Thursday, May 17, 2007

More On Catholic Bloggers And Global Warming

Yesterday, I talked about the American Papist. Today, let's focus on another A-list Catholic blogger, Domenico Bettinelli, who denounces the Vatican for embracing global warming "lies". In particular, he condemns Archbishop Migliore for supporting the scientific consensus that made-made global warming is real, necessitating policy actions. Bettinelli claims this is a lie, "based on the lies in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s false reports."

Wow, pretty strong language. I assume Bettinelli has some serious evidence to back up these conspiratorial claims. In fact, his "evidence" consists of an essay by Orson Scott Card. And who is this Card? An eminent scientist, no doubt? Forget it, Card is a Mormon science fiction novelist! Now, this is hardly surprising, given that the Republicans often appeal to the overflowing wisdom of pulp-fiction author Michael Crichton on the issue of global warming. As it happens, Card simply reprises the tired old cliches-- hockey sticks, medieval warming periods-- that have been debunked over and over and over again. At the same time, it is clear that he does not understand the concept of statistical inference (of course the climate models cannot be "certain"!). But it is this anti-intellectual streak that pervades the whole debate.

Are the predictions underpinning the IPCC report wrong? Perhaps. But not in the way Bettinelli and his friends seem to think. In the latest issue of Science (and you need more than an ability to write a good page-turner to get published here!), climatologists provide evidence that climate models may be understating the rate of global warming, and that the IPCC is far too conservative. In other words, it may be even worse...

But it's not really about scientific methods. The use of pseudo-science and quackery is just a handy tool. The American right hates global warming for a bevy of reasons. Some relate to evangelical theology-- the right to dominate the earth, the idea that God wants Americans to be wealthy, the immanence of the end times, an anti-intellectual streak. Others relate to crasser materialism, and a utilitarian calculus that sharply discounts the welfare of future generations.

If these scenarios come to fruition, this could be one of the most pressing moral issues of the day. Here's what I don't understand. Even if you are skeptical of the predictions, surely even a small probability of an event with disastrous consequences should be an argument for taking action today? After all, this is what sound risk management is all about. And as the consequentialist president once said, isn't it better to err on the side of life?

Nor are the arguments made by the deniers consistent. When I brought up the issue of the very existence of a number of Pacific islands under threat, the American Papist jumped into Marie Antoinette mode and retorted: " People can move off an island, it wouldn't be the first time." How utterly callous. He also complains about my tendency to "denigrate the standard of living NOW in vague hopes that something better will result in the future." At the same time, he criticises me for placing physical ahead of spiritual welfare. Which is it?

When it comes to Catholicism, the essence of Papist's argument (and, I assume, the others) is that Catholics are "free to disagree on prudential/judgmental matters... the Pope himself is NOT claiming infallibility on these issues.." This a a bit of a red herring that I've dealt with in the past (see here and here). For a start, Papist throws around the word "infallibility" in a sloppy manner. We need to make a few very careful distinctions here. If you refute an infallibly-defined doctrine, you are placing yourself outside the Church. But very few doctrines are infallibly defined. There is also a class of non-infallible teachings in the domain of faith and morals that are nonetheless part of the ordinary magisterium and require "religious assent". And third, the Church makes statements where prudential judgments come into play, and Catholics are indeed not bound by these judgments.

But we need to delve a little deeper. Prudential judgment simply refers to the "application of Catholic doctrine to changing concrete circumstances" (Cardinal Dulles's language). It is not a license to ignore, or to deride. But many nonetheless use this catchall phrase to justify dismissing any Church statements that contradict whatever secular ideology is in play. It seems especially dubious, in the area of global warming, to dispute the very nature of the "changing concrete circumstances" themselves. Undergirded by reason, the Church will of course accept scientific wisdom, as it is not her role to challenge. The area for legitimate debate surrounds the appropriate Catholic response to these circumstances. One can consider many options, but one simply cannot close ones eyes and pretend the problem does not exist. But that is not the debate they wish to have.

In conclusion, I fail to understand why certain Catholic bloggers would be driven to embrace these positions. Why is it that they feel compelled to disagree with the Vatican on every issue where there is a divergence with the American right-wing agenda? That is telling.


Katerina Marie said...

Michael and I saw that last night: a Mormon sci-fi novelist... wow.

Anonymous said...

Why is it that they feel compelled to disagree with the Vatican on every issue where there is a divergence with the American right-wing agenda? That is telling.

