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What May Catholics Think About Climate Change?

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 5/6/11 at 2:00 AM

 

A reader writes:

I was on your site where people were discussing climate change, and I recently received some emails from some who expressed concern about a Catholic Vacation Bible School Program with a section on “climate change.”  I have no idea why that would be in a VBS program, but I looked at your website discussion about Climate Change and just wondered about your thoughts on this.

The emails expressed concern about teaching “Climate Change” (I am not sure why that would be introduced in a VBS Program –- we have such little time to teach our faith).

As you probably know, I’m skeptical of the Global Warming hype, not least because its marketers and packagers keep changing the name. First, it was “Global Warming,” then “Climate Change” (as if climate does anything besides change) and lately it’s “Global Climate Disruption.” I’m also skeptical that it is man made, and I think the dishonesty of some of the scientists in the field, not to mention the packagers and marketers, leaves me cold (clever pun, eh?). So, for instance, when I see evidence of rising sea levels that doesn’t always refer me back to the same remote island nobody knows anything about except that it might be a case of erosion and not rising sea levels, I will begin to take our melting ice caps more seriously.  Meanwhile:

So you can definitely call me an Anthropogenic Global Warming/Climate Change/Global Climate Disruption skeptic. That’s not because I think the climate is not changing, but rather because I think that’s all the climate does and ever has done: change. It’s a system in a state of constant change.

That said, I note that this is simply my opinion (and emphatically the opinion of a non-specialist). I also note that it is not a theological opinion, but simply a prudential judgment. Catholics are bound to exercise prudence (the first of the cardinal virtues), but they are by no means bound to arrive at the same conclusions. 

Consequently, I don’t see a big problem with Catholic educational materials dealing with Climate Change, since it is well within the pale of Catholic variety of opinion. (Don’t forget that the Vatican is the world’s only carbon-neutral state and that they do take Climate Change seriously, as a matter of prudential judgment.) 

In other words, be careful of letting American culture war shibboleths come to take the place of Catholic teaching—and especially Catholic liberty. Lefties tend to worry more about global warming than Righties, so it becomes easy for Catholic conservatives (whose political conservatism can spill over into their theology as easily as political progressivism can spill over into the theology of Lefties) to start talking as though concern about global warming is somehow code for liberal heresy. It’s not. One can be a perfectly good and orthodox Catholic and take global warming very seriously—or not. It should not be a point of theological quarreling among Catholics (unless it bleeds into Gaia worship and the sort of dimestore pagan Earth worship one finds in some more extreme schools of environmentalism). But we should no more *assume* that is the case with ordinary Catholics concerned about climate change than an environmentalist Catholic should assume that global warming skeptics are all earth-raping monsters who spit on the Church’s teaching about caring for creation. 

Bottom line: Catholics of good will can have different opinions here, and the argument is about the actual evidence for Anthropogenic Climate Change, not about who is the Good Catholic. We should hash it out the same way we’d hash out the question of why the car won’t start in the morning: not by appeals to who is the Real Catholic, but by finding out why the car won’t start. Resist the impulse to import politically motivated culture wars (which are used by rich and powerful people to manipulate us into manageable tribal groupings) and press hard to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Recommended reading: Romans 14.  In essential things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.