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Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Science takes a hit with EPA climate report

The latest eco-buzz comes from criticism by the Office of Inspector General for the US Environmental Protection Agency about the agency's oversight of climate-related research. According to the inspector general’s report, technical information used by the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation for a report on climate-change impacts was a “highly influential scientific assessment,” and thus required a significant level of peer-reviewed evaluation.

EPA counters that the technical information used did not meet the definition of a highly influential scientific assessment, and thus they did not break any internal policies with their reduced level of oversight.

The findings in question are about the extent to which certain air pollutants—known commonly as greenhouse gases—are affecting public health. To make this determination, EPA used documents from three research groups: the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the National Research Council (NRC). EPA took reports from these groups and developed what is known in scientific-bureaucratic lingo as a “technical support document” or TSD. (Have you been keeping track of the acronyms? Welcome to the world of government.)

What the inspector general’s office claims is that this synthesized TSD is important enough to require specific levels of review, and EPA seems to have missed the mark, if only slightly. From the actual report, we read that
whether EPA’s review of its endangerment finding TSD met Office of Management and Budget (OMB) requirements for peer review depends on whether the TSD is considered a highly influential scientific assessment. In our opinion, the TSD was a highly influential scientific assessment because EPA weighed the strength of the available science by its choices of information, data, studies, and conclusions included in and excluded from the TSD. EPA officials told us they did not consider the TSD a highly influential scientific assessment. EPA noted that the TSD consisted only of science that was previously peer reviewed, and that these reviews were deemed adequate under the Agency’s policy. EPA had the TSD reviewed by a panel of 12 federal climate change scientists. This review did not meet all OMB requirements for peer review of a highly influential scientific assessment primarily because the review results and EPA’s response were not publicly reported, and because 1 of the 12 reviewers was an EPA employee.

EPA’s guidance for assessing data generated by other organizations does not include procedures for conducting such assessments or require EPA to document its assessment. EPA provided statements in its final findings notice and supporting TSD that generally addressed the Agency’s assessment factors for evaluating scientific and technical information, and explained its rationale for accepting other organizations’ data. However, no supporting documentation was available to show what analyses the Agency conducted prior to disseminating the information.
The details of this more-than-a-slap-on-the-wrist (which you can read in the report) may be no more than the nuances of inter-governmental politics, but they may be more than that. Either way, this all comes at a bad time for those in the scientific community who seek to build consensus about—and spur action to mitigate and adapt to—man-made climate change.

As a government environmental regulator, I would think that those developing such an important scientific document would have exhausted all steps to ensure its credibility. Climate change is, after all, the hot-button issue of our day. What concerns me is that in finding that the credibility of this report is slightly suspect, it is easy for some to diminish the credibility of climate change theories in general. And from there it is a small leap to question the credibility of science in general—and the results of that would be horrifying.

One need only review news items on this story to see the results thus far. Read here, or here, or here or here.

These are odd times. As I watch many today question the relevance of religion in our world—and as the abuses by some in the Catholic Church have led many to dismiss the entire Body of Christ as a sham—so now abuses in science (some small, some not-so-small) may be having the same effect to academia and the fields of natural research.

Let us pray that as this debate plays out, scientists will stick to true scientific principles. For the good of truth, and for thus the common good, all such research into the health effects of climate change must be considered to be highly influential, and should be checked, re-checked and checked again. Otherwise, the resulting loss of confidence in academia would very likely lead to a loss of confidence in civilization itself. And that scenario must not be allowed to happen.

May God help us, and may He guide all true searches of truth. Indeed, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches,
The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

More B16 in Germany: human ecology and acid rain

Benedict XVI has been on fire with his talks and homilies during his four-day visit to Germany. As noted in my previous post on his speech to Germany’s parliament, his words have once again included thoughts on ecology. Two days after he received a standing ovation in parliament, he gave a homily that compared Germany’s trials under Nazi and Communist dictatorships to acid rain. For Catholic ecologists—indeed, for all Catholics and all those who seek what is true—these words invite reflection.

His talk to German lawmakers was a probing reflection on law and its relation to justice, the common good and the roots thereof. Human law must participate in something prior to itself if it is to flourish—and that something we Catholics proclaim is a Someone. What surprised many listening to Benedict XVI (and what resulted in a round of applause) was the pontiff’s calling attention to the good intentions of (apparently) Germany’s Green Party. According to the Green Party’s website, “for nearly 30 years we have been working in the parliament for environmental protection and sustainable development, democracy and human rights, social justice, peace and multilateral international policies.”

