How to Argue About Climate Change with Your Panicked Liberal Friends
A sober dialogue on the theory that earthlings are now hamsters inside a microwave.
Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and climate change will be issued on June 18 (and a draft of it was leaked this morning). Such documents draw us back to principles of the moral law that are too often lost in our polarized politics. The encyclical is bound to start some arguments. So let’s have one — pitting a skeptic of human-induced climate catastrophe (Ignatius) against a global warming activist (Ethan). Imagine that each participant considers himself a good Catholic.
ETHAN: So now that the pope himself has weighed in on the reality of man-made climate change, are you finally willing to drop those talking points you borrowed from the coal-mining lobby and admit scientific reality?
IGNATIUS: I’m not a scientist. Neither are you. Nor is Pope Francis. He knows he has no authority to settle a question of speculative science, any more than the pope of his day had divine guidance in condemning Galileo. That pope was relying on the verdict of scientific experts whom he trusted. He did the best that he could, as I’m sure Pope Francis is doing.
Christ never promised that his church would always get science right — which is just as well, since it has plenty enough on its plate defending basic human institutions and realities — such as marriage, the existence of two (count ‘em, just TWO) sexes, and the humanity of unborn children. Those are issues on which the culture is in deep scientific denial.
ETHAN: So what would it take to convince you, then? The overwhelming consensus of climate scientists is that global warming is real, and that human production of greenhouse gases is causing it.
IGNATIUS: It’s not a real consensus, and even if it were, so what? In the 1930s, all respectable economists agreed that capitalism was dead, and that the future lay with “planned economies” and technocratic leadership, of the kind thought to be working miracles in fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.
Back in the 1960s and ’70s, a similar consensus agreed that the earth faced a desperate crisis of overpopulation, which would drive us to mass famines, wars over water and copper, and a return to the Iron Age. To stop it, we would need to give massive powers to governments, even global agencies, to control people’s child-bearing choices.
None of those prophecies came true, but governments did gain a lot of power, and in places like India and Brazil, the U.N. and American “charities” like Planned Parenthood helped to sterilize millions of people by force. In China, the Communist government, again with such agencies’ help, imposed the “one-child” policy, forcing millions of women to abort their children, and provoking the “gendercide” of millions of baby girls.
Now we learn that population is crashing around the world, and not enough workers will be paying taxes to support tomorrow’s elderly. So the generation that accepted population control and abortion will pay for it in their dotage. They will not be cared for by grandchildren but euthanized by robots.
Today we’re told by the same cast of characters who touted the “population bomb” that the same long list of catastrophes they predicted last time really will happen after all unless we give them lots of power, only these things will happen for a completely different reason: global warming. If the climate stabilized tomorrow, it wouldn’t be long before the international crisis lobby would be predicting the very same catastrophes, for still another reason. Maybe an impending attack by Smaug the dragon.
Their call to action is always the same: To shift massive power from citizens to governments, and from democratically elected governments to unaccountable international agencies, run by the same kind of people who mismanage FIFA and the EU. That seems to be the scientific constant: Whatever is going on, it’s terrible and will kill us all quite soon, unless we hand over power to the nice men in the white coats and those troops in the blue helmets. Then we’ll be safe.
Imagine a doctor who, whatever your symptoms, always came back with a different, close-to-terminal diagnosis, and offered the same prescription. It’s $800 a pill, and he is the only supplier. You might start to get suspicious.
ETHAN: But glaciers are melting. There’s concrete evidence that global climate change is real.
IGNATIUS: There was concrete evidence supporting the population panic, too. It was real, but it was grossly misinterpreted and extrapolated by people with deep-engrained ideological agendas. Those who noted this, including several popes, and challenged the “scientific consensus” of massive overpopulation, were dismissed as biased hacks or religious cranks. The irony is that the religious cranks are on the other side.
ETHAN: Oh really? George Soros is a religious crank?