Telling but always to be expected.
Virtually all media outlets who title themselves 'Catholic' - blogs, TV, radio, etc - exclusively trumpet the far right viewpoint. Thus, 'Catholic' media is a mirror image of the AM radio dial where one bounces from Limbaugh to Hannity to North to Savage to Medved and on and on.

Bettinelli is simply another tasty morsel on the smorgasboard of the 'Catholic' fringe.

Domenico Bettinelli said...

It's certainly an amusing analysis you present, even if nearly all your suppositions --at least the ones about me-- are wrong.

I wonder if you both would be so dismissive of Card as a "Mormon sci-fi novelist" if you realized that he agrees with you both on nearly every other issue.

But it's just so much easier to lump everybody into neat little boxes labeled "fringe" and "far-right" and "conservative" and assume that if I believe X then I must be a mindless dittohead who listens to Limbaugh and Hannity and North and Savage and Medved. In fact, I don't listen to talk radio at all. I actually read stuff and come to my own conclusions.

The world--and other people's worldviews-- are much more complicated than you might believe. I don't disagree with the Vatican on every issue where there is a divergence with the American right-wing agenda, as if there is even a monolithic agenda?I'm anti-death penalty, for instance. I'm not against immigration, to give another example. I think unrestrained capitalism is as bad as Marxism. Ah but such complexities undermine the straw-man.

I don't dismiss the possibility that global warming is taking place. What I question is the certainty that it is human caused and that it is reversible, instead of being a natural phenomenon and cyclical. But if anyone dares question the consensus, he is labeled a heretic and dismissed as stupid or ideological or misguided, at best. Why must it always descend into name-calling and ad hominem attacks?

Morning's Minion asks whether, if there is a non-zero chance that global warming is taking place and we can do something, anything about, should we take action?

Not necessarily. Right now there is a non-zero chance that a mountain in the Canary Islands called La Paima will tumble into the sea in our lifetimes, sending a tidal wave across the ocean and flooding the East Coast. By Morning's Minion's logic, the United States should evacuate all the cities on the East Coast. Likewise, there is near-certainty that a devastating earthquake will strike California, leveling San Francisco and Los Angeles. By your logic, the US government should evacuate the West Coast. There is a certainty that tornados will strike the Midwest, thus no one should live there.

The point I'm making is that just because something might happen doesn't mean we should take action, any action, without regard for the consequences. What will happen if we mandate the cutting of all carbon emissions by half by the end of the decade or the next? It will most likely wreak havoc on the global economy for one thing, leaving millions in poverty. Are you're willing to do that on the off-chance that it might stop global warming? What about justice for the poor who be the worst off?

As for Card being a Mormon sci-fi novelist, recall that C.S. Lewis was a Protestant fantasy novelist. Does that mean we should dismiss everything he has to say about theology because he was of a different religion and wrote novels? Rather than deal with Card as if he might be an intelligent human being (he is a professor of writing and literature at Southern Virginia University), the best you can do is an ad hominem against him.

Hollis said...

What's the point of having catholic blogs when you can get the same stuff on Free Republic and save bandwidth?

Morning's Minion said...


This Card character may be a good novelist, a highly reudite character, thoughful etc--- but does he have any qualifications to wade into scientific matters related to climate? I think not. Nor would Lewis, for that matter. And, by the way, I am likewise not qualified, and (unless you start listing degrees), I expect the same is true of you.

What gives you the right to your skepticism? What gives you the right to claim that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is peddling lies? This is an absolutely incredible claim, especially since the latest evidence is that the IPCC forecasts are too conservative. Your "natural phenomenon and cyclical" arguments have been refuted so many times now, but they refuse to go away.

As for the complexity of viewpoints, I abhor the "liberal" and "conservative" monikers because I find them devoid of all meaning (see what I wrote both here and on Vox Nova). But the way, I'm not the one wo mentioned Limbaugh and Hannity, and I certainly am not accusing you of anything on these grounds. My problem is solely related to your stance on global warming.

Your response to my risk assessment analysis point is competely misguided, unless you assume the effects of global warming are no more likely that a meteor strike. But, even in your arguments, I did not read this extremity. And by the way, the effects are already taking place, in remote Pacific islands that the American Papist thinks can be simply evacuated, no problem.

As to your economic effects of curbing carbon emissions, dod you just make that up, or are you relying on some evidence? Have a look at the Stern report, the most comprehensive economic analysis of climate change to date. It shows that the "costs of strong and urgent action on climate change will be less than the costs thereby avoided of the impacts of climate change under business as usual". What do you make of that? More lies?