Why green Catholics are not communists

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Pope BenedictAs various commentators have indicated one of the significant features of the recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate by Pope Benedict XVI is its explicit mention of environmental themes.

The Pope's contributions are not startling or unusual. He emphasises the importance of stewardship over all creation, the grave duty to hand on to future generations something worth having, the dangers of consumerism, the squandering of resources and the deep interconnections between human existence and the rest of creation.

Two significant elements are his linking our concern with the environment with the larger issues of respect for life, creating a new 'seamless garment' of social teaching; and his constant concern for the impact on the poor of environmental degradation. These are welcome and timely observations.

Interestingly this new development in social teaching is not in tune with some of the Pope's natural constituency. Many conservative Catholics have shown scant regard for environmental issues and publicly expressed scepticism in particular about global warming. For them environmentalism has become the new communism.

Indeed environmentalists are sometimes called 'watermelons, green on the outside, red on the inside'. They are painted in extreme terms as 'neo-pagans' and anyone showing concern for the environment is tarred with the same brush. The parallels with the Church's attitude to communism in the '50s and '60s are clear. Anyone with an interest in social justice was suspect then, as those with environmental concerns are now.

Things changed a bit for the former when Paul VI issued his encyclical on development issues, Populorum Progressio ('On the development of peoples'), which the Wall Street Journal referred to as 'warmed up Marxism'.

Now with the issuing of Caritas in Veritate perhaps environmentalism will be less anathema among conservative commentators. With the Pope showing tinges of green it will be less difficult to attack those interested in protecting the environment.

But the question has arisen, just how green is the pope? In a recent article on the Acton Institute website, commentator Samuel Gregg has responded, 'not so green', concluding that 'Benedict's 'greenness' turns out to be rather pale'.

He rightly notes that Benedict upholds the priority of human life and grounds his environmentalism in the Christian notion of stewardship. In this regard Benedict is no different from the majority of Christian environmentalists who do the same.

Again he rightly notes the Pope's insistence on the interconnectedness of being, as do the majority of Christian environmentalists. He also rightly notes that 'the phrases 'climate change' or 'global warming' appear nowhere in Caritas in Veritate'.

However he places special significance on this lack of reference to climate change and global warming:

'Benedict has been careful not to prejudge the science of this complex subject ... As someone who has labored ceaselessly for the priority of truth over ideology, Benedict knows that neither international organisations nor public opinion determine the truth about climate change and its causes. That's a question for science, and many reputable scientists dispute aspects of the prevailing tenets of climate change to which some environmentalists seem religiously wedded ... As anyone who has studied his life and thought knows, Joseph Ratzinger has never been intimidated by political correctness.'

In hermeneutic circles this is called 'reading the silences', seeking to make sense of what is not said as well as what is said. It is a fraught strategy always subject to the emergence of further evidence.

Well, now the further evidence is in. In a recent general audience (Wednesday 26 August 2009) Benedict  explicitly expressed his support for discussion on 'the urgent issue of climate change' to be dealt with at the United Nations.

In this context a number of references to his encyclical make clear the link between this 'urgent issue' and the matters raised therein. Taken together with the Vatican's own efforts to be carbon-neutral, these do not look like the words and deeds of a climate change sceptic. Far from being pale green, he looks almost emerald green!

It is interesting to trace the history of the environmental movement from its iconic beginnings with the publication in 1962 of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, through its fringe status in the '60s and '70s, as it gradually become more and more mainstream.

While there have obviously been extreme positions which romanticise and divinise nature, the fact remains that human existence is and always will be biologically grounded and so dependent on the proper functioning of the biosphere for its own continued existence.

As Benedict rightly points out, our failure to respect our environmental limits impacts on us all, but most of all on the poor. To ignore those limits is to fall prey to the temptation of the serpent in the garden, 'you shall be like gods'. But we are not gods but 'earth-beings', the play of words evoked by the name Adam. It is the archetypal temptation, to which one would think Christians would be most attuned.


Neil OrmerodNeil Ormerod is professor of Theology at Australian Catholic University. He has coauthored a book with Pentecostal theologian Shane Clifton, entitled Globalization and the Mission of the Church. 

