Cardinal Pell: Carbon Credits Like Medieval Indulgences

  • Date: 27/10/11

As a bishop who regularly preaches to congregations of every age and at widely different levels of prosperity and education, I have some grasp of the challenges in presenting a point of view to the general public. This helps me to understand the propaganda achievements of the climate extremists, at least until their attempted elimination of the Medieval Warming and then Climategate. I was not surprised to learn that the IPCC used some of the world’s best advertising agencies to generate maximum effect among the public.

In the 1990s we were warned of the “greenhouse effect,” but in the first decade of the new millennium “global warming” stopped. The next retreat was to the concept of “anthropogenic global warming”; then we were called to cope with the challenge of “climate change.” Then it became apparent that the climate is changing no more now than it has in the past. Seamlessly, the claim shifted to “anthropogenic climate disruption.”

My suspicions have been deepened over the years by the climate movement’s totalitarian approach to opposing views, their demonizing of successful opponents and their opposition to the publication of opposing views even in scientific journals. A point to be noted in this movement’s struggle to convince public opinion is that their language veers toward that of primitive religious controversy. Believers are contrasted with deniers, doubters and skeptics.

The rewards for proper environmental behaviour are uncertain, unlike the grim scenarios for the future as a result of human irresponsibility, which have a dash of the apocalyptic about them. The immense financial costs true believers would impose on economies can be compared with the sacrifices offered traditionally in religion, and the sale of carbon credits with the pre-Reformation practice of selling indulgences. Some of those campaigning to save the planet are not merely zealous but zealots.

Remember Canute. The history of climate change provides no reassurance that human activity can control or even substantially modify the global climate, although humans can effect important local changes for good or ill.

The debates about anthropogenic global warming can only be conducted by the accurate recognition and interpretation of scientific evidence. The evidence of historians is also vital because this is not simply a mathematical problem, not “pure” science.

Rather than spending money on meeting the Kyoto Protocol, which would have produced an indiscernible effect on temperature rise, money should be used to raise living standards and reduce vulnerability to catastrophes and climate change (in whatever direction), so helping people to cope better with future challenges.

In essence, this is the moral dimension to this issue. The cost of attempts to make global warming go away will be very heavy. They may be levied initially on “the big polluters,” but they will eventually trickle down to the end-users. Efforts to offset the effects on the vulnerable are well intentioned, but history tells us they can only ever be partially successful.

We must be sure the solutions being proposed are valid, the benefits are real and the end result justifies the impositions on the community, particularly the most vulnerable. I have concerns on all three fronts.

Sometimes the very learned and clever can be brilliantly foolish, especially when seized by an apparently good cause. My request is for common sense and more, not less; what the medievals, following Aristotle, called prudence, one of the four cardinal virtues: the recta ratio agibilium or right reason in doing things. We might call this a cost-benefit analysis, where costs and benefits are defined financially and morally or humanly, and their level of probability is carefully estimated.

Are there any long-term benefits from the schemes to combat global warming, apart from extra tax revenues for governments and income for those devising and implementing the schemes? Will the ­burdens be shared generally, or fall mainly on the shoulders of the poor?

Another useful Latin maxim is In dubio non agitur: Don’t act when in doubt.

George Pell is Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Australia. These remarks are excerpted from the Global Warming ­Policy Forum annual lecture Wednesday at Westminster Cathedral Hall, London. Cartdinal Pell’s full GWPF lecture is available online here

Financial Post, 27 October 2011