US Emissions Off the Mark

Roger Pielke Jr. has a great post and graph (above) comparing US actual emissions in comparison with the emission targets proposed by the Obama administration at Copenhagen. For a long time Pielke Jr. has been advocating for a change in approach to climate change precisely because of the results illustrated above: ideal targets can’t be met. The graph makes the point, its just not gonna happen; at least this way. The carbon count in terms of nuclear power plants drives home the idea of how difficult it is to cut carbon emissions based on this hopeful voluntaristic approach.

Nature, Morality and the USA

Three days ago Pope Benedict XVI met with US Bishops in their ad limina visit to the Holy See, and addressed the challenges he foresees  in the US front. One of the central themes was the attack on morality, and he said the following:

With her long tradition of respect for the right relationship between faith and reason, the Church has a critical role to play in countering cultural currents which, on the basis of an extreme individualism, seek to promote notions of freedom detached from moral truth. Our tradition does not speak from blind faith, but from a rational perspective which links our commitment to building an authentically just, humane and prosperous society to our ultimate assurance that the cosmos is possessed of an inner logic accessible to human reasoning. The Church’s defense of a moral reasoning based on the natural law is grounded on her conviction that this law is not a threat to our freedom, but rather a “language” which enables us to understand ourselves and the truth of our being, and so to shape a more just and humane world. She thus proposes her moral teaching as a message not of constraint but of liberation, and as the basis for building a secure future.

When talking about the environment Pope Benedict XVI often speaks of the relationship of nature’s ecology to a human ecology. Here he does, the reverse, and on talking about human issues, refers to the laws of nature and natural law. These themes are familiar and I will highlight a few key concepts:

1. Freedom: The Pope has long had reflections on freedom and its place vis-a-vis misunderstandings. In the American context this is especially pertinent, and in this same speech he said the most valuable American freedom is “the freedom of religion”.

2. Reasonability of the Catholic faith: In Germany this was one of the main points, explaining the ability of faith to dialogue with non-believers due to this element. Faith and reason are central to the Pope’s magisterium.

3. The language of creation: In several occasions the Pope reminds us time and again of the inner logic of Creation, and that God is Logos himself, creative reason.  See his famous Regensburg address.

Science and Faith Foundation

Pope Benedict XVI has launched a new foundation at the Vatican called ‘The Science and Faith Foundation’, which aims to build a philosophical bridge between faith and science. Some may be familiar with the book Creation and Evolution, with a conference by Pope Benedict XVI in which he speaks of the need for natural philosophy to engage questions of evolution and science. This is a theme close to the Pope heart. CNA has a great article summarized below and in full here:

The Science and Faith Foundation will be headquartered at the Holy See under the leadership of Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

The new foundation builds on the work of the STOQ project – Science, Theology and the Ontological Quest – which was created by Pope John Paul II in 2003. For the past 9 years it has promoted a dialogue between theology, philosophy and the sciences working in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for Culture and Rome’s pontifical universities.

Their stated aim is to explore “the possibility of being believers at the dawn of the Third Millennium without renouncing scientific progress.” Together they have initiated study programs and research projects as well as highlighting the fruit of their work through such vehicles as publications and conferences.

Pope Prays for the Environment

The Vatican has recently announced the Pope’s prayer intentions for 2013. As Catholic Culture explains here,

The practice of proposing specific monthly prayer intentions to the faithful arose in response to the formation of the Apostleship of Prayer during the nineteenth century. Members of the apostolate, founded in 1844, make a daily offering of themselves, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, for the intentions of the Holy Father.

In the March intention for 2013, the following prayer is found: That respect for nature may grow with the awareness that all creation is God’s work entrusted to human responsibility.

For a full list of the 2013 intentions see the Vatican News service page here. The new and popular Vatican News portal also has an article on the environment here, referring to the Pope’s environmental statements at his address to Diplomats and reminds us of the UN’s “International Year of Sustainable Energy for All”.