Topic tags: pope benedict, caritas in veritate, global warming, climate change skeptics, neo-paganism, communism, marx


 

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It is not often we see Eureka Street invoking papal authority.
Sylvester | 04 September 2009


Many already have fallen prey to the serpent's temptation 'you shall be like gods'. Governments, some scientists and bureaucrats think that they can appreciably influence the natural rise and fall of earth's temperature, or the rise and fall of the earth's seas. We tell the story of Canute ordering the tide to go back and think that he was a fool. I look forward to the day when we will hold a similar opnion of those who think they can control the earth's temperature by reducing the amount of the "pollutant" CO2 in the atmosphere.

For anyone interested in some of the many dissenting voices of scientists on global warming, oh sorry I meant climate change (the earth's actually cooling), do a google search on Michael Crichton (RIP) and Phillip Stott. There are some excellent clips of these two on youtube.
Patrick James | 04 September 2009


Catholics were greenies long before the professional political greenies came along. I have no problem with being kind to the ecology, and try leave a small foot print, but I sense some kind of 'big brother' control in greenie politics. Especially the population control push which is at the heart of political greenism. Christians need to separate from the current political greenies and have their own voice - caring for the earth, allowing democratic freedom to choose the size of one's family, state that abortion is just not on, and the right to dissent from some of the unfounded scientific claims the greenies make which are just over the top [remember sydney was going to be flooded by 2000? Remember the snow was going to disappear by 2010?].

Currently political greenies are in a mental straightjacket and will not allow debate of the issues. That is unscientific and has an Orwellian whiff of big brother about it.
Skye | 04 September 2009


Bringing the Pope into the debate on climate change is a joke isn't it! He is probably well informed with good common sense, so his utterances ought to be taken with no greater authority than that of any other informed person.

Where does the writer come from? All the conservative Catholics I know are environmentalists and they don't call other environmentalists "watermelons etc". I only use that epithet for rabid ideologically driven environmentalists.


Jim Spratt | 04 September 2009


There are reputable scientists who dispute man's contribution to global warming (and even the reallity of global warming). They might be right. But I wonder if they shouldn't keep quiet about it. Surely if we live more sustainably, and especially if we abandon the 'constant growth' fetish, the results can only be good for civilisation, good for humanity, good for the world, even if they don't stop the temperatures rising. So let's behave as if we can influence the future climate, even if it is a delusion.
Gavan | 04 September 2009


Gavan - The voice of reason! Hear hear!

It is beyond me why those who are unconvinced about the question of human-caused climate change are so vicious in their attempted counter-arguments. Possibly it's a manifestation of unresolved guilt at their own unwillingness to change their lifestyle.

If you don't agree with the environmentalist argument, then just keep living the way you want to. Don't get aggro at others, the majority, who choose to take a different path. After all, the very worst we'll end up with is a simpler, cleaner and less materially obsessed world, and that's not a bad thing at all.
Charles Boy | 04 September 2009


Reference is made to environmental aspects of the popes recent encyclical . a more important aspect was his reference to a fairer financial system. the existing system,run by the banks and controlled by the british empire (yes it still exists)with its free trade and globalisation is the single barrier to reducing world poverty.

Franklin Roosevelt intended that this system would finish at end of WW2 but he died and what he had started died with him (over the next 25 years). Now to to me as a sceptic on global warming. I don't disagree that there has been a rise in global temperature but it is not necessarily due all to CO2 which a large amount of respected scientists agree. Unlike a lot of the mob that accept what is in the press I have studied the arguements for and against and as one who studied and worked in the science environment my conclusion is that the mob is wrong. In fact increasing amounts of CO2 have reducing effect on temp.(infra red ray absorption saturation)So the colour green does not necessarily identify TRUTH, which should be the aim of all true followers of the christian ethic.
Alec Walsh | 04 September 2009


Question for global warmers (even if they try to hide behind climate change).
Why did global temperatures decline between 1945 and 1970 when rapid development after World War II produced an increase in carbon dioxide?
What happened to the prophecy of Paul Erlich, around 1970, that millions would die because the extreme cold would limit food production and cause mass starvation?
Do you remember Paul Erlich's book, 'The Population Bomb', as he set out to bring about large reductions in the world population? Eugenics?
Pat Healy | 04 September 2009


