Against the Alarmists

Cardinal Pell’s early opposition to climate change propaganda looks
prescient. But Church officials in Australia continue to spread it.

Cardinal George Pell, the archbishop of Sydney, believes the tide is turning in Australia—and possibly worldwide—toward more questioning of the claim that human carbon dioxide emissions are the main driver of global warming. Readers of this magazine may recall an interview I did with Cardinal Pell two years ago (“Global Warming and Pagan Emptiness,” January 2008). In it he made clear his strong reservations about the claims of man-made global warming, remarking that the current worldwide hysteria had the hallmarks of a pseudo-religion.

Significantly, this environmental religion has been most prevalent in Western nations where the belief and practice of Christianity have been in greatest decline.

Cardinal Pell has been one of a handful of reasoned questioners among Australia’s leading public figures. Even worldwide, one is hard-pressed to identify any other senior Catholic prelate so ready to express his skeptical views.

Moreover, as the cardinal well understands, despite the wish of some within the Church to bind Catholic consciences on the need for drastic climate change action, the Magisterium has no authority to direct the faithful on the specifics of such issues, let alone one so scientifically contentious. At no stage has Pope Benedict XVI taken a public position for or against the proposition that man’s increasing CO2 emissions are causing dangerous heating of planet earth. Rather, he has confined himself to statements of general principle on environmental protection and social justice.

On December 6, just prior to the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen, Benedict called on “all people of good will to respect the laws laid down by God in nature and to rediscover the moral dimension of human life.” He added that “the integrity of creation requires the adoption of sober, responsible lifestyles, especially towards the poor and future generations.”

Previously, he has advised a reasoned approach to scientific findings on climate change and caution about any ideology that accords a higher status to the natural environment than to humanity. Benedict makes it clear that the divine plan for creation places nature at the responsible service of mankind.

He might have had in mind the various “green” movements that worship nature above humanity and so view humans as a plague on planet Earth and “over population” as the root cause of climate change. Their solution is drastic population control by whatever means.

Caritas International, the umbrella organization for more than 150 Catholic charities worldwide (including ones in Australia), remains wedded to the alarmist agenda and in anticipation of the Copenhagen conference released a report on the alleged dire effects of manmade climate change on the planet and the urgent measures required to ward off the looming catastrophe. The Caritas report claims that weather-related disasters— floods, hurricanes, droughts— have jumped by 900 percent over the past decade, with extreme weather displacing people from their homes, drastically hurting food production, and causing widespread starvation.

Caritas called on the developed world to commit at least $195 billion to help developing countries cope with global warming. Its confident assertions ignore the numerous major errors identified in Al Gore’s influential advocacy and the recent “Climategate” exposures of thousands of emails that reveal fraud and dishonesty among self-interested scientists. It has also recently been revealed that Australia’s pre-eminent scientific organization, CSIRO, is obliged by its charter to comply with Australian Federal Government positions on controversial issues, and so has to toe the line on climate change regardless of scientific doubt.

Indeed, much of the global support for the alarmist view can be traced to the financial links between science and related agencies with green-oriented governments at all levels, including the UN, where the environmental lobby is firmly entrenched and dominates policy, using funding to control NGO and agency recipients’ positions on critical issues. Yet recent peer-reviewed scientific findings continue to cast serious doubts on the man-made global warming claims of the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), which is regarded by alarmists as their infallible magisterium.

One of the most recent fi ndings comes from Paul Pearson and an international team based at Cardiff University. Their report was published in the prestigious scientific journal Nature. This and another report published in Energy and Environment suggest that the IPCC model for climate sensitivity is not supported by experimental observations of the real world via ancient ice ages and recent satellite data. The credibility of the IPCC has been further weakened by the recent revelation that its guidelines require all reports to comply with member states’ political agendas and that scientifi c data has to be consistent with IPCC’s highly politicized “Summary for Policymakers.”

Meanwhile, to judge from opinion poll figures and recent events, more Australians (as well as Americans), are having second thoughts regarding the alarmist propaganda about climate change (and the huge cost of “solutions” to it) that has been relentlessly disseminated through the mass media. The election in November 2009 of Tony Abbott as new leader of the Australian Federal Opposition Liberal Party appeared to signal a shift in grass-roots thinking. The leadership change occurred because the Liberal Party was polarized over the climate change issue: whether to support or reject the Labor government’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) legislation when it came to a vote in the Senate (where the government lacked the numbers). In the subsequent leadership “spill,” the skeptics just had the numbers to elect 52-year-old Mr. Abbott .


