William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

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The Stream: Laudato Si on the Science of Global Warming


Today’s post is at The Stream. Laudato Si on the Science of Global Warming: Loud and Clear and Mistaken.

In a recent meeting Pope Francis held with priests in Rome’s Papal Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Holy Father said that churchmen who have disputes with their superiors should confront their superiors “like men.”

“There are quarrels and arguments in the Church?” he said. “Well, it makes good news! This is so since the beginning. A church without quarrels is a dead church. Do you know where there aren’t any quarrels? In cemeteries!” The Pope welcomed arguments as a tool to bring out the truth.

Since we are not dead, we can argue about global warming. Go there and read the rest.

Now, just so you don’t think I’m arguing for the sake of arguing, but because I know I am right, let me point out an area of agreement between myself and the Holy Father. This area was best expressed by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, “Has the Pope condemned the use of air conditioning?

Fr Lucie-Smith, like Yours Truly, lived most of his life without air conditioning, and while living in the hottest and humidest places on the planet. Places like San Antonio, Texas, and Okinawa, Japan. It can be done. And, as Father says in his article, living without can be better.

But the Pope still has a point. Many of our modern buildings in Britain are frightful, in that they have too much glass and windows that cannot open, which makes them like greenhouses in summer — this seems to be particularly true of hospitals. We need to build more ecologically, and we certainly need to rein in our consumption. There is no getting away from that. But the next time I am sweltering in some American hotel room, will I really stay my hand as I reach for the temperature dial on the air conditioning control? I doubt it. We love telling others to rein in their consumption, but in our own cases we tend to make generous exceptions to the rules!

What in the Lord’s Great Name are architects thinking? Even windows that used to be opendable are now screwed shut. Hideousness surrounds us. Award-winning buildings are the ugliest.

Almost every reader will know of the experience of walking into any modern office building from a, perhaps over-warm, day to a meat locker. Women don sweaters and shiver. Try to open the window to find relief and discover it is impossible. It’s almost as if people think sweating is some mild form of disease.

Even the Statler, where I am staying at Cornell, had the thermostat set to 68 degrees. The thermostat was right next to the “Sustainability” card telling how the hotel won’t change your sheets. Thank God, the windows still open, at least a crack, no more than a sliver. Somebody has screwed in stops so that a body cannot slip through.

The Pope said too many people lived packed into cities. Amen to that, too. I live in city, one of the biggest. I’d like to escape. But I haven’t discovered how.

#LaudatoSi Thoughts


I’ll have more later, including a piece at The Stream. Still teaching.

The fake controversy of the “broken embargo” is now at an end and we have the final text.

An atheist and lover of “population control” and holder of the preposterously unscientific belief that only one billion people are “sustainable“, or whatever, helped announce the encyclical because, hey, why not?

I found Para 124 fascinating:

…According to the biblical account of creation, God placed man and woman in the garden he had created (cf. Gen 2:15) not only to preserve it (“keep”) but also to make it fruitful (“till”). Labourers and craftsmen thus “maintain the fabric of the world” (Sir 38:34). Developing the created world in a prudent way is the best way of caring for it, as this means that we ourselves become the instrument used by God to bring out the potential which he himself inscribed in things: “The Lord created medicines out of the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them” (Sir 38:4).

The NIV has Gen 9:7 as “As for you, be fruitful and increase in number; multiply on the earth and increase upon it.” Other translations are similar. Douay-Rheims is telling: “But increase you and multiply, and go upon the earth, and fill it.”

As I’ve written elsewhere, God evidently likes people, likes having them about. But environmentalists don’t like people, and always prefer fewer of them. How many of those who call mankind a “cancer on the Earth” are atheists, I wonder. I’ll have much more to say about this later.

How to live is a more than welcome subject Laudato tackles. Ye Olde Statistician pointed me to David Warren’s thoughts on the encyclical, with which I am in agreement.

We lack an appreciation for beauty, in God’s handiwork, and for our own. To my mind (which conducts the government of this website), this is the key “environmental problem.” We live like pigs. Catholic efforts should be directed to curing us of swinish behaviour. The Good and the True are likewise of crucial importance, but without this discernment of the Beautiful, they twist and float out of our reach.

Nor will any categorical imperative help us here, encased, for instance, in the instruction to “think globally, act locally.” We have not the ability to think things through on the planetary scale: only God can do that (or whatever angels are in His confidence). We must therefore “think locally,” too, and sound thinking comes from obedience to the conscience implanted in our hearts, by God directly. Conversely, to “act globally” is wickedly absurd.

“Consumerism” is an ugly thing. Think about it. The Consumer! sounds like a 50s sci-fi movie about a giant beast with gaping maw that relentlessly eats all in its path and is only destroyed by a small town coming together under the leadership of the sheriff. There’d even be scenes of people praying in a church. Here’s Laudato para 172:

For poor countries, the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the social development of their people. At the same time, they need to acknowledge the scandalous level of consumption in some privileged sectors of their population and to combat corruption more effectively.

They are likewise bound to develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet. Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources, but in a way which respects their concrete situations, since “the compatibility of [infrastructures] with the context for which they have been designed is not always adequately assessed”.[128] The costs of this would be low, compared to the risks of climate change. In any event, these are primarily ethical decisions, rooted in solidarity between all peoples.

