Dec 15, 2007

Pope Benedict: Prudent Assessment of Environmental Issues

Pope Benedict XVI appears to be challenging environmentalists to base solutions to global warming on firm evidence and not on dubious ideology. For World Day of Peace on January 1, 2008, the Pontiff is advising the international community that environmental policies must be based on science rather than dogma. Some of the news media have interpreted the Pope's forthcoming remarks as suggesting that "fears over man-made emissions melting the ice caps and causing a wave of unprecedented disasters were nothing more than scare-mongering." The Pope's actual words are less dramatic.
Respecting the environment does not mean considering material or animal nature more important than man. Rather, it means not selfishly considering nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests, for future generations also have the right to reap its benefits and to exhibit towards nature the same responsible freedom that we claim for ourselves. Nor must we overlook the poor, who are excluded in many cases from the goods of creation destined for all. Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow. 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. Full message here
The new message repeats Benedict's previous observations that human beings must choose an environmental way of life beneficial to their descendants. The created world is a great gift of God but is presently "exposed to serious risks by life choices and lifestyles that can degrade it... " In particular, environmental degradation makes poor people's existence intolerable." The Pope emphasized that it is the poor people in slums who suffer the greatest environmental problems. He is obviously concerned about clean water and air, as well as nutritional food not contaminated by pesticides that can harm human health. [Some of the worse environmental conditions are in China because of water pollution due to intense fish farming and air pollution due to many new uncontrolled fossil-fueled power plants.]

I totally agree, and believe good environmental science naturally adheres to proverbs I learned as a child.
  1. Cleanliness is next to godliness.
  2. Waste not, want not.
  3. Haste makes waste.
  4. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  5. A place for everything and everything in its place.
  6. A stitch in time saves nine.
  7. One man's junk is another man's treasure.
  8. One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel.
  9. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
  10. Better safe than sorry
  11. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
In his current address prepared for the 2008 World Day of Peace, Benedict XVI is advising us to avoid "hasty conclusions" through "prudent assessment" in the absence of "ideological pressure." This advice is needed to find truth and unfrock charlatans that wear the mantle of science to pursue political agendas.The most appropriate proverb and its corollary might be:
  • A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
  • A little knowledge selected from a large body of knowledge can be used to prove anything.
Over the past 30 years, what I call super-environmentalists have brought science into servitude to political goals. Quite a few "environmental problems" that were [and some continue to be] claimed to cause enormous harm to human populations have now been proven to be "duds." [BTW, scientists are easily swayed by grant money to fund studies of politically-charged subjects such as the ones below. They almost always conclude there is a likely serious problem and they need more funds to study it.]
  1. Nuclear winter
  2. Acid rain (here, here, and here)
  3. Nuclear power plant accidents
  4. Radon gas (low levels)
  5. Mercury tooth fillings
  6. Cell phones
  7. Second-hand smoke
  8. Population bomb
  • [Above links give only a snapshot of the actual scientific work performed to disprove these catastrophes. Notice that a repeat of the New Madrid earthquake is NOT listed.]
Global warming and GMOs may be the next duds added to the list. I'll try to address in a future post whether global warming actually exists, the models that say it does, and if it does, two possible causes (human versus natural).

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