Climate change and of leaving science to the scientists

was my Trade Tripper column in the 12-13 June issue of BusinessWorld:

Last week saw social media filled with references to Pope Francis and his “master’s degree in chemistry.” The reason was Rick Santorum’s widely publicized interview in the The Dom Giordano Show where he urged the Catholic Church (and consequently Pope Francis) to “leave science to the scientists.” This resulted in the automatic smug assertions that Santorum is “stupid” for not knowing that Pope Francis is a scientist.

The only thing is: Rick Santorum was right. And you can bet Pope Francis agrees.

The trouble with discussions on climate change, particularly in today’s politically charged environment, is that nothing is what it seems. Nobody sane would want the environment destroyed. The problem, however, with the climate change debate is that it got exclusively framed on extremist beliefs, mostly of the so-called progressive Left, that the only way to do right by the environment is to hurt businesses. Some even want to completely shut down the commercial system as we know it.

Kevin O’Marah, writing for Forbes, puts it this way: “Some left-leaning liberals would just as soon outlaw fossil fuels, even at the risk of shutting down the whole system.” But “the likes of JosĂ© Lopez, global EVP of Operations of NestlĂ©, Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, and Bonnie Nixon-Gardiner, formerly of Hewlett-Packard, reinforce my belief that most environmental regulation is just fine, especially for businesses that intend to be around for the long run. They level the playing field, reduce uncertainty in the supply chain, and focus attention on innovation, rather than cost cutting.”

Which makes sense. Because in order to implement environment-friendly measures, one needs money. Which either means that corporations have the funds to apply such environmental measures themselves or have enough income for the government to be able to collect taxes, which in turn the government can use to enforce environmental laws. But this can’t happen if progressives insist in demonizing business. It also makes quite ironic the Left’s hatred for the world’s best income-generating system: open economies.

Hence why Steve Moore, also writing for Forbes, was spot on: “What is the theological case for telling those in the poorest villages of the planet where people still live at subsistence levels, that they have a moral obligation to save the planet by staying poor and using less fossil fuels, less energy and electricity? Cheap and affordable electric power is the most basic antidote to fighting extreme poverty, disease, malnutrition, and human deprivation -- and should by celebrated by all humanitarians.”

“What the Pope should tell the world’s Catholics is this: if climate change is a threat, the best antidote is not to empower heavy-handed and incompetent command and control governments to try to combat it, but rather allow free people to employ their wealth, technology, ingenuity and creativity -- to find ways to head off catastrophe. If, God forbid, the United Nations or Greenpeace is to be our salvation, then we are doomed.”

Unfortunately, a huge amount of confusion is laid out by the media as to Pope Francis’ actual authority. But as George Weigel puts it, “Popes... are not authoritarian figures, who teach what they will and as they will. The Pope is the guardian of an authoritative tradition, of which he is the servant, not the master.”

As for “the environment and the poor, Catholic social doctrine has long taught that we are stewards of creation and that the least of the Lord’s brethren have a moral claim on our solidarity and our charity; the social doctrine leaves open to debate the specific, practical means by which people of good will, and governments, exercise that stewardship, and that solidarity and charity.”

In short, the Church’s mandate is with moral issues and moves with absolute sure footing when dealing in matters where the natural law and Scripture are clear: abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception. But to give specific empirical measures or remedies relating to the environment, inequality, poverty, immigration? That is better left to people with the established expertise for it.

In fact, it was quite laughable that almost at the same period when progressives were building up the Pope’s scientific credentials to speak on the environment, there came a thunderous silence when he then spoke on gender identity issues, declaring that “gender theory is an error of the human mind that leads to so much confusion.”

Those seeking to spin for narrow ideological gains Pope Francis’ upcoming statements on the environment are thus forced to confront his declarations on traditional marriage and the family. Which, of course, they can’t accept, and thus the blindingly obvious inconsistency.

Besides, Pope Francis does not have a master’s degree in chemistry. As his own official biography points out, he was “a chemical technician.” But what he does have are degrees in philosophy and theology.