Apocalyptic visions about climate change distort reality and fuel bad decision-making

(June 2022)

Recent political developments have again emphasised the importance of policy-making when it comes to climate and energy. 

The impact of the Russian invasion of Ukraine has shown how vulnerable we are to external events.  

At home, the controversy over the potential curbing of turf sales demonstrates how policies justified on climate grounds could disrupt the lives and traditions of many. 

Without any doubt, climate change caused by the release of carbon emissions is a reality, and one which all stakeholders must respond to. 

In recent years, the Church has taken steps such as the publication of Laudato Si,’ while the Pope has committed to making Vatican City net zero by 2050 (those who think achieving net zero is straightforward should remember that an earlier pledge to make the Vatican carbon neutral ended in ignominious failure).

In 2019, the Irish Bishops’ Conference even went as far as to praise schoolchildren who had followed Greta Thunberg’s lead by skipping school to demand more climate action. 

Their intentions were surely good. At the same time, clerics eager to bless every facet of climate activism should acknowledge the complexity of the issue, while distancing themselves from the environmentalist movement’s darker side.

Discourse around climate change is increasingly radical. Leading politicians now warn that the world will soon end if dramatic changes are not made, in a manner so panic-inducing it would make a hellfire preacher shudder.

Constant talk of an imminent Doomsday – without any context about the essential role of fossil fuels in sustaining our way of life and helping those in the developing world to achieve the prosperity we in the West take for granted; or any context about the current lack of reliable alternatives  – has led to a situation where more than half of child psychiatrists in England have seen patients distressed about environmental issues. 

In fact, the mere existence of children is sometimes considered to be a cause of the problem.

World-leading newspapers now run articles with titles like ‘Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children’ and celebrities like the Sussexes are feted for their firm line against larger families.

Hysterical claims about planet extinction are also adding renewed impetus to demands for harsh population control measures – including expanded abortion – globally.

Extreme or unrealistic demands do not solve anything. We are already seeing this here in Ireland, where the Government committed to cutting carbon emissions by more than 50% by 2030.

This was never achievable, and even with the near-total shutdown of transport due to Covid, the actual emissions reductions in 2020 were far below targets. 

In today’s panic-stricken environment, the constant failure to achieve unattainable goals does not prompt a re-evaluation. Instead, it simply creates a vicious cycle where more radical measures are demanded: measures which make it more expensive for people to heat their homes or fuel their vehicles. 

Thanks to this, carbon taxes are leading to growing fuel poverty – and parishes are finding it harder and harder to heat their churches.

What is needed now is not a doubling-down on failed policy, and Catholics should be wary of allying themselves completely to a movement which increasingly sees human life itself as a parasitical presence on this planet; instead of seeing divine creation as a gift to be preserved. 

In many ways, it is being preserved. 

In his essential book False Alarm, the Danish author Bjørn Lomborg outlines the real progress which has been made in recent decades: improved living standards, cleaner air, increased afforestation in wealthy countries and a reduction in deaths due to natural disasters. 

With the right approach and an end to the apocalyptic policy approach, Lomborg believes this progress can continue. 

The key, he argues, is to understand that climate change “is not like a huge asteroid hurtling towards Earth, where we need to stop everything else and mobilise the entire global economy to ward off the end of the world. It is instead a long-term chronic condition like diabetes – a problem that needs attention and focus, but one that we can live with.”

It is an argument worth hearing. Climate change is not going away, and the steps which are required to deal with it will certainly impact on all our lives. 

While continuing to preach good stewardship, the Church should avoid making the mistakes others are making. 

When necessary, it should also be prepared to challenge the dogmas of a movement which increasingly resembles a millenarian quasi-religion: one without any faith in God, and with little enough in man either. 

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