Benedict XVI had this to add:
I would like to recall one of the developments in recent political history, hoping that I will neither be misunderstood, nor provoke too many one-sided polemics. I would say that the emergence of the ecological movement in German politics since the 1970s, while it has not exactly flung open the windows, nevertheless was and continues to be a cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside, just because too much of it is seen to be irrational. Young people had come to realize that something is wrong in our relationship with nature, that matter is not just raw material for us to shape at will, but that the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives. In saying this, I am clearly not promoting any particular political party – nothing could be further from my mind. If something is wrong in our relationship with reality, then we must all reflect seriously on the whole situation and we are all prompted to question the very foundations of our culture.
A few observations: The Holy Father has clearly learned to anticipate the misinterpretation of his words. As an academic, he will over and again use examples of other worldviews to make his points—that is, he will contrast or demonstrate one way of thinking with another. Sometimes listeners and commentators wrongly interpret this as endorsements, which causes Rome to then “clarify” the pontiff’s remarks. But here the Holy Father made a pre-emptive clarification.

More importantly is the main thrust of Benedict XVI’s point: “Young people had come to realize that something is wrong in our relationship with nature . . . If something is wrong in our relationship with reality, then we must all reflect seriously on the whole situation and we are all prompted to question the very foundations of our culture.”

Here the Holy Father praises as noteworthy the views of a political party that may otherwise not be enamored with the Church’s teaching on abortion, same-sex marriage and the like. He does this for a number of reasons, two of which require mentioning.

First, Pope Benedict is and always was certain that dialogue among peoples is central to being human, and thus to evangelizing. We find this in his early seminary studies, in his doctoral work and in his many writings. It does little good for one to demonize those who do not agree with you on every point; in doing so one merely closes doors and isolates human from human, which is antithetical to the incarnational, sacramental nature of Christ’s Church. After all, isolation is the goal of our ancient enemy. It is not the will of God.

Photo: M.Mazur/
Beyond that, Benedict XVI finds evidence in the Green Party of the fundamental human yearning for truth, order and justice. This does not surprise the Holy Father, who knows that one can not seek the good without stumbling into a dialogue with Christianity. Again, we find in this discourse those key elements of dialogue, relation, and charity that undergirds Benedict XVI’s (and Blessed John Paul II's) view of “New Evangelization.”

None of this minimizes the Holy Father’s own concerns for real ecological harm. But he sees this harm as a significant symptom of the greater harm being done to, and by, modern worldviews—especially those that would silence the voice of God and  ignore the dialogue that He invites us to. But God finds ways to appear among us nonetheless, for it is the very nature of creation that one be confronted with God’s will. Benedict XVI made this clear in his talk to the German parliament by demonstrating in a grandfatherly, academic way that the Green Party has something in common at its core with Christians—with the Gospel.

That said, we finish listening to the Holy Father’s words:
The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.
Again, we find the pontiff offering the world the saving power of Christian anthropology—that is, “an ecology of man.” Moreover, he is confident that in pointing to such commonalities—to the common sense of relating natural ecology to human ecology—that his listeners will find much to consider about what it means to be human and what it means to be in relation with God. This is the heart of Benedict XVI’s use of ecology.

Two days later, in his homily during Mass at Erfurt's Cathedral Square in Thuringia, the pontiff says this:
Dear Brothers and Sisters, “Praise the Lord at all times, for he is good.” These are the words that we sang just before the Gospel. Yes, we truly have reason to thank God with our whole hearts. If we think back thirty years to the Elizabeth Year 1981, when this city formed part of the German Democratic Republic, who would have thought that a few years later, the wall and the barbed wire at the border would have come down? And if we think even further back, some 70 years, to the year 1941, in the days of National Socialism, who could have predicted that the so-called “thousand-year Reich” would turn to dust and ashes just four years later? Dear Brothers and Sisters, here in Thuringia and in the former German Democratic Republic, you have had to endure first a brown and then a red dictatorship, which acted on the Christian faith like acid rain.
As he often does, Benedict XVI uses a real world ecological issue to demonstrate the role of sin in modern human activity. Indeed, Germany is struggling to protect its signature forests from acid rain. The pope’s words were certainly understood by his listeners. Should this surprise us? Didn't Christ Himself teach us to use examples from nature to teach others greater truths?

