May 30, 2008


The Church and global warming

“Care for the earth is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.”

—United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, pg. 426.

The Bush administration has officially listed polar bears as a threatened species because they might be endangered in the foreseeable future because of possible global warming.

“Global warming” has become a controversial topic. Is there really global warming and, if so, is it caused by us humans? This, obviously, is a scientific rather than a religious question, but both sides of the controversy have appealed to religious principles.

Former Vice President Al Gore received the Nobel Peace Price for his efforts in calling our attention to what he calls the “inconvenient truth” of global warming. We have all seen pictures of large sections of glaciers breaking off and huge areas of the Arctic now in water instead of ice.

However, there is also a large body of scientists who insist that the warming of the Arctic is a natural phenomenon that we shouldn’t get too excited about. It doesn’t mean that the whole globe is warming. A large part of Antarctica has been cooling recently and the Kangerlussuaq glacier in Greenland is growing in size.

In Canada, 60 scientists wrote to their prime minister back in 2006, “Global climate changes all the time due to natural causes, and the human impact still remains impossible to distinguish from this natural ‘noise.’ ”

More recently, this past March about 500 scientists, economists and public-policy experts met in New York for the Heartland Institute’s 2008 International Conference on Climate Change. They dissented from the alarmists.

Some who pooh-pooh the idea of global warming point out that, 35 years ago, many scientists were warning us that we were on the verge of a global cooling that could result in another ice age.

Cardinal George Pell, the archbishop of Sydney, Australia, wrote last year, “In the 1970s, some scientists were predicting a new ice age because of global cooling. Today other scientists are predicting an apocalypse because of global warming. It is no disrespect to science or scientists to take these latest claims with a grain of salt.”

So how does this controversy concern the Catholic Church?

As the quotation at the beginning of this editorial indicates, the Church teaches that we must all be good stewards of God’s creation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church treats respect for the integrity of creation under the Seventh Commandment: You shall not steal.

It says, “Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation” (# 2415).

As we said last November, Pope Benedict XVI has spoken frequently about the need to protect the earth and its resources. But he hasn’t come down on either side of the climate-change debate. Here is what he said in his 2008 World Day of Peace message:

“We need to care for the environment: It has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion. … Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow.”

But he also said, “It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances.” (Emphasis added.)

The pope has also stressed that we must be careful not to value animals and nature more than humanity.

The pope has been trying to emphasize the Church’s principles of stewardship of the earth without supporting a particular ecological ideology.

Whether or not global warming is a fact is a scientific question, but how we care for our environment is a moral imperative.

—John F. Fink

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