Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The climate encyclical: should the pope be hanged?

Image above: an internet site with wild accusations against Pope Francis. That's, of course, just the work of an isolated crackpot, but, a hundred years ago, Pope Benedict XV was widely accused of "defeatism" and threatened with hanging when he requested to stop the "useless slaughter" of the first world war. Could something similar occur because of Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change?    

The Pope's encyclical on climate is out. I went through it, I think I agree with just about everything in it. From a scientific viewpoint, it seems to me flawless (at least after a first read). In terms of its ethical and human approach, it is even better. I don't see myself as a very religious person, but I think we badly need ways to overcome that peculiarly evil view of the world that sees each one of us as a mere economic agent, interested only in maximizing profits and accumulating capital. That can't be the way to run things on this planet and if we need a religion to tell us that we should do better than that, then welcome religion!!

This said, now what? It was Stalin who mocked the pope by asking how many division he could muster on the battlefield, but - apart from armored divisions - if I were a denier, I would feel dismayed. The beauty of the pope's intervention is that it demolishes right away one of the main stumbling blocks that prevented most people from understanding the gravity and the seriousness of the situation. So far, the forces of denial could paint the whole story of climate change as a silly idea concocted by an isolated group of crackpot scientists. But, now, not anymore. You may agree or not with the pope, but you can't ignore that he represents more than a billion Christians. Not an isolated group of crackpots, for sure. Clearly, the pope's encyclical has forever changed the terms of the debate.

On the other hand, if I were a climate science denier, I would also start thinking about what I could do to oppose the pope and his ideas. And, for this purpose, there are ways. We have, today, a giant mud-slinging machine in place that's called "public relations" (called propaganda in old times). This PR machine is truly an evil force that can destroy anything it decides to destroy; even the pope.

It is not farfetched. Something similar already happened about one century ago, in August 1917, during the first world war. The pope of the time, Benedict XV, appealed to "the heads of warring peoples" to end the "useless slaughter." He was not heard and, at least in Italy, the reaction of some exponents of the war party was that the pope should have been hanged.

So, it is not difficult to imagine ways to use the mud-slinging machine to paint the pope as feeble-minded, misguided, or perhaps much worse than that. Will we see again people asking for "hanging the pope", as it happened in 1917? (*) We can only say that the present situation is even more dramatic than it was at the time of the first world war. There is still time to avoid a climate disaster, but we still face a hard fight. What is sure, anyway, is that the pope's intervention is a big push in the right direction and a great hope for all humankind.

(*) Something like that seems to be already ongoing here.


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)