Damian Thompson of the London Telegraph commented: “Climategate has gained its first political scalp in the surprise election of Tony Abbott to replace the ferociously ambitious [global warming alarmist] Malcolm Turnbull as leader of Australia’s Liberal (i.e., conservative) Party. Australian Lefties (who these days are as pant-wett ingly PC as the American variety) are shrieking with indignation. The man’s a global warming skeptic! A Right-wing Catholic! A vigorous anti-abortion campaigner! A friend of Cardinal George Pell, who is also a climate change skeptic! … He’s certainly going to need his faith now, to withstand the assaults of the secular media, his country’s poisonous anti- Catholic Protestants, the climate change lobby and the demented liberal wing of Australian Catholicism.”

Abbott has recently described claims of a scientific consensus on man-made global warming as “crap,” although since assuming the party leadership he has toned down his language so as to unify his party. He has also shifted his focus to the economic burden (“a tax on everything”) on lower-income groups of specific anti-climate change measures. Shortly after Abbott’s election, on the eve of the Copenhagen conference, the ETS legislation was defeated in the Senate, meaning that the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had to jet off to Copenhagen empty-handed.

Subsequent by-elections for two vacant Federal seats have seen swings in favor of the Abbott-led Liberal Party and its anti-ETS stance. Nevertheless, with the exception of Cardinal Pell, most Australian church leaders remain silent or wedded to an alarmist line. In 2007, representatives of a broad range of Christian and non-Christian religions signed a media release calling for stronger and speedier government action on climate change, including a commitment to deepen cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and to new electricity generation from “renewable” sources.

Interviewed at the time about this on ABC radio, Cardinal Pell commented: “There’s a whole history of differing estimates. Thirty or 40 years ago, actually, some of the same scientists were warning us about the dangers of an ice age, so I take all these things with a grain of salt. They are matters for science and, as a layman, I study the scientific evidence rather than the press releases.” He added, “I think we need to go prudently and slowly, and not be driven by gusts of enthusiasm or particular political moves.” The whole issue, he continued, was “much less important than the faith of the 5 or 10 or 15 percent of the poorest Australians; it’s much less important than the problem of marriage breakdown; it’s much less important than the problem of abortion.”

In May 2009, Cardinal Pell attended the launch of an important new book by Professor Ian Plimer of Adelaide University, Heaven and Earth: Global Warming—The Missing Science. Pell had a one-to-one discussion with Plimer after the launch and later wrote about it in his weekly column in Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph:

Plimer demonstrates that a considerable amount of scientific evidence has been produced to counter the still predominant view that human activity, especially through industry, has polluted the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, which will produce disastrous climate changes including a rise in temperature, a melting of the ice caps and rising sea levels.

Contrary evidence is already changing the debate. Australia, with its tiny economy, is no longer aiming to lead the world. The threat of massive job losses and increasing awareness of new evidence will provoke even greater caution in the future….

We should also look back at history for more accurate information and ignore computer models of the long-term future. Climate models making claims for decades into the future cannot work, because we do not know enough about many factors which influence weather, such as the level of activity of the sun, the earth’s orbit and wobbles, the level of cloud cover, volcanoes….

In Roman times and in the Medieval Warming (900-1300 AD) temperatures were higher than today by five and six degrees Celsius. No industries then! In different Ice Ages the earth’s atmosphere contained five and 10 times today’s amount of carbon dioxide.

Evidence shows the wheels are falling from the climate catastrophe bandwagon.

During a visit to Ireland later in 2009, Cardinal Pell was interviewed by a journalist from The Irish Catholic, Michael Kelly. Kelly reported: “The cardinal is also fearless in dissenting from popular opinions or the modern accepted orthodoxies. On climate change, for example, he professes himself to be an agnostic. ‘At this moment I’m still a skeptic, I don’t espouse one position or another, I’m an agnostic, but I’m seriously tempted to stiffen up my position and become a climate change denier.’”


Within the Catholic Church in Australia, however, there are influential figures appalled at such an open-minded view, convinced that urgent action to combat climate change is a duty for Christians, in effect an issue touching on faith and morals. The Church’s alarmists rationalize their positions by very selective reference to the Magisterium of the Church, including the Compendium of the Social Teaching of the Catholic Church (2004) and assorted papal statements.

In fact, a more thorough reading of the relevant documents reveals that the positions adopted by these various individuals and agencies claiming Church authority are in reality contrary to those teachings’ unequivocal stance on the non-divinization of nature, which must be subordinate to humanity, and their encouragement of science to use nature to provide basic needs for a rising global population.

Among the most outspoken of the alarmists is Father Charles Rue, Australian Catholicism’s answer to Al Gore (whom Rue admires). Father Rue is a Sydney-based priest of the Columban Missionary Society and coordinator of Columban JPIC (Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation). He has travelled to overseas climate conferences and propagated his climate gospel at church venues around Australia.

On September 24, 2009, Father Rue was the featured speaker for the Melbourne archdiocese’s annual Rerum Novarum Lecture. His small book, titled (with echoes of the Age of Aquarius) Let the Son Shine: An Australian Catholic Response to Climate Change, had just been launched at Australian Catholic University. In his lecture Father Rue declared, “I believe our faith reflection on the problem of climate change must be systematic and lead to systemic faith-based action to face the problem. I see it as a mission call.”