I really think that Professor Ormerod is setting up a straw man (conservative anti-green Catholics) and then demolishing that straw man. I am not sure to whom he is referring since he doesn't say. If by 'conservative' he means something like 'orthodox Catholics' who accept Church teaching, then I do not know anyone who fits that description who is anti-green in the sense of not being concerned about environmental issues. Cardinal Pell is an orthodox Catholic who is very concerned about environmental issues as is the Pope. Scepticism about man-induced global warming and the capacity of man to fix it is not equivalent to a blanket rejection of our responsibility, as human beings, to care for what God has given us.
Father John Fleming | 04 September 2009


I think some readers are misreading Professor Ormerod's 'many conservative Catholics' as 'all conservative Catholics'. He is referring to a small but vocal faction within the Church ... they do exist. It's not a straw man, he's just not naming names (they know who they are!). Fair enough too, from experience they're a fairly rabid mob when they get going.
Bed A. B. Cautious | 04 September 2009


The key to proper stewardship is to match the demands upon the environment with the ability of the environment to provide for those demands. In other words to balance the environmental budget. A key factor in determining the demands upon the earths environment is the size of the human population which this planet is being expected to provide for. A major tool in our stewardship has to be population control. Until Pope Benedict faces this reality, his position on climate change is irrelevant.
Kenneth Cooke | 04 September 2009


"our failure to respect our environmental limits impacts on us all, but most of all on the poor."

For most of my life I didn't reflect on our environmental limits, let alone respect them.

But I did begin to reflect on my economic limits when I had to hand over my unopened pay packet to my widowed mother after my father died at a young age. Then some years ago I went to India and discovered how shallow my reflection on economic limits was. There I witnessed poverty that no study of economics could convey.

Something similar is happening with my appreciation of environmental limits. I can see the damage being done in Australia but there is nowhere I can go to "see" what damage is being done to the biosphere globally. I depend on scientific reasearch of all kinds, on the testing of scientific hypotheses, if I am to respect our environmental limits and adjust my life style accordingly.

My comfortable living standards make it hard for me to have the open mind that is needed to weigh the pros and cons of the climate change debate. I don't think I'm Robinso Crusoe in that regard.
Uncle Pat | 05 September 2009


Carson's Silent Spring was indeed iconic - but perhaps not in the way Dr Omerod understands.

Though (probably) well intentioned, it was characterised by faulty science (There's no correlation between high levels of DDT and egg shell thinning or loss of reproductive capacity in birds) and (probably unintended by Carson) led to the banning of a substance (DDT), which crazy act stymied the battle against malaria and led to millions upon millions dying in underdeveloped countries.

The same shoddy and politicised science ("we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have" - Stephen Schneider) infests the global warmers and their proposed solutions which will devastate the economies of both rich and poor nations.

Disclosure: I believe that the globe has been warming a tad since the end of the little ice age. Nothing to do with CO2, and it's not harmful: another few degrees will be just dandy.

I also see the end of oil, and the need to prepare for it, with solar, geothermal, and nuclear - hopefully fusion within the next century if governments allow the free market to drive the energy sector.

And I believe in stewardship.
HH | 05 September 2009


Sometimes being religous give believers too much confidence in their own distorted validity. They believe they are personally endorsed by God, and deny climate change because God somehow created the planet just for them as a resource, and it will cope and expand accordingly. It is religious arrogance and anthropocentricism to the extreme! Acceptance of anthropogenic climate change would mean a stabilising of population, and this is where the Catholic church will limit "custodianship" of Creation! More Catholics = more church attendees, more priests, more power and more people for Heaven!
Vivienne | 05 September 2009


A small digression from the environmental theme in defence of King Canute, re Patrick James's comment. Patrick makes a common error in thinking Canute a fool.

Canute admonished his people who carried him to the sea-side requesting that he tell the sea to stop raging and the tide to turn. He told them that only God can control the sea. That recognition of his own limitations is what he should be remembered for.