The Energy Challenge of 2012

The UN has declared 2012 as ‘International Year of Sustainable Energy for All’, which officially kicked off yesterday:

Senior United Nations (UN) officials on Monday called on governments, the private sector and civil society to help expand energy access, improve efficiency and increase the use of renewables. As the ‘International Year of Sustainable Energy for All’ kicked off on Monday, the UN noted that globally, one in five people still lack access to modern electricity, and more than twice that number – three billion people – rely on wood, coal, charcoal, or animal waste for cooking and heating. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the opening of the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, underlined that sustainable energy for all is within reach. “We are here to build a new energy future,” he said. “A future that harnesses the power of technology and innovation in the service of people and the planet.” There is a website for this initiative here, and an Op Ed by the UN Secretary General here.

How this will be achieved remains a challenge, but the issue of helping the environment by helping people seems to be the right direction for many. And sure to spark controversy on the environmental front, as you can see in the video below.

This video has been the source of some controversy in Canada, where the debate ensues about the oil sands exploitation. As has been mentioned before, a true environmental agenda needs to consider human needs realistically, of which energy is at the forefront of issues. This balancing act is mentioned by Patrick Moore in an interview here, a balance that according to Moore radical environmental groups don’t seem to want to accept. For his interview, click on the link below:

Reformed Environmentalist


Vatican’s Animal Blessings

CNA has a fun article on a special day at the Vatican where animals take center stage.

The ceremony takes place every year on the Feast of St. Anthony the Abbot and was led this year by Cardinal Angelo Comastri, the Archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“The tradition of blessing animals is linked to the fact that St. Anthony the Abbot was a saint that had a special relationship with nature, with creation and therefore also with animals,” said Cardinal Comastri at the Jan. 17 ceremony.

He explained that the tradition came about “spontaneously in the agricultural world,” although it is impossible to say when.

“It was born within the context of the Christian faith that always called the world not ‘nature’ but ‘creation,’ because it is the work of God, it is a gift from God. Creation is made by God, so we must respect it.”

Today’s event began with farmers going to Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica, followed by the blessing of their animals in a makeshift livestock showgrounds, just outside of St. Peter’s Square. Cows, horses, sheep, goats, geese and hens were all present, as well as more domesticated beasts, such as cats and dogs, brought along by their Roman pet owners.



Pope Benedict XVI on Education and Climate Change

Recently Pope Benedict XVI gave his annual address to the Holy See diplomats. The common thread of the speech focused on the youth, the importance of education, and the state of world affairs. The Pope highlighted the importance of the family, religious freedom, world peace, and at the end dedicated a section on the environment, below:

Finally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation. We cannot disregard the grave natural calamities which in 2011 affected various regions of South-East Asia, or ecological disasters like that of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development. For this reason, I hope that, pursuant to the XVII session of the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change recently concluded in Durban, the international community will prepare for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio + 20”) as an authentic “family of nations” and thus with a great sense of solidarity and responsibility towards present and future generations.

The Pope hit on some key issues which will be played out in the upcoming Rio + 20 sustainable development conference sponsored by the UN. The explicit themes of the conference and green economies and governance. I have talked to several experts recently who will be in Rio for the UN conference, and the focus truly seems to be shifting towards a focus on human dignity and poverty. The covert issue is of course climate change and recent failures in meeting popular expectations for action are leading to a greater focus on energy access and adaptation – the climate change expression of solidarity and preferential option for the poor. Seems like the Holy Father is on the right track.

Beyond the environmental focus, CNA has a good summary of the speech and some interesting remarks by diplomats who attended the address:

Continue reading

A Different Pope (Carl) on Energy

Carl Pope is a sort of “Pope” of the environmentalist movement, being chairman of the Sierra Club and on the board of several environmental groups. He has recently written an article on the environment and poverty, specifically on energy access. The full article is here. There are 2 interesting points for reflection. Lets start with the opening paragraph:

“After the Durban talks last month, climate realists must face the reality that “shared sacrifice,” however necessary eventually, has proven a catastrophically bad starting point for global collaboration. Nations have already spent decades debating who was going to give up how much first in exchange for what. So we need to seek opportunities — arenas where there are advantages, not penalties, for those who first take action — both to achieve first-round emission reductions and to build trust and cooperation.”

