Two prominent Christian peers have rejected the Pope’s recent encyclical on climate change as backwards and more likely to increase not reduce poverty. They accuse the Pope of falling foul of thinking on climate change that hankers for a time before the Industrial Revolution which campaigners paint as simpler and easier, but was in fact more brutal and painful.
The comments, by Peter Forster, the Bishop of Chester, and the Catholic Labour peer and former advisor to two Labour Prime Ministers, Bernard Donoughue, come in a paper published by the Global Warming Policy Foundation which lays out a “Christian response” to the Pope’s recent encyclical.
The authors share the Pope’s concern for the world’s poorest people. However, they are concerned that the policies advocated in the encyclical, which include jettisoning fossil fuels in favour of renewables, paid for by grants from wealthy countries, do more harm to the world’s poor than they do to help, noting:
“We fully share the concern of the Pope for the severe poverty that is found in many parts of Africa, but to deny the continent a wider access to cheap fossil fuels and electricity generated by them will only serve to embed that poverty.”
Commenting on the report Bishop Peter Forster said:
“Pope Francis should certainly be commended for his desire to deal with poverty in the developing world, but it is hard to see how he hopes to do so without economic growth and fossil fuels, both of which he thinks are unnecessary evils.”
The authors point to a tendency within the encyclical to romanticise the pre-Industrial age and urge those concerned with nature not to underestimate the benefits that development has brought, writing:
“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.
“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.”
The authors are also critical of the failure of Pope Francis to address some of the most pressing moral dilemmas in the environment debate. Lord Donoughue commented:
“Wood and dung fires may be renewable energy sources but their disastrous impact on human health is undeniable. We would have liked to have seen the encyclical address moral dilemmas like this head on. We would also have liked to have known Pope Francis’s view on the bans on development aid for fossil fuel plants that so many western governments have put in place.”
Addressing the assertion within the encyclical that man-made climate change theory is underpinned by “a very solid scientific consensus”, the authors question the Pope’s earlier stated ambition to “encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”
“We note that in the encyclical the existence of economic and scientific voices who challenge the current majority position is not acknowledged,” they write, adding: “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.”
“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 process.
“Much of what he recommends … is 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.”