Critical Christian response to Papal Encyclical 2015: A world where cats don't chase mice


Staff member
THE PAPAL ENCYCLICAL: A critical Christian response
Peter Forster and Bernard Donoughue


Lord Donoughue: Bernard Donoughue (Labour), Senior Policy Adviser to the Prime Minister (first Harold Wilson, then James Callaghan) 1974-79.

Rt Rev Peter Forster: Bishop of Chester since 1996.

Click HERE to read 7 page PDF version at IBC.
Click HERE to see original at the Global Warming Policy Foundation.

Excerpts ...

The fundamental narrative of the encyclical is that humankind, especially in developed
societies, has tended to become dislocated, or alienated, from its wider natural
and communal environment.

A healthy and wholesome life will involve a renewed relationship with both the dust from which we have come and the human communities in which we live.

In relation to nature, and not least in picking up some traditional Franciscan themes, the Pope focuses upon the divine precept in Genesis 2 v. 28 :

Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over
the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that
moves upon the earth.

In common with many other voices in recent times, he argues that to have dominion
does not permit an unsustainable exploitative approach to the naturalworld. Human
power in relation to the resources around us needs to be exercised responsibly and
– reverting to the original sense of the word – economically; that is, in a manner that
serves the global human household.

One can wholeheartedly endorse this sentiment, provided it does not lead to a romantically myopic view of the impact that human beings will necessarily have upon
their environment.

Every time a road or house is built, countless numbers of insects and animals are killed or displaced.

The same is true when we spray our garden plants, or crops, with pesticide. Each time we cut our lawn, thousands of small insects are likely to be killed.

The impact of human beings on nature is vividly seen on the approach to landing at an airport, as one imagines what the landscape would be like if the houses, factories and roads had never been built.

To imagine that human civilisation could develop with no adverse or competitive impact upon the wider natural world would be a misleading idealism. Might the encyclical have been rather more open about these realities?

... To us the encyclical is coloured too much by a hankering for a past world, prior to
the Industrial Revolution, which is assumed to have been generally simpler, cleaner,
and happier. There is little historical evidence for such a vision, and for most people
then life was brief, painful, poor, and even brutal.

How is the inevitable human impact upon the natural world to be moderated
and mitigated? Here the Pope enters a plea for ‘less is more’, an ecological spirituality
which sidesteps the mindless consumerist spirituality and ‘dynamic of dominion’,
which, he holds, is so destructive in the modern world. Christian spirituality, he says,
‘proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little’.
Learning to be joyful whatever the immediate circumstances of life is certainly a
Christian virtue. When St Paul wrote ‘Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say, rejoice’ (Philippians 4 v. 4 ) he was imprisoned and awaiting martyrdom.

But that is entirely compatible with an aspiration to improve one’s immediate human lot, whether that be through improving the quality of public infrastructure, or our homes, or seeking to travel in order precisely to enjoy the opportunities that our planet provides.

For any chance of fulfilment, all these hopes need economic development, and inasmuch as the developed western world has achieved a much better quality of life and greater life expectancy than earlier generations or other societies, it is largely due to wealth creation and economic success.

... He warns – a little apocalyptically – that ‘we may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.’ This may actually be more likely in aworld of stunted economic growth.

... we question the virtue in supporting forms of renewable energy that are inefficient
and require huge subsidies, which are levied upon everyone’s electricity bills,
including the poorest in our society.

... There is a great deal in the encyclical about the evils of ‘the market’, which ‘tends
to promote extreme consumerism’. This is described as the ‘logic which underlies
present-day culture’, the ‘mindset of short-term gain and results, which dominates
present-day economics and politics’.

Markets are, and always have been, the mechanism by which the fruits of human
activity and enterprise are established and shared. They need oversight and regulation
by wider organs of society, and particularly governments, to avoid the dangers
of monopoly, or undue exploitation of human beings and nature alike.

... The Pope says that he is ‘concerned to encourage an honest and open debate
so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good’. This is
precisely the aim of the GWPF, of course, but we note that in the encyclical the existence of economic and scientific voices who challenge the current majority position
is not acknowledged. In the past such majority views have often proved to be wrong.

We believe that the ever more shrill warnings issued by those representing the current
majoritarian position reflect the growing criticism of the assumptions and policy
assertions of that position.

Fromits apparent declaration of scientific neutrality, the encyclical simply accepts
that ‘a very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbingwarming of the climatic system’. While recognising that other natural causes
affect the global climate, the Pope notes that ‘a number of scientific studies indicate
that most global warming in recent decades is due to. . .greenhouse gas. . . released
mainly as a result of human activity’.

... we would question the description of carbon dioxide as a ‘pollutant’.

It is vital to all plant growth, and indeed commercial growers often pump it into
greenhouses in order to accelerate growth. The human body is not adversely affected
by higher carbon dioxide levels, as is evidenced by submarines, which typically operate
with levels about 400% higher than in the atmosphere.

... The fact that those advocating the majoritarian view now refer emotively to
a part of our natural atmosphere that is vital to life as a pollutant, and to those who
question the majority consensus as ‘deniers’, with unpleasant echoes of Holocaust
denial, simply serves to illustrate the underlying fragility of their arguments.

... There are clear grounds for caution here, given recent failures to predict climate
change with any accuracy. A good example is provided by the 2010 publication by
the Royal Society, which was essentially based upon the 2007 IPCC assessment.

... So far, warming at this rate has not been recorded; indeed there has been no significantupward trend in average global temperature during the present century, leading the IPCC to refer to a ‘hiatus’, perhaps – it is claimed – due to the oceans absorbing more heat than anticipated.

... the so-called ‘precautionary principle’ ... can easily be invoked to disguise
a weak evidential base. The last thing our world needs now is an exaggerated scaremongering.

Rather it needs a cool, rational analysis of the evidence, and the risks attached to different courses of action.

... The encyclical’s attempt to link the ‘green’ campaign to curb climate change with his commendable aim to curb poverty seems to us to be both unconvincing and potentially counterproductive.

... the encyclical makes only a passing and rather negative reference to nuclear
energy. All serious estimates of how a substantially decarbonised world economy
can be achieved require a substantial contribution from nuclear energy.

The World Council of Churches has formally rejected the future use of both nuclear energy and fossil fuels, thus guaranteeing both low growth and blackouts. Where do
the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church stand on this crucial issue?

... Overall, the encyclical strikes us as well-meaning but somewhat naïve. Its gentle idealism longs for a world in which cats no longer chase mice, a world in which species
do not kill and eat each other (most do), a world in which species no longer become
extinct, despite the firmly established scientific fact that most of the species that have
existed have already become extinct through the normal operation of the evolutionary

Much of what he recommends in his ‘ecological spirituality’ – a regular day of rest, an economic market that is our servant and not our master, and a proper recognition of the rootedness of human life in the wider natural world – is valuable and commendable. But to regard economic growth as somehow evil, and fossil fuels
as pollutants, will only serve to increase the very poverty that he seeks to reduce.


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