Monday, 28 April 2008

Global warming and the Cardinal

Coo-ees from the Cloister's new correspondent wonders about Cardinal Pell's most recent attacks on the concept of global warming in the face of a fairly strong scientific consensus:

I have to admit, whatever the rights and wrongs of the debate, I do rather question the strategy of trying to argue that it is all a beat up. It is certainly true that the extremists in the global warming debate treat the subject more like a religion than a matter of science and economics. But that doesn't make the whole argument invalid.

The Cardinal is of course entitled to be personally sceptical. Not every scientist has signed up to the cause (though there does seem to be a pretty strong consensus view), and as private citizens we are free to agree or not.

The problem comes when the appearance is given of the Church taking a position on an issue that ought to be judged on the basis of science, not theology. As Coo-ees hints, one might have hoped that we had learnt something from the Galileo case.

The problem in arguing against global warming altogether seems to me that it plays into the hands of those who see religion as equating to an anti-science irrationality.

The Creative Minority Report blog recently drew attention to a UK study which found an increasing number of people viewing religion as social evil, fostering intolerance and conflict, irrationality, and eroding the virtues (!) of secularism:

Countering this attitude, it seems to me, requires some new strategic thinking (as well as lots of prayer!). But on the face of it, the Cardinal's comments would seem to play into this perception rather than help counteract them.

There is another point at issue here too. Risk management theory dictates that if the costs of not doing something are high enough, one should act even if there is a good chance that the risk concerned may subsequently prove to be unfounded.

On the face of it, the prudential case for acting is there, but politicians have been slow to do anything. And that is what generates environmental fundamentalism.

The real issue from the catholic perspective seems to me to make sure that the action that is taken is sensible - and doesn't run counter to other imperatives such as fostering the family.

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