Lastly, one hopes that such use of ecology will bridge the ideological divides within the Church, for that is another benefit of the Holy Father’s eco-speak. But then, that is his way. As the Successor of Peter, he continues to seek unity within Holy Mother Church by seeking dialogue with and invitation to those on the outside and those within, however one defines this. (As a good Augustinian, Benedict XVI knows this is not always clear.)

Such dialogue and invitation, using real-world eco-examples, seem to come naturally to Benedict XVI, and for this we give thanks to Almighty God.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

B16 to German Parliament: Ecology has a human dimension

Photo: M.Mazur/
In his historic talk to the German Parliament today, the Holy Father made the following statement on ecology. It explains much about his interest in ecology as both a scientific and moral issue as well as a topic that teaches us something of what it means to be human. It's no wonder this section of his talk received a loud, spontaneous round of applause.
How can reason rediscover its true greatness, without being sidetracked into irrationality? How can nature reassert itself in its true depth, with all its demands, with all its directives? I would like to recall one of the developments in recent political history, hoping that I will neither be misunderstood, nor provoke too many one-sided polemics. I would say that the emergence of the ecological movement in German politics since the 1970s, while it has not exactly flung open the windows, nevertheless was and continues to be a cry for fresh air which must not be ignored or pushed aside, just because too much of it is seen to be irrational. Young people had come to realize that something is wrong in our relationship with nature, that matter is not just raw material for us to shape at will, but that the earth has a dignity of its own and that we must follow its directives. In saying this, I am clearly not promoting any particular political party – nothing could be further from my mind. If something is wrong in our relationship with reality, then we must all reflect seriously on the whole situation and we are all prompted to question the very foundations of our culture. Allow me to dwell a little longer on this point. The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled.
As this blog’s banner shows us, we find the Holy Father specifically discussing this very topic in his third letter to the Church, Caritas in Veritate (see my commentary here), and he makes use of ecology brilliantly in a 2008 World Youth Day talk in Australia (see my posting on it), in which he connects the reality of pollution with the reality of sin.

More to come, but for now, once more we need to say: God bless this pope! And please offer a brief prayer for him and his homeland during these days in travel to Germany.

For more, see the Rome Reports clip below, or here for a full-length video from Catholic TV.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Charity and an inconvenient spokesperson

A good many who do not believe in anthropomorphic climate change turn and run every time Al Gore puts on a show.

Since An Inconvenient Truth, the former vice president has made a point out about making a point about climate change. And dramatically, too. Most recently, Gore’s The Climate Reality Project continues a slick packaging of everything you need to know about man-made climate change. Well, maybe not everything.

From some of the coverage it received, The Climate Reality Project has its fair share of detractors. See here, for instance, and here, here and here.

Thus problem number one: the skeptics that Gore and his followers would like to convert don't seem to be paying attention to him. These people are mostly (but certainly not all) on the political right. They disdain the left’s insistence that humanity is boiling the planet with an excessive population and its nasty capitalism. The inevitable clash of ideologies creates its own show, but a sad one. Truth—the kind that real science should be able to uncover—is the victim of this inconvenient battle.

The real dialogue that is needed on climate change—with the right tone, volume and charity—seems nowhere to be found. Certainly, behind the curtain of academia there is good scientific debate underway. At least one hopes. But most of us don’t have the credentials or the knowledge to get in on that dialogue. And so we rely on the media and others to intercede for us.

Thus, problem number two: there is growing distrust by and for both “sides” of the anthropomorphic climate change debate. This makes it difficult to find a go-between that one can or will trust to be unbiased.

Sure, time and true science will tell us all we need to know about climate change—about if it’s happening, how fast and by what cause. But by the time we know all that we need to know it will be too late. Either the current dire predictions by the majority of scientists are true or they are not. If the former, our climate will change dramatically over the next few decades, which will bring drastic problems for many millions. If the latter, humanity’s trust in science will evaporate, to the detriment of civilization.

Either way, it is important to remember that human reason by itself is insufficient to elevate humanity out of sin, gluttony, ignorance and distrust. Reason must be illuminated with the light of faith to become the true gift that God has bestowed on us, his rational creatures. If reason is to help us quantify and mitigate our climatological problems, it must be rooted in charity.

But as we fallen creatures should know all too well, the real problem is not in our climate, but in our selves.