IGNATIUS: To be fair, a quasi-religious crank. The elites use their media influence to create a quasi-religious movement among affluent secularists that lets people find redemption by joining the new, sacred cause. Last time it was “socialism,” and “zero population growth.” Now it’s “sustainability.” These zealots find politicians willing to sponsor their causes — and companies ready to make billions of dollars in subsidies and crony capitalist contracts to help to keep catastrophe at bay.
ETHAN: So you’re certain that man-made climate change is just a myth, a political fraud intended to empower global elites at the expense of citizens’ wealth and freedom?
IGNATIUS: It’s not a conscious fraud, but then neither was socialism. Millions of people were willing to kill, torture, and die to create that earthly utopia. They weren’t faking it. But the movement they supported was based on selective evidence and shaky theories, and it also promised them enormous power over their fellow man. So they were … strongly motivated to read the facts as pointing in just one direction.
They should have been more skeptical, but that would have gotten them cast out of the movement, denounced by their former friends, and relegated to the “fever swamps” with all the “cranks” who just happened, as things turned out, to be right.
Now there is a legitimate, complicated debate on the effect of carbon dioxide on climate. That’s for scientists to settle. But nothing they’ve proven so far justifies the worldwide climate catastrophe movement. That requires a religious explanation.
ETHAN: Are you willing to risk that you might be wrong? We only know of a single habitable planet, and thousands of highly trained scientists are warning us that we’re ruining it. Wouldn’t a conservative err on the side of caution?
IGNATIUS: All things being equal, he would. It is possible that fossil fuels are adding to climate change, and that this will have destructive effects on nature and living systems. We should study this possibility, and explore incentives for developing alternative sources of energy. But “erring on the side of caution” — exercising prudence, in other words — means taking account of all the grave risks involved, and looking for the least destructive means of exploring energy alternatives, wouldn’t you agree?
ETHAN: Yes! I’m all about caution. In my own way, I am a conservative.
IGNATIUS: No, you aren’t. But let’s not dispute that. I’m glad you’re with me that we shouldn’t take wild gambles. Well, think of the gambles demanded by those who call for us to eliminate fossil fuels. The Cornwall Alliance, in its open letter to Pope Francis, issued this warning:
Wind and solar energy, because of their higher costs and lower efficiency, account for only a few percent of total global energy use. Fossil fuels, because of their lower costs and higher efficiency, account for over 85%. Substituting low-density, intermittent energy sources like wind and solar for high-density, constant energy sources like fossil fuels would be catastrophic to the world’s poor. It would simultaneously raise the cost and reduce the reliability and availability of energy, especially electricity. This, in turn, would raise the cost of all other goods and services, since all require energy to produce and transport. It would slow the rise of the poor out of poverty. It would threaten to return millions of others to poverty. And it would make electricity grids unstable, leading to more frequent and widespread, costly and often fatal, brownouts and blackouts — events mercifully rare in wealthy countries but all too familiar to billions of people living in countries without comprehensive, stable electric grids supplied by stable fossil or nuclear fuels. … The world’s poor will suffer most from such policies.
ETHAN: Well, I’m not such a pessimist as to think we can’t save the planet and the poor. We just have to decide it’s worth it. As the pope says, we need to make sure the transition to clean, sustainable energy doesn’t harm the poor.
IGNATIUS: That’s a lot easier said than done. In any massive global transition, it is always the poor who suffer the most. The poor we will have always with us, and they will always bear the brunt, while the rich insulate themselves. Drive energy prices higher with burdensome taxes and constraints on fossil fuels, and you drive up the price of food and other essentials. There’s no magic wand to prevent that. Those higher prices hit the poor the hardest, since their biggest ticket item is food, and they have little or no margin.
Will a single Hollywood star, college president, climate scientist or UN bureaucrat suffer one night without heat or air conditioning as a result of the fight against climate change?