Re global-warming accelerated by human activity, it is necessary to remember we are not seeking to control the earth's temperature. We are simply saying that given the strong evidence for acceleration of global warming since the industrial revolution, we should cut back on our carbon emissions to reduce this apparent man-made effect.

As in all science, we might be wrong. Unlike religion, science does not claim certainty.

However, good risk management requires that if something is considered the possible cause of a negative outcome, we should introduce counter-measures to reduce the risk.
Ian Fraser | 06 September 2009


1. The green movement is dominated by the theory of Gaia - This is a pagan ideology.

2. The green political parties were founded by communists, the Australian conservation party has its roots in the BLF (green bans) all were communist.

3. Al Gore and his father were created by Armand Hammer a noted soviet spy; he was Trotsky’s official path to western capital to expand communist Russia.

4. The design of cap and trade systems and the ETS have two main tenets which is an increase in public aid to communist nations like china and commercial benefit to communist countries that produce mountains of CO2 yet the costs of the CO2 produced are levied on non communist countries like Australia.

5. The theory of man made climate change is not grounded in any scientific fact, the dire predictions are not being realised, the only realisation is that policies that restrict man made climate change will restrict economic growth in developed nations increase poverty in undeveloped nations, impose massive cost with minimal benefits and distract from real environmental issues.

5. Communist ideologues have long been quoted that the green movement provides the best synergies with communism as a tool to stymie capitalism.

It should be noted that green Catholics are in bed with communists and pagans whether they like it or not on the issue of man made climate change.
Paul | 07 September 2009


The "elephant in the (Catholic) room" is the ever rising population density of humans on the planet. A strong sign of awareness of the strain that the resources of the earth are already under would be for Catholic leaders to begin to honestly read the "signs of the times". Sustained belief in the primacy of human life over the ecosystem that is already desperately damaged by CO2 emissions (recent record high temperatures in Australia are a reminder of this) is a great threat to the entire population of planet earth. Those who believe that the earth can support in dignity even the present population ought to pay attention to the conditions of life for many in the huge cities of Asia and Latin America.
Mike Foale | 07 September 2009


History records many periods of climate change and what the planet is experiencing today may be another one of these cyclical episodes or the direct result of human profligacy - evidenced by the huge amount of carbon dioxide poured into the atmosphere.
The question is: who is right?

There is a large body of eminent scientists on both sides of this question, and while most thoughtful people from both sides support a plan to clean up the atmosphere, there is the critical issue of Truth. Who is right, - those who support Anthropogenic GW or those who claim GW is mainly cyclical?
I don’t know the answer and for now maintain an open mind.

However I firmly believe that the “debate” must go on and be encouraged in the interests of establishing the truth.

To shut down debate where people of good will legitimately hold different views is a shameful offence against truth and justice and is intellectually alarming.
Rosemary | 07 September 2009


I'm a rural based Catholic priest and feel that sometimes, the issues surrounding global warming are causing a division between rural Christians and urban Christians.

'Conservative' and 'liberal' have often been terms that have divided and therefore, clouded many issues in society as well as the Christian Church.

In rural areas, where the economy and culture are firmly founded on farming, forestry and fishing, there is scepticism and objection to many of the claims about causes and rectification of global warming.

Myself and my farming and forestry parishioners are not labelling environmentalists as 'new communists', just as we reject the now, highly volatile label of 'climate change denier'.

In any theological investigation of the issues concerning the environment, stewardship should unite rather than divide, urban and rural Christians. I feel this article has not clearly made that assertion.
Fr Mick Mac Andrew Bombala-Delegate NSW | 08 September 2009


If anybody doubts the presence of 'many conservative catholics' among climate change skeptics, they need only scroll down this impressive list of unbelievers. Personally I find this, and the revelation this day, 13.10.09, that almost a majority of australians agree that there's not too much to worry about with climate change - absolutely spine-chilling. I can feel the ocean rising around my knees as I come to terms with this culpable ignorance and indifference.

If our religion means anything, it means that we care for each other. No greater, wider or sharper call for this care has occurred in history, to my knowledge. And yet we christians can still be seen by the world as followers of the mandate to 'go forth and conquer the earth'.

'
Pat Mahony | 13 October 2009