And so what people like Al Gore need to remember is that  it can be best to decrease so that the truth may increase. We must let love of truth and of neighbor win out over our insistence that we be the victors of a debate. Because if any of us becomes a cause for scandal or a stumbling block to the growth of our brothers and sisters, then we should step aside and let others take over the job of offering to a wary world the realities of unwanted truths.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Catholic Ecology for Catechetical Sunday

Here's a sampling of posts and columns to help use ecology to teach theology, and vice versa:

Ecology from the Holy Father’s perspective: 
here, and here, and here.

Climate change: here, and here, and here, and here, and here, and here.

Life and abortion: here, and here and here.

Then there's insights from such topics as biodiversitysailingcoal minesEaster, and tornado chasing.

And, related to all this: human anthropology.

There's much, much more, so enjoy as you explore  . . .

Saturday, September 17, 2011

He who desires to die well, must live well

Robert Bellarmine's tomb,Church of Sant`Ignazio, Rome  
As the Church prepares for Catechetical Sunday—a celebration of parents and all instructors who hold and teach the Catholic faith—today we celebrate the feast of St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), a Jesuit priest, a patron of Catholic educators and a cardinal very much caught up in one of the most known faith-reason debates within the Church: The Galileo Affair.

I’ve written often about the healthy dialogue between faith and reason in Catholic thought and practice, especially as it relates to Galileo’s great discoveries. I stress this because so much of ecology today is a blend of hard science, ethics, and morality. And ethics and morality are ultimately informed by the soul and a sound faith in a God that is love.

Indeed, as our Holy Father stresses in his second letter to the Church: “It is not science that redeems man; man is redeemed by love.” This does not minimize science. On the contrary, it ennobles it with the freedom of its proper sphere. And this is really what the Galileo affair was all about.

In light of Robert Bellarmine’s feast day, I’d like to share the following by George Sim Johnston from his essay “The Galileo Affair” (Princeton, NJ: Scepter Press).

The text is a nicely detailed review of the many facets of Galileo’s debates with the Church. It’s solid in its entirety, but for our purposes I’ll come in near the middle. At this point in the story, Galileo has made it clear that he will not back down from teaching heliocentricity as fact, even if the scientific evidence wasn’t yet available to prove it (because, in fairness to Galileo, the mathematics necessary wasn't available in his day).
At this point, one of the great saints of the day, Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, entered the drama. Bellarmine was one of the most important theologians of the Catholic Reformation. He was an expansive, gentle man who possessed the sort of meekness and good humor that is the product of a lifetime of ascetical struggle. As Consultor of the Holy Office and Master of Controversial Questions, he was unwillingly drawn into the Copernical controversy. In April 1615, he wrote a letter which amounted to an unofficial statement of the Church's position. He pointed out that: 1) it was perfectly acceptable to maintain Copernicanism as a working hypothesis; and 2) if there were “real proof” that the earth circles around the sun, “then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary...”
I wish more people would be aware of this part of the Galileo story, and that more people would know the thoughts of one of the greatest minds of the Church. Indeed, consider St. Bellarmine’s comment once more: if there were “real proof” that the earth circles around the sun, “then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of Scripture which appear to teach the contrary...”

And so on Robert Bellarmine’s feast day, let us remember the man and his great contributions to the Church and to so many facets of Western political, social and scientific thought—as well as, of course, spiritual. Indeed, the title of this post (which, if you think about it, is rather ecological) comes from his great work The Art of Dying. And his work on the The Seven Words on the Cross is a text well worth spending time with.

Let us pause briefly, and thank God for the life and works of Robert Bellarmine, as we pray:
God our Father, you gave Robert Bellarmine wisdom and goodness to defend the faith of your Church. By his prayers may we always rejoice in the profession of our faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Photo: By antmoose/

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The eco-left and Our Lady of Sorrows

Barak Obama’s credentials as a green presidential candidate have not made him a green president, or so goes the complaint of many in the political left. But not to worry, the president is getting advice as well as criticism.

Jeff Goodell writes in about “Ten Thing Obama Must Do: How the president can help slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet - without waiting for Congress.” This miraculous sounding header sets the stage for this opening:
When Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, he declared that future generations would remember it as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." More than three years later, the oceans are still rising and our planet has done more howling – in the form of extreme weather – than healing. In fact, the current political climate is actually headed in the wrong direction: The most heated talk in Washington right now is not about reducing carbon pollution or expanding renewable energy, but whether to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency. Michele Bachmann has pledged to see the EPA's "doors locked and lights turned off." Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, wants to "let EPA go the way of the dinosaurs that became fossil fuels."