ETHAN: No …
IGNATIUS: Much worse will happen to millions of people with names like Pedro, Lucia, Sandip, Maryam and Chang. They will see their country’s economies stop growing, and that won’t cut 25 percent from the value of their 401k accounts. It will mean that they can’t go to college, or expand their farms, or maybe even get married and have a family. You might well see some famines — which the elites will blame, of course, on climate change, not their policies.
The international agencies that promise to protect the global poor are the same groups that led the population panic and gleefully took part in forced sterilizations and even forced abortions. Some of the people leading the charge, like Ban Ki Moon and Jeffrey Sachs, are still peddling population control to this day. Perhaps the most extreme of the climate panic activists is Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the sole layman chosen by the Vatican to help present the climate encyclical. Schellnhuber believes that the earth can only support fewer than one billion people, and wants to erect a global government to ensure that the other six billion … make their exit, one way or the other. Why should we trust people with such manifestly evil ideas?
ETHAN: So you think that the United Nations can’t be relied on to implement any agreements to counter climate change?
IGNATIUS: In fact, it’s one of the last institutions that I would trust, somewhere behind the Muslim Brotherhood and the Church of Scientology.
ETHAN: So, we do nothing?
IGNATIUS: There are steps we could take, actually far more effective ones than what is being pushed hardest by the climate change scaremongers. If it really is true — and the science is far from settled — that our use of cheap, efficient, available fossil fuels is causing climate problems, then we need to find ways to counter it, to gently shift billions of people’s perceived self-interest in better directions. We might have to consider a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which raises the cost of fossil fuels in developed countries, without growing their governments. It would be extremely effective at reducing fossil fuel use, but because this idea need not involve empowering bureaucracies or shoveling billions into well-connected corporations, it’s of little interest to those leading the climate hysteria charge.
We should do more research on how to “capture” carbon, and investigate the promise of geo-engineering. It might turn out that abandoning fossil fuels is just too expensive, too damaging to our economies, to ever be worth the effort. In that case, we’d need to find ways to compensate, to cool the planet down.
ETHAN: By which you mean?
IGNATIUS: We could disperse particulate matter in the upper atmosphere, to diminish sunlight and cool the planet.
ETHAN: Isn’t that risky?
IGNATIUS: Yes, and we’d only consider it if we were really faced with an emergency and nothing else seemed to work. But it’s less risky than disrupting the energy supplies of every human being on earth, and handing the micromanagement of our economy to power-hungry global elites, who have shown their blithe willingness to kill millions of children through abortion. That’s the most dangerous idea I’ve ever heard. Except maybe for this one: More volcanoes.
ETHAN: More. Volcanoes.
IGNATIUS: Nothing does a better job of cooling off the planet than plumes of ash coursing through the stratosphere. And here we come back to the Vatican. According to The Bad Catholic’s Guide to Good Living, St. Gennaro is the patron saint of Naples. Which is near Vesuvius. Gennaro was a bishop who died a martyr under the emperor Diocletian. (The Roman Empire — now there’s big government for you.) He left behind two vials of his blood, which Catholics treasure as a relic. As the book explains:
Every year, on the major feast days of the saint, these vials of blood change from a dry, red powder into a bubbling, boiling liquid. This usually happens during the procession of Gennaro’s relics through the public square—and when it does, it sets off a wave of happiness and relief. Because when the blood does not liquefy, it invariably signals disaster. The last time St. Gennaro didn’t come through, in 1941, Vesuvius erupted in the middle of World War II. Mindful of this theological terror alert, Neapolitans watch the blood as carefully as fishermen checking the Weather Channel. One year, when the blood stayed dry and the crater began to erupt, the king of Naples led twenty thousand of his subjects on a pilgrimage up the volcano — holding aloft the skull of St. Gennaro to calm the lava flow. It worked.
If Gennaro can stop a volcano, I’m sure he can also start one. Pope Francis just needs to ask him.
ETHAN: And the people of Naples?
IGNATIUS: We’d help them all to relocate in New York City. You can never have too many Italians.