“There’s nothing that does so much harm as good intentions.”
“Concentrated power is not rendered harmless by the good intentions of those who create it.”
– Milton Friedman
On May 24, 2015, Pope Francis issued his ENCYCLICAL LETTER LAUDATO SI (Praise Be To You) OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE OF OUR COMMON HOME.
The 184-page letter consists of 246 paragraphs of which seven (paragraphs 20–26) are devoted to POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE. This document followed a one-day conference, Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development, to which The Heartland Institute and Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) sent scientific representatives. Unfortunately, they were not allowed to speak at the conference; but they created sensational news across the world by well attended press conferences.
The first three paragraphs are given under the subheading of Pollution, waste and the throwaway culture.
Paragraph 20 deals with pollution caused by all forms of human activity. The serious pollution due to energy use is uncontrolled pollution in homes and urban areas where environmental controls are unavailable on combustion products. Central power generation allows these controls such as electrostatic precipitators, scrubbers, etc. use on electric power generation. Thus modern society energy sources using fossil fuels are clean energy sources as demonstrated by vast improvements in the United States air quality over the past forty years.
Paragraph 21 deals with pollution caused by waste—residues from home and industrial activities that produce garbage that is not properly disposed; Paragraph 22 deals with waste due to our throwaway culture, which is an issue that can be alleviated by stringent recycle programs.
The rest of the paragraphs are listed under the sub-heading “Climate as a common good”.
Climate as a Common Good
Paragraph 23 is written as follows:
The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.
This paragraph is riddled with errors and false assertions.
The constant rise in sea level has been constant across the planet for more than a century as shown by tidal gauge measurements posted on the Internet by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The rate of rise averages about 8 inches per century. For many weather events, rates of occurrences have declined in recent decades. The U. S. government provides data on various climate events Pope Francis claims are increasing—heat waves, record high temperatures, flooding, drought, wildfires, reduced snowfall, tornadoes, hurricanes, sea level rise, and Arctic ice melting.
Paragraph 23 states recent warming is mostly due to increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide which “do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space”. Greenhouse gases don’t influence the sun’s rays because they are transparent to high wavelength energy from the sun. The scientific community acknowledges increased global warming due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use has only been a factor since 1950 when carbon dioxide was 310 parts per million (ppm) and rising to 400 ppm by 2015. The alleged dangers from global warming cited by Pope Francis have not occurred.
This paragraph demonstrates Pope Francis did not have expert advice in writing about climate change.
Paragraph 24 is written as follows:
Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction of part of the planet’s biodiversity. The melting in the polar ice caps and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous release of methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can further increase the emission of carbon dioxide. Things are made worse by the loss of tropical forests which would otherwise help to mitigate climate change. Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain. If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.
This paragraph complains about loss of tropical rain forests which may be caused by Pope Francis’ suggestion fossil fuels be replaced by solar and wind energy sources that require vast land areas for their implementation. Examination of land requirements show it takes 6 acres per megawatt for solar energy and 60 acres per megawatt for wind energy. The typical megawatts of solar and wind energy to produce the same output of a 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant would be 5000 megawatts solar and 3000 megawatts wind, respectively. Thus land requirements for the solar plant are 47 square miles and 281 square miles for the wind farm.
The United States’ annual electricity production is a little greater than 4 billion megawatt-hours. It would take 1250 1000-megawatt nuclear power plants to generate that amount of electricity. Dividing that electric power production equally with solar and wind energy would require 29,400 square miles of solar farms and 176,000 square miles of wind farms. No mention is made about energy storage problems.
Problems with ocean rise were covered in the discussion of Paragraph 23. The expected rise of about 8 inches per century is a known quantity and takes place without regards to carbon dioxide increases.
In reality carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels is a positive benefit to society as explained by Princeton University Emeritus Professor William Happer in his October 15, 2014, lecture “The Myth of Carbon Pollution”. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is an airborne fertilizer that causes increased plant growth, larger plant root systems that decrease plant water demands, and decreases in plant water expiration which also decreases plant water demands. The slight increase in global warming by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide is a positive benefit producing longer growing seasons.
A report on social benefits of carbon dioxide for agriculture alone is estimated at $3.2 trillion from 1961 to 2011. Benefits from 2012 to 2050 are estimated $9.8 trillion. These economic benefits from increased atmospheric carbon dioxide make any suggested economic benefits from carbon dioxide curtailment by Pope Francis, President Obama, or others irrelevant.
Paragraph 25 contains the following statement:
Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.
Migrants fleeing to better lands isn’t because of “environmental degradation”; but wars that threaten their survival. Christians are being beheaded by Muslim terrorists, various Muslim sects won’t peacefully resolve differences, etc. Pope Francis has failed to observe the distinguishing feature between poor and rich countries is rich countries have successfully developed their fossil fuel energy resources to provide low cost and abundant transportation, heating, cooling, cooking, refrigeration, vast communication systems, entertainment, etc. that practically eliminates the burdens of daily living. By denying poor countries access to fossil fuels, Pope Francis condemns them to perpetual poverty.
Paragraph 26 contains the following statement:
Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread.
Pope Francis wants to replace fossil fuel energy sources with solar, wind, biomass (wood), ethanol from corn, other biofuels, etc. as future energy sources. These energy sources are too expensive for developing nations. Solar and wind energy are available for small periods of time and require backup energy sources when unavailable. Present technology has not given us economical and practical energy storage systems. Environmental issues from vast wind and solar farms ruing nature’s beauty, incorporating hazardous materials, and having useful lifetimes of about 25 years are not addressed.
In addition, these energy sources require vast land areas in order to produce significant amounts of energy. This requires destroying millions of square miles of forest land that cleans our air and water, creates oxygen, helps cool the planet, and provides recreation. Forest land is a sink for carbon dioxide; thus renewable energy sources may add to global carbon dioxide.
Positive issues from Pope Francis’ encyclical are stop wasting food, recycle all that is practical, practice energy efficiency, and clean up our environment. These are attributes taught by good parents to their children. My parents never wasted food; made us turn off light bulbs upon leaving a chair after reading, and make our beds; allowed no clothes strewn on bedroom floors; recycled all paper and cans; etc. These issues can be resolved by global education; reducing carbon dioxide levels is of no importance.
Pope Francis is making a grievous mistake entering the debate on fossil fuels causing catastrophic global warming due to life-giving combustion gas carbon dioxide. His policies will leave the planet poorer, less healthy, drudgery for a lifestyle, and lacking creature comforts. History has not forgotten the Church’s 17th century involvement with science caused the Inquisition in 1633 to force Galileo Galilei to recant the Sun was the center of our universe instead of the Earth. Galileo was held in house arrest until his death in 1642.
The consequences of the Church’s actions may have set astronomy back a few years; but did not lead to a calamitous future for the planet by denying our population life-giving energy sources of abundant, inexpensive, and geographically distributed fossil fuels of coal, oil, and natural gas. In 1992 the Vatican formally announced its mistake in condemning Galileo.
The attack on life-giving carbon dioxide may require new attitudes on its existence. We might paraphrase the famous song of the 1970s peace movement by John Lennon “Give Peace a Chance” with “All we are saying is give CO-2 a chance”.
James H. Rust, Professor of nuclear engineering and policy advisor The Heartland Institute.