He Who Does Truth Comes to the Light

February 1, 2017

I’m going to have to stop reading the news.

Apparently the Trump administration ordered the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to remove the climate change page from its website. [1] But since that was too palpably Orwellian, they backed off. [2] From this point, however, before any mere scientist publishes his or her findings on the question of climate change, the material will first have to be reviewed by administration political apparatchiks.

I suspect a lot of people who take the time to read something as obscure as Christian Democracy will already be at least somewhat familiar with Laudato si’ [3], and Pope Francis’s warnings about climate change contained therein. There, in keeping with his position of truth-teller-in-chief, he tells us that, although it “is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle),” that contribute to global warming, it is nonetheless the case that “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.” And, the pope tells us, we can expect those greenhouse gases to behave like greenhouse gases do. As they “build up in the atmosphere, they hamper the escape of heat produced by sunlight at the earth’s surface.” (sec. 23)

This is pretty basic stuff, ladies and gentlemen. Greenhouse gases have a greenhouse effect, and if you put more of them into the atmosphere, the earth is going to get hotter. There may be some giving us the impression that there is some mystery about this, that there really is some question about this operation of cause and effect, but the fact that they make any headway in convincing people of that tells us more about the state of our American education system than it does anything else.

Now I’m going to be a stickler here, and go ahead and say that this isn’t something that Catholics get to shrug off. As Pope Francis reminds us, the “climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” (sec. 23), and neglect of this issue is already having a serious impact.

“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.” (sec. 25)

We’re supposed to care about people. I’m pretty sure that’s what “love your neighbor as yourself” is all about. But if we don’t care about how global warming impacts “the least of these,” then we’re giving “love your neighbor” a pretty restrictive reading. And saying that the jury is still out on human made climate change is just a meritless excuse. It’s saying that greenhouse gases don’t have a greenhouse effect. That’s flat earth stuff, it really is.

So now we have to ask ourselves why anyone would consider suppressing information about climate change. Well, it can’t be because they want the truth to come out, can it? One suppresses information because they don’t want the truth to come out. They want to suppress the truth. And why would anyone want to suppress this particular truth, especially when one considers the harm that it will cause, the harm that it is already causing, and the kind of world we’re going to leave to our grandchildren?

Now it just so happens that the Catechism tells us that it “‘is for the civil authority…to defend and safeguard a true and just freedom of information.’” [4] (CCC 2498) Fulfilling that duty doesn’t include suppressing information that people need to hear. And what we’re doing to the planet we all have to live on is just that kind of information.

People who want to keep from us information on climate change can’t mean us well. We’ll need to keep our ear to the ground on this one.

Louis Rose