Where we fall short of keeping the command is in the “subdue it” part.

As the ESV Study Bible explains,

Here the idea is that the man and woman are to make the earth’s resources beneficial for themselves, which implies they would investigate and develop the earth’s resources to make them useful for human beings generally. This command provides a foundation for wise scientific and technological development . . .

Innovations in agriculture have helped make it possible to feed more people using fewer resources, especially farm land. But there may be cultural innovation that could help just as significant: Overcoming the aversion Westerners have to eating bugs.

In the West we mainly get our protein from livestock, such as cattle and chicken. Cows taste great but they are extremely resource-intensive: it takes about 18-22 months and two acres of land for each cow, and one pound of steak requires 1,800 gallons of water. That makes it difficult to rely on them as a protein source for a growing population.

In contrast, “minilivestock”, such as crickets, require much fewer resources: Every six weeks, you can harvest 55-65 pounds of cricket meat from a 4 x 8-foot pen, and one pound of cricket protein requires only one gallon of water.
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Pope Francis recently declared September 1 as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, an annual day of prayer begun by the Orthodox Church in 1989.

In conjunction with the event, Catholic Relief Services and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have released “Care for God’s Creation,” the first of a seven-part video series on Catholic social teaching.

(Via: Crux)

Highly recommended reading today comes from Matt Ridley in the Wall Street Journal. His essay, “The Green Scare Problem,” rebuts environmentalist Cassandras from Rachel Carson to the present day, exposing the rampant hyperbole ecological warriors employ to sell their global warming and anti-genetically modified organism policies to an unsuspecting public. Ridley goes even further to show how these policies harm the world’s poorest.

Ridley begins by quoting President Obama, who reduces the opposition of his climate-change agenda as nothing more than the “same stale arguments.” Ridley’s response is priceless:

The trouble is, we’ve heard his stale argument before, too: that we’re doomed if we don’t do what the environmental pressure groups tell us, and saved if we do. And it has frequently turned out to be really bad advice.

Making dire predictions is what environmental groups do for a living, and it’s a competitive market, so they exaggerate. Virtually every environmental threat of the past few decades has been greatly exaggerated at some point. Pesticides were not causing a cancer epidemic, as Rachel Carson claimed in her 1962 book “Silent Spring”; acid rain was not devastating German forests, as the Green Party in that country said in the 1980s; the ozone hole was not making rabbits and salmon blind, as Al Gore warned in the 1990s. Yet taking precautionary action against pesticides, acid rain and ozone thinning proved manageable, so maybe not much harm was done.

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Mock-01 (2)_Front OnlyCreation and the Heart of Man, the first volume of Acton’s Orthodox Christian Social Thought monograph series, is now available for pre-order on Logos Bible Software. Those who pre-order can get the book at a discounted price.

In addition, the Logos edition is able to offer some unique features:

In the Logos edition, this volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Perform powerful searches to find exactly what you’re looking for. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps. With Logos Bible Software, the most efficient and comprehensive research tools are in one place, so you get the most out of your study.

Sign up for Creation and the Heart of Man on Logos here.

Michael Severance, operations manager for Istituto Acton in Rome, wrote an article for Catholic World Report examining the economic concept of scarcity in light of Laudato Si’ and Pope Francis’s trip to South America.

Severance focuses on the pope’s efforts to promote a culture of self-control and asceticism and specifically analyzes the implications of paragraph 222 of the encyclical, where Francis writes: “We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible. It is the conviction that ‘less is more’”(222).

Acknowledging the difference in perspectives between ecologists and economists, Severance explains how theories of scarcity and “finiteness” apply to the current ecological debate. He concludes that there is merit to the optimistic side of the conversation, which “[trusts] in human capacity to deal inventively with the increasing demands on scarce goods while balancing environmental concerns.”

Do we want less of everything in order to return to some pure form of Eden-like abundance, to go back to the original state of nature free of the high demands of industry and consumers squeezing mother earth’s resources dry? And are we really running out of finite resources, in the first place, or actually creating more because of human ingenuity?

Read the full text of “Is Less Really More? Reflections on Scarcity in Laudato Si'” here.