Those first two sentences are spot on. But the last reads like an internal EPA memo written by a dedicated staffer. Was that a call for technological innovation? How else can we have workable or efficient or reliable solar power? Is this science as holiness? Or scientism? Warren, and I, think the latter.

The opposite of consumerist materialism is not socialism.

Other articles: 11 Things You Probably Won’t Hear About Pope Francis’ Encyclical, How to Argue About Climate Change with Your Panicked Liberal Friends.

Crisis: Leaked Laudato Lamented

Not so fossil fuels.

Not so fossil fuels.

I’m still in the midst of teaching. We go all day, 9 to 5. I have no access to the Internet or email during this time. And after, I head right for the watering hole.

Today’s post is at Crisis: “Leaked Laudato Lamented”. Ain’t that a pretty title?

Laudato begins its climate portion by claiming a scientific “consensus exists that indicates that we are very firm in presence of a worrisome warming of the climate system.” This isn’t so. Many scientists—real climatologists, that is; see this video starting at 17 minutes—do say there might, in the future, be “worrisome warming.” But other scientists say there will not. The fictional “97% Consensus” you hear endlessly has been debunked in the scientific literature. But the press has no interest in reporting this.

Go there to read the rest.

The interesting question is, if a scientific proposition relied upon in the document turns out to be false, can the exhortation that follows be abandoned. As a matter of logic, I’d say yes. You?

There’s obviously lots and lots more to do and say about all this.

Pope’s Encyclical Leaked: Relevant Climate Portion

I’ve been asked to do pieces on this in other places, which I’m on, but I’m also teaching from 9 to 5 today, so for us all I can do is to post the section relevant to global warming. This is a crude translation from the Italian, provided to me by a friend. Everything was done in a rush and, of course, the final version might differ. I’ve added a couple of paragraph breaks for readability.

The climate as a common good

23. The climate is a common good of all and for all. It, globally, is a complex system in relation to many conditions essential for human life. Scientific consensus exists that indicates that we are very firm in presence of a worrisome warming of the climate system. In recent decades, that the heating was accompanied by the constant rise in the sea level, and is also hard not to relate it to the increase in extreme weather events, regardless of the fact that we can not attribute a cause scientifically determined at each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to become aware of the need to change lifestyles, production and consumption, to combat this heating or, at least, the human causes that produce or accentuate.

It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanism, and the variations of the orbit of the Earth, the solar cycle), but numerous scientific studies indicate that most of the global warming of recent decades is due to the large concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other) issued mainly because of human activity. Their concentrations in the atmosphere prevents the heat of sunlight reflected by the earth being dispersed in space. This is especially enhanced by the development model based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the center of the world energy system. It has also affected the increase in the practice of land-use change, mainly deforestation for agricultural purposes.

24. In turn, the heating has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious cycle that exacerbates the situation even more and that will affect on the availability of essential resources such as drinking water, energy and agricultural production of the hottest areas, and will result in the extinction of the planet’s biodiversity. The melting of polar ice and high altitude threat of those escaping at high risk of methane gas, and the decomposition of organic matter frozen could further accentuate the emission of carbon dioxide. In turn, the loss of tropical forests makes things worse, since they help to mitigate climate change.

The pollution produced by carbon dioxide increase the acidity of the oceans and impairs the marine food chain. If the trend current continues, this century could to witness climate change unheard and unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. Rising sea levels, for example, can create situations of extreme gravity when we consider that a quarter of the world population lives by the sea or very close to it, and most of the megacities are located in coastal areas.

25. Climate change is a global problem with serious environmental implications, social, economic, and political distribution, area and are one of the main current challenges for humanity. Impacts heavier probably will fall in the coming decades on developing countries. Many poor people living in particularly affected by phenomena related to heating, and their livelihoods depend heavily from nature reserves and by so-called ecosystem services, such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry. They have no other financial resources and other resources that enable them to adapt to climate impacts or deal with catastrophic situations, and have little access to social services and protection.

For example, climate change give rise to migration of animals and plants that can not always adapt themselves, and this in turn affects the productive resources of the poor, and they also see obligation to migrate great uncertainty about the future of their lives and their children. Tragically, the increase of migrants fleeing poverty exacerbated by environmental degradation, which are not recognized as refugees will in international conventions and carry the burden of their lives abandoned without any protection legislation. Unfortunately there is a general indifference to these tragedies, which still occur in different parts of the world. The lack of responses to these dramaturgical me of our brothers and sisters is a sign of the loss of the sense of responsibility for our fellow men that underpin any civilized society.

26. Many of those who hold more resources and economic or political power seem to concentrate mainly in the mask problems and hide the symptoms, just trying to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. But many signs indicate that these effects could always be worse if we continue with current patterns of production and consumption. Therefore it has become urgent and compelling policy development in the coming years so that the emission of carbon dioxide and other heavily polluting gas is reduced drastically, for example, by replacing fossil fuels and by developing renewable energy sources.

In the world there is a small level of access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop appropriate technologies for accumulation. However, in some countries there have been advances that are beginning to be significant, although they are far from reaching a significant proportion. There were also some investments in modality of production and transportation that use less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as mode of construction or renovation of buildings which do best- no energy efficiency. But these good practices are far from becoming general.

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