Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Pope Acknowledges The Laws Of Physics

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The title of this blog entry sounds like something you might read in The Onion.  If you have never heard of The Onion please google it and read through it.  You will most likely laugh at least a few times.

I tend to check Paul Douglas's weather blog whenever I visit the online version of the Star Tribune.  His blog is well done.  He consistently offers links to a variety of current stories connected to the topic of weather and climate change.  And today he posted a real whopper.  You can find the article here.  Given my own life history which has been influenced by Catholicism as well as my studies of atmospheric science and climate change I couldn't resist reading the article.

I will preface my writing related to the article at hand by acknowledging that the current Pope has caused me to seriously reconsider my relationship with the Catholic Church.  This Pope not only truly does care but is extremely active in raising awareness about the seminal issues of our time in the world of the twenty-first century.

For those of you just now discovering my blog I will briefly recap my own history.  I was raised Catholic by my father.  I entered the Society of Jesus and was a member of that religious order for a period of three years in the late 1990s.  I left the Jesuit order, Loyola University Chicago (where I had been studying until May, 1999) and the Catholic Church and moved to California in May, 1999.  I left the Church behind for a number of reasons.  I did not agree with the Catholic Church's formal teachings regarding homosexuality.  Secondly, I thought the Church's failure to thoroughly address the ways in which we human beings are individually and collectively trashing the planet represented a real failure of moral conscience.  I had additional reasons for leaving the Church behind. Those included institutional corruption and greed.

According to the article I have referenced above Pope Francis will be issuing an encyclical on the subject of climate change.  Papal encyclicals are not something that come out every day.  I am no expert on their history but I did have enough experience of the Catholic Church to know that the issuance of an encyclical is no small thing.  You could think of an encyclical as the religious equivalent of a massive memo on a pressing issue that needs immediate attention.  Indeed, I cannot think of climate change as anything less.

The section of the article I find most compelling appears below:

"In recent months, the pope has argued for a radical new financial and economic system to avoid human inequality and ecological devastation. In October he told a meeting of Latin American and Asian landless peasants and other social movements: 'An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.
'The system continues unchanged, since what dominates are the dynamics of an economy and a finance that are lacking in ethics. It is no longer man who commands, but money. Cash commands.
'The monopolising of lands, deforestation, the appropriation of water, inadequate agro-toxics are some of the evils that tear man from the land of his birth. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and deforestation are already showing their devastating effects in the great cataclysms we witness,' he said."

So the Pope is proposing a radical new financial and economic system.  I say it is about time!  In my opinion to think that our current global scenario is indefinitely sustainable represents the height of delusion.  I think the Pope is very right to speak of money as a 'god' whose power runs amok when human life occurs in an ethical vacuum.  (I wish I had been exposed to the subject matter of ethics when I was first an undergraduate student.)

The article correctly acknowledges the potential for massive resistance to the Pope's forthcoming encyclical here in the United States:

"However, Francis’s environmental radicalism is likely to attract resistance from Vatican conservatives and in rightwing church circles, particularly in the US – where Catholic climate sceptics also include John Boehner, Republican leader of the House of Representatives and Rick Santorum, the former Republican presidential candidate.
Cardinal George Pell, a former archbishop of Sydney who has been placed in charge of the Vatican’s budget, is a climate change sceptic who has been criticised for claiming that global warming has ceased and that if carbon dioxide in the atmosphere were doubled, then 'plants would love it'."
That anyone can take anything that comes from the mouths of John Boehner and Rick Santorum seriously shows just how skewed the politics in the United States have become.  In my opinion both men are virtually morally bankrupt because they are members of a party whose essential mantra during President Obama's six years in office has been "Obstruct, Avoid and Coddle The Wealthy".  I would appreciate the chance to see Cardinal George Pell's scientific credentials that would provide him a foundation from which to speak with some authority about how plants would respond if atmospheric carbon dioxide were to be doubled above that level from prior to the Industrial Revolution.

The issuance of Pope Francis' encyclical would be an ideal time to pursue an informed dialogue on the future of our world.  Anyone who believes we can indefinitely live within an economic system whose foundational assumptions defy the very laws of atmospheric physics would be wise to learn more about the science of climate change.  You cannot fundamentally change the very chemistry of the atmosphere without creating a tangible change in the heat content of the atmosphere.  To my knowledge humanity has yet to devise a way to defy the operation of the basic laws of physics.  So as much as Boehner, Santorum and other members of the political Right would like to live in a physics-free reality it is not possible to do so.

If we truly care about the fate of future generations who will call Earth home we should seriously take up the issue of climate change as well as the interconnected issues of environmental destruction, economic inequality and political inertia.  Whether we will actually do so may prove to be the biggest story of the twenty-first century.


I always try to bring every piece of writing back to the central focus of my blog, namely trauma.  So what does climate change and the Catholic Church have to do with trauma?  I would answer in this way:

Ignoring how unfettered capitalism may bring about economic and environmental harm has the potential to create lasting and severe consequences for future generations.  Whole nation states may suffer tremendous losses to their human and environmental resources as a result of climate change.  People who have pursued certain ways of life for generations may eventually find themselves unable to pursue what have been traditional ways of living for centuries.  The instability that may result in response to catastrophic climate change could thus ultimately produce populations of (what could be called) environmental refugees that would dwarf those populations produced by previous disruptive periods in our collective history.

Questions of trauma, environmental quality, ethics and the fate of future generations are not light questions.  It has been my observation that many people would prefer not to think about such weighty issues.  Denial and apathy are easy responses compared to engagement and cultivating a willingness to learn.

I am not convinced we humans will do much about the collective damage we are causing to our planet's manifold systems until we are very far along a path to significant disruption and destruction.  But it doesn't have to be this way.  The Pope's determination to bring awareness to this issue inspires me.  Perhaps we can still change course.

These questions sometimes make it difficult for me to sleep at night.

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I invite you to accompany me as I document my own journey of healing. My blog is designed to offer inspiration and solace to others. If you find it of value I welcome you to share it with others. Aloha!