Not that Obama hasn't overseen some progress on the environment. He struck a deal with automakers to double fuel-efficiency standards by 2025. He boosted funding for clean-energy research. And he made some impressive appointments to key positions, including Lisa Jackson as head of the EPA and Steven Chu as secretary of energy. But overall, Obama's record on the environment has been uninspired – and that's putting it kindly. He hasn't stopped coal companies from blowing up mountaintops and devastating large regions of Appalachia. He caved in on tightening federal standards for ozone pollution, putting the lives of millions of Americans at risk. And the biggest tragedy: He has done almost nothing to rein in carbon pollution – or even to convince Americans that, in the long run, cooking the planet with coal and oil is a bad idea.

It's not all Obama's fault: His plans to rebuild America's energy infrastructure have been hampered by the recession, and his efforts on global warming have been stymied by Tea Party wackos and weak-kneed Democrats in Congress. But the president has spent far too much time blaming others, when he could have been taking action on his own. Here are 10 things Obama could do right now – without any say-so from Congress – to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. All it takes is the will – and some political courage.
What follows are the 10 things that must be done to save the planet. These include: Prevent Oil Spills (not “attempt to prevent,” but “prevent”), Strike a Deal with China, Make Coal Clean Up Its Mess, and others. Some are good ideas. Most are more complicated than the author lets on. Praying isn’t on the list, although having the president use his bully pulpit is: “Obama's refusal to speak out on the risks and moral obligations of climate change may well be his biggest failure as president.” I was glad to see that Goodell was able to connect ecology with morality, because that connection is a vital one. Our failures in ecological protection are, more often than not, moral failures.

As we Catholics observe the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15th, it’s worth reflecting why we draw so much attention to the Cross and to human failure. While such failure is at the core of Goodell’s piece, it differs from how a Catholic ecologist understandings it.

We know that—as fallen creatures—we are not capable of saving ourselves. Thus, our spirituality is rooted in humility, as exemplified by the Lord, who became flesh and made his dwelling among us. While hope is of course central to our spirituality, it is not hope in us, or our elected officials. After all, no one man or woman can prevent oil spills. Nor can any group of people—like regulatory agencies or advocacy groups.

What we can do is try to live by the laws of nature—those physical laws that we’ve discovered and the moral laws revealed to us. They are both meant to help us thrive and be fully human.

And yet, no matter how much, how hard and how often we try, we will fail—in small ways and big. Yes, we often do succeed, by the grace of God. But we are defined most by how we incorporate our failures and sufferings into our very being, and by how we help others to do so.

The disappointment that many ecologically minded people express about the president is understandable, but it is importantly an invitation to understand more fully the limits of humanity. Disappointment in our leaders can either crush in anguish and chaos or it can convert us. It can remind us of our fallen nature and our need for Christ.

In all our daily toils—whether as a world leader, a parent, spouse or friend—we will continually encounter the problem of evil. We must confront the evil in others, yes, but also that within us. Our Lady encountered this evil in ways you or I can never imagine, and she willingly offers her comfort and intercession to we who suffer and fail now.