1. A certain change in tone in the environmental arena. The narrative is changing, and the hope of reaching a global agreement and grand consensus, especially since the failed Durban talks, is waning. The idea of a ‘shared sacrifice’ that has been a prevalent motto, and the mixture of moralism and asceticism alone, seem to become out of fashion. This change of narrative is an opportunity for new ideas and approaches. One of the directions can be to reformulate and identify the roots of environmental problems, something that would be welcome. Another is what seems to be happening, which is a unreflexive pragmatism, which is what Carl Pope suggests.

2.  Carl Pope proposes off the grid energy for the worlds poor. This certainly sounds like a good idea, and there is much room for putting them to practice. The problem is the facile picture he paints about how to get it done. At the end of the day, the implementation of solar panels in poor areas will face the same problems that water pumps, sanitation facilities, education projects and so many attempts to help the poor. The problem of development, I dare claim, is a bigger problem than the environmental one. I don’t want to be pessimistic, but the results in this field are quite poor so far. The great obstacles to development are mostly human, cultural and spiritual – and these need to be addressed for a successful implementation in most cases.

The Language of Creation

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, which also marks the end of the Christmas season. Much of this time is marked by a reflection on the magi who come from the East to adore the baby Jesus. This is what Pope Benedict had to say in an address here:

The wise men followed the star. Through the language of creation, they discovered the God of history. To be sure – the language of creation alone is not enough. Only God’s word, which we encounter in sacred Scripture, was able to mark out their path definitively. Creation and Scripture, reason and faith, must come together, so as to lead us forward to the living God. There has been much discussion over what kind of star it was that the wise men were following. Some suggest a planetary constellation, or a supernova, that is to say one of those stars that is initially quite weak, in which an inner explosion releases a brilliant light for a certain time, or a comet, etc. This debate we may leave to the experts. The great star, the true supernova that leads us on, is Christ himself. He is as it were the explosion of God’s love, which causes the great white light of his heart to shine upon the world. And we may add: the wise men from the East, who feature in today’s Gospel, like all the saints, have themselves gradually become constellations of God that mark out the path. In all these people, being touched by God’s word has, as it were, released an explosion of light, through which God’s radiance shines upon our world and shows us the path. The saints are stars of God, by whom we let ourselves be led to him for whom our whole being longs. 

There are 2 important points about creation that are worth fleshing out.

1. Through the language of creation it is possible to find God. In nature itself, its laws and telos, we can come to recognize God, to ask the question and find Him. But..

2. The language of creation is not enough. To encounter the living God, to come to the fulness of divinity, creation falls short. It is only with God’s own assistance, through his Revelation, that we can “definitively”, like the magi, to the knowledge of God.

Faulty Climate Change Reporting

Here is another scathing critique by Roger Pielke Jr. on misrepresentations of climate change in the media. This time the target is a NYT article by Justin Gillis, and now also an editorial.  I have been in Pielke’s class and run the numbers, and his point of the mis-attribution of economic damage for measuring disaster impact is flawed, and inflates the impact of disasters over time. Here is what Pielke explains:

The article repeats the tired statistic that the number of billion dollar disasters have increased in recent decades:

A typical year in this country features three or four weather disasters whose costs exceed $1 billion each. But this year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has tallied a dozen such events, including wildfires in the Southwest, floods in multiple regions of the country and a deadly spring tornado season. And the agency has not finished counting. The final costs are certain to exceed $50 billion.The article does not explain that $1 billion in 2011 is about the same as $400 million in 1980 (XLS). Nor does it explain that a $50 billion total in losses for 2011 is about exactly the same as the total in 1980, after adjusting for inflation — however, as a proportion of the overall economy those 1980 losses were 250% larger than those experienced in 2011. That is, the equivalent 1980 losses in 2011 would be $125 billion (XLS). The article completely ignores relevant peer-reviewed research on the subject (see here also).