One sign that Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change may be creating a small storm of controversy within the Vatican is that high level officials are now explaining why it is needed.

This week, the pope’s deputy released a statement about the upcoming publication:

A new development model is needed to combat global warming, one that marries economic growth to combat poverty with a sustainable use of resources, Pope Francis’ deputy said Wednesday.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican secretary of state, said both political and economic commitment will be required to ensure the Earth’s health for future generations.

Parolin’s remarks came in a message Wednesday to a conference of business and church leaders on how sustainable actions can drive the economic growth needed to lift people out of poverty. It’s a theme that Francis is expected to explore in his environment encyclical, which is due in the coming weeks.

“When the future of the planet is at stake, there are no political frontiers, barriers or walls behind which we can hide to protect ourselves from the effects of environmental and social degradation,” Parolin’s message said. “There is no room for the globalization of indifference, the economy of exclusion or the throwaway culture so often denounced by Pope Francis.”

Parolin’s intervention was a clear indication that Francis endorses economic development proposals which help the poor but use new, clean-energy, low carbon and efficient technologies.

If Vatican officials dig a bit deeper into the realities of policies that marry economic growth to green technologies, they will realize it is not exactly a match made in heaven.

…Africa is the renewable utopia, getting 50 per cent of its energy from renewables — though nobody wants to emulate it. In 1971, China derived 40 per cent of its energy from renewables. Since then, it has powered its incredible growth almost exclusively on heavily polluting coal, lifting a historic 680 million people out of poverty. Today, China gets a trifling 0.23 per cent of its energy from unreliable wind and solar.

Yet most Westerners still want to focus on putting up more inefficient solar panels in the developing world. But this infatuation inflicts a real cost. A recent analysis from the Centre for Global Development shows that $10 billion invested in such renewables would help lift 20 million people in Africa out of poverty. It sounds impressive, until you learn that if this sum was spent on gas electrification it would lift 90 million people out of poverty. So in choosing to spend that $10 billion on renewables, we deliberately end up choosing to leave more than 70 million people in darkness and poverty.

Furthermore, there are a plethora of taxpayer-backed green energy companies that have failed, leaving a combination of the politically-connected who have gotten substantially richer and unemployed workers struggling to find new work.

I have had the privilege of corresponding with a team of brilliant scientists who are devoted to informing the public about the realities behind climate models. Roger Cohen, RWC Fellow American Physical Society, had this assessment of the deputy’s statement:

“They have it backwards of course. The fact is that access to cheap energy drives economic growth and leads to better health and material well being. The Church would rob the remaining billion poor in the world, who do not even have electricity, the opportunity to progress as we all have. This is a truly disastrous posture for the Church to take.”

Interestingly, Pope Francis is not the first one to address the ecology. Pope John Paul II in 1990, warned in a speech about the ozone layer and the greenhouse effect because of”industrial growth, massive urban concentrations and vastly increased energy needs.”

Twenty-five years later, NASA decrees that the ozone layer is cured!

I suspect it’s less of a miracle than it is that the dire warnings about the ozone hole were also fallacious. I hope that the Pope annuls this proposed marriage between politicized science and his goals for helping the poor.


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