By Father Bud Grant
Senator Rick Santorum, a staunch Catholic unflinching in his social issues agenda, is strangely derisive in his mockery of climate change, which he has scoffed as “political science,” along with the “phony theology” of “radical environmentalists” (on CBS’ “Face the Nation”). It is disturbing and embarrassing that a frontrunner for the most powerful political job on the planet is proudly disdainful and breathtakingly ignorant on this issue. Moreover, dismissing climate change undermines social concerns and ignores his Church’s teachings.
There is virtual consensus in the scientific community that “climate change is happening and … humans are to blame,” (David Biello, Scientific American) despite the well-oiled claims of such deniers as the Heartland Institute. The conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been reinforced by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Meteorological Society, the National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, among others.
Perhaps Climate Change Deniers are trolling a deeper suspicion of science. Populist anti-intellectualism is instinctively suspicious of any well-educated people (indeed, Mr. Santorum, who homeschools his own children, recently called President Obama a “snob” for his efforts to get more kids to attend college). Americans tend toward myths of self-taught heroes imbued with common sense expounded in folksy twang, as in J.F. Cooper’s Hawkeye. But feigned “common sense” can cloak latent prejudice and lazy over simplification. In any case, despite our mistrust of the educated “elite,” we spend our entire lives blithely accepting the fruits of those 1-percenters (really 30 percent have at least a four-year degree, 3 percent hold “terminal” degrees).
When we buckle ourselves into a piece of fiberglass and hurl ourselves down roadways at insane speeds, with other drivers coming at us only inches away, we trust technology, engineering, physics … the science that makes it all work with miraculous precision. We do the same when we fly in planes, undergo surgery, feed medicine to our children, or cook them food imported from around the globe.
The Climate Change Deniers are an enigma. I would ask: who has what to gain by foisting such a vast global conspiracy down our throats? (The answer is usually the mysteriously pariah Al Gore, former vice president of the United States, Oscar recipient, and Nobel Laureate for exposing the effects of climate change). And who, I would add, has what to gain by sowing doubt about climate change? Here’s a hint: five of the top 10 Fortune 500 companies sell cars or oil. To be fair, 78 other “500” corporations are, without government incentives, pursuing alternative energy sources.
Science aside, Mr. Santorum is equally misinformed about the position of his own faith tradition on climate change, about which Pope Benedict XVI has written with the anxiety and wisdom of a true teacher. The pope warns against “moral posturing” that refuses to “acknowledge the reality of anything beyond the political and material…” (“Jesus of Nazareth,” 2007). In 2007, explicitly responding to a question about climate change, he noted that “we must respect the interior laws of creation, of this Earth, to learn these laws and obey them if we want to survive.”
At the World Youth Day in Sidney, 2008, the Holy Father fretted about the effects of climate change on kids from “island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels; others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought.” In advance of the 2011 climate conference in Copenhagen, according to Vatican Radio, the Holy Father prayed that “all members of the international community might reach agreement on a responsible credible response.” As always, he expressed particular social concern for the effects on “the poorest people and future generations.”
It would seem that Benedict XVI is much better informed on the science, the theology, and the social agenda than Mr. Santorum.
(Fr. Bud Grant is a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)