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.