He made clear that not only was the IPCC totally reliable in its predictions and prescriptions, but that he himself was a convinced alarmist: “The physical impacts of climate change on Australia and its territories will range from severe to horrific—less water, higher temperatures, rising and acidic oceans, damaged infrastructure, loss of biodiversity, less food production and new human health issues.”

He warned that “climate change deniers” had to be confronted. These people, he said, “ignore the totality of scientific data,” distorting it “to say climate change is natural and humans have no responsibility.” He believed this was the work of a “carbon mafia,” scientists in the pay of oil and coal polluters.

Happily, he said, such dangerous influences were being combated through initiatives within the Church. In 2002, for example, the bishops had set up Catholic Earthcare Australia (CEA), “which has produced education materials,” and in 2005 “ran a professional three-day Conference on Climate Change in Canberra.”

CEA, he added, more recently had “started pilot projects on energy audits in Catholic institutions and schools” with “some laity and religious” active in schools and “eco-spirituality” centers.

But materials from some of these eco-spirituality centers—largely run by members of religious orders—contain overtones of heretical pantheism, drawing heavily on the likes of Matthew Fox and Thomas Berry. For example, the Edmund Rice Center has embraced the Earth Charter, which endorses abortion, euthanasia, and population control in general, saying in a statement: “The Earth Charter is a declaration of fundamental principles for a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society in the 21st century. The Edmund Rice Center has joined thousands of organizations throughout the world in adopting and implementing the Earth Charter and your school can do the same.”

During his talk, Father Rue disparaged Cardinal Pell as scientifically ignorant and accused him of trying to turn the clock back 50 years in the Church. Finally, as if to underline the issue’s religious character, Father Rue concluded his talk with a “prayer” taken from his new book. Titled, “Prayer in a Time of Climate Change,” it called on God to “free us from ignorance about your gift of Earth” and to “welcome the truth when scientists speak of climate change, and reject false pathways designed to confuse.”

More recently, in an article in the Jesuit journal Eureka Street (November 30, 2009) addressing the subject “The perverse skills of climate change deniers,” Father Rue denounced skeptical scientists like Ian Plimer and others as being in the pay of the oil and coal industries. “It is crucial,” he said, “to recognize that climate change skeptics have placed themselves outside the normal scientific community. They pile up so-called ‘evidence’ with which to browbeat people…. They deride models of climate change as inaccurate because the models cannot predict shortterm weather patterns, or are refined as more data is gathered.”

More dangerous still in his mind were high-profile deniers within the Church: “That Cardinal George Pell allows himself to be aligned with climate change deniers is very sad. The credibility of church mission to serve humanity is compromised. What is more, many of the faithful are scandalized and their following of church leaders sorely tested.”

Apart from Father Rue, among the most convinced alarmists within the Church in Australia, as in the United States, are members of religious orders who have become deeply engaged in environmental activism and dubious eco-theologies. In a letter to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd dated October 14, 2009, Sister Clare Condon, SGS, president of Catholic Religious Australia, claimed to be speaking on behalf of “some 8,000 members of Catholic religious orders in Australia.”

She called on Rudd’s government to “respond far more vigorously to the urgency of climate change and to the needs of people in developing countries, who are suffering the earliest impacts of climate change and who are set to suffer most from a problem which they did not create.”

“We, in the developed world, have disproportionately used the earth’s atmospheric space. As Australians specifically are among those with the highest per capita carbon emissions, we owe it to the poor of the world to radically reduce our emissions and to assist them to adapt to a new approach. This is a matter of justice,” she continued. “If we are to protect the earth’s capacity to provide for the vulnerable majority and for future generations, nations like ours must act promptly and in accordance with the science. Without such action by developed countries, the talks at Copenhagen could easily stall and not lead to an equitable global agreement.”

On the contrary, the high-cost, low-energy solutions proposed for the world, if the alarmists have their way, will impact most severely on the very developing countries that so concern Sister Clare, especially as applied to their agriculture sectors which rely on cheap energy to fight poverty. Moreover, the organic farming regimes imposed on Third World agriculture by the likes of Caritas Australia and Caritas International will reduce food production and aggravate problems of hunger.

While Cardinal Pell sees a turning of the tide on the issue, he remains almost a lone voice of reasoned skepticism in the Church in Australia. Few other Australian Catholic bishops appear to share the cardinal’s doubts while the various agencies that effectively run the Church continue to spread alarmist dogma around Catholic schools and parishes.


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About Michael Gilchrist 5 Articles
Michael Gilchrist is editor of the Australian religious monthly, AD2000, and author of several books on Australian Catholicism.