Francis Poses as Scientific ‘Expert’

“The stakes could not be higher,” Pope Francis said on May 16, speaking to participants in an international conference on climate change. But actually the stakes could be higher; they could involve human souls rather than polar ice caps or, for that matter, scientific models.

There was a time—any time, really, before 2013—when one would expect the Roman Pontiff to focus on spiritual rather than climatological questions. But that time is long gone, and no one is surprised today when Pope Francis speaks at length without touching on any distinctively Christian theme, except perhaps when he says that the destruction of the environment is “an offense against God.”

In his May 16 address the Pope said that the destruction of the environment is caused by human activity, which in turn is motivated by greed. (No doubt his denunciation of greed could also be regarded as a warning against sin and a call to Christian virtue—although the Pontiff did not phrase his argument in those terms.) The main thrust of his speech, however, was based on a series of assumptions, none of them drawn from the Gospel.

The Pope assumed:

  • that a recent trend toward higher global temperatures is destined to continue and indeed accelerate, with disastrous consequences, in the absence of new public policies, because…
  • the warming of the earth is due to a rapid accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and
  • that accumulation is caused by human activity, specifically the consumption of fossil fuels.

Each one of those assumptions is contested by at least some leading scientists. True, surveys suggest that most scientists share the Pope’s assumptions. But scientific questions are not settled by polls, as Vatican leaders should know. (Does the name “Galileo” ring a bell?) And Pope Francis has no authority to settle scientific debates.

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