Discussions here led me to a general criticism of Cardinal Pell’s views on climate change, briefly documented here. I was critical Monday of Pell’s suggestion that the furor over climate change constitutes some kind of new religion. I made my point that church folk have other, more ingrained idols to worry about, not the least of which is the sporting culture which may be stronger, if anything, in Australia than in the US.
As for Cardinal Pell’s particular views on climate change, we have some holes:
I am certainly skeptical about extravagant claims of impending man-made climatic catastrophes. Scientific debate is not decided by any changing consensus, even if it is endorsed by political parties and public opinion. Climate change both up and down has been occurring, probably since earth first had a climate.
He parses his words well. Most people, including scientists, would handle “extravagant” claims carefully. Science generally takes a long time to embrace big ideas. The clues for continental drift were recognized decades before it became the acceptable model. It was twenty years after the Apollo landings before astronomers concluded a Mars-sized planet hit the Earth and formed the moon. Pell seems to leave himself open to non-extravagant claims. Good for him.
And Pell’s right that the degree of human causation is an open question. It’s somewhere between 1 and 99%. Is the human footprint on Planet Earth enough to cause change and wreak havoc? We know it is.
One of Pell’s errors is to misread the place and definition of scientific consensus. He seems to assume it’s a political thing. well, it is, but not in the same way. Scientists are a rather conservative lot. New theories get probed, tested, slammed, discounted, and trounced in all sorts of ways until the mounting evidence in favor is too much to deny.
But he’s right to be a skeptic about politicians and non-scientists carrying the day in public debate. He needs to go to the sources, the scientists themselves, and not media outlets.
Pell and other wonder if those predicting an ice age in the last century were just crying wolf, and perhaps this generation’s environmentalists are in the same boat? The thing is, most climate change advocates will still tell you an ice age is the most disastrous possible result of global warming. Why? Because the Earth has a fairly well-balanced climate system. Big changes tend to get pushed back hard and fast.
I don’t see a problem with non-scientists weighing in publicly on science. But when the cardinal offers this up:
Uncertainties on climate change abound. Temperatures in Greenland were higher in the 1940s than they are today, and the Kangerlussuaq glacier there is not shrinking but growing in size. While the ice may be melting in the Arctic, apparently it is increasing in extent in the Antarctic.
Yes, pick a glacier, and wonder if ice isn’t building up in the Antarctic. If Greenland was indeed warmer in the 1940′s, why wasn’t it until much more recently than that that farmers there enjoyed success with crops and herd animals?
This leaves me with skepticism about Cardinal Pell. Is he being duped on an issue because he doesn’t want to stand too close to liberals? That’s my take on the conservative reticence: they just don’t want to hang with Al Gore.
My advice is forget Gore. Read books by scientists. Read both sides if you can find them. But don’t be deceived: we have a problem.