If only we as a nation remembered this. If only we could regularly fall on our collective knees and ask, not demand, that things go well for us, for our neighbors and for the world that we were given to steward. In other words, it would do well for us to remember those laws of nature—moral and physical—as well as our place as fallen creatures who are always being offered the love and prayers of Our Lady of Sorrows. Her wish is simple: to bring us to her Son, so that we may someday be delivered from the anguish and disappointment that is so part of our lives and so very much a part of our fallen world.
Sighing Mother, pray for us. Afflicted Mother, pray for us. Foresaken Mother, pray for us. Desolate Mother, pray for us. Mother most sad, pray for us. Mother set around with anguish, pray for us. Mother overwhelmed by grief, pray for us. Mother transfixed by a sword, pray for us. Mother crucified in thy heart, pray for us. Mother bereaved of thy Son, pray for us. Sighing Dove, pray for us. Mother of Dolors, pray for us. Fount of tears, pray for us. Sea of bitterness, pray for us. Field of tribulation, pray for us. Mass of suffering, pray for us. Mirror of patience, pray for us. Rock of constancy, pray for us. Remedy in perplexity, pray for us. Joy of the afflicted, pray for us. Ark of the desolate, pray for us. Refuge of the abandoned, pray for us. Shield of the oppressed, pray for us. Conqueror of the incredulous, pray for us. Solace of the wretched, pray for us. Medicine of the sick, pray for us. Help of the faint, pray for us. Strength of the weak, pray for us. Protectress of those who fight, pray for us. Haven of the shipwrecked, pray for us. Calmer of tempests, pray for us. Companion of the sorrowful, pray for us. Retreat of those who groan, pray for us. Terror of the treacherous, pray for us. Standard-bearer of the Martyrs, pray for us. Treasure of the Faithful, pray for us. Light of Confessors, pray for us. Pearl of Virgins, pray for us. Comfort of Widows, pray for us. Joy of all Saints, pray for us. Queen of thy Servants, pray for us. Holy Mary, who alone art unexampled, pray for us. (From the Litany of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows by Pope Pius VII.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Should we listen to climate-change skeptics?

A group called the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) and the Heartland Institute have produced and published a report called "Climate Change Reconsidered."

It will certainly cause an uproar in some circles. Here are some of the findings:
  • Climate models fail to correctly simulate future precipitation due to inadequate model resolution on both vertical and horizontal spatial scales, a limitation that forces climate modelers to parameterize the large-scale effects of processes that occur on smaller scales than their models are capable of simulating. This is particularly true of physical processes such as cloud formation and cloud-radiation interactions.
  • All else being equal, rising levels of atmospheric CO2 would increase global temperatures through its thermal radiative properties. But CO2 promotes plant growth both on land and throughout the surface waters of the world‘s oceans, and this vast assemblage of plant life has the ability to affect Earth‘s climate in several ways, almost all of them tending to counteract the heating or cooling effects of CO2‘s thermal radiative forcing.
  • Researchers have found extreme and destructive rainfall events were more common in many parts of the world during the Little Ice Age than they have been subsequently, contradicting the forecasts of the IPCC. Regional climate models of North America generate predictions that vary considerably among models and extend well beyond the realm of reality.
  • While some corals exhibit a propensity to bleach and die when sea temperatures rise, others exhibit a positive relationship between calcification, or growth, and temperature. "Such variable bleaching susceptibility implies that there is a considerable variation in the extent to which coral species are adapted to local environmental conditions." (Maynard et al., 2008)
Because I'm not a trained climatologist, or biologist, it's difficult for me to weigh in on such specifics. But as an engineer, I know enough about research to know that a good debate is not a bad thing. So I hope this report allows a healthy dialogue among specialists and laymen. Maybe the so-called climate-change skeptics are on to something? Are we not allowed to ask such questions?

However, it does seem hard to believe that the overwhelming number of scientists that are certain about climate change are wrong. There is just too much consensus by people who are smart enough to know that if they could disprove anthropomorphic climate change then they would make a real name for themselves. Why would so many scientists bolster a theory or a hypothesis that they have no reason to support other than the fact that the evidence backs it?

Level heads are needed. As with the conference held earlier this year by Rome, and the resulting Pontifical report on climate change, it would do well for the Church to foster more of exactly that kind of dialogue--locally and globally. If nothing else, it would help discern truth, and help others do likewise.

For now, it will be interesting to see what come of this reconsideration of climate change. And while we're waiting, we can pray that God will guide all within this dialogue to the fullness of understanding, truth and, as always, love of neighbor.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remembering 9.11.01 from an orbital perspective

Courtesy of NASA, with thanks for providing this global, international perspective.

May God bless the victims, their families and the peoples of Earth.

As Benedict XVI wrote in his letter to the bishops of the United States of America:

"Once again, it must be unequivocally stated that no circumstances can ever justify acts of terrorism. Every human life is precious in God' s sight and no effort should be spared in the attempt to promote throughout the world a genuine respect for the inalienable rights and dignity of individuals and peoples everywhere."

Friday, September 9, 2011

The nature of self-governance

I came across this story from It’s about a New York town seeking to protect itself from an anticipated boom in requests by gas companies for horizontal hydrofracking gas drilling. The story says that this technique poses “potential health and environmental risks 100 times greater than existing vertical gas wells.”

For now, I don't wish to focus on the nuances of hydrofracking, but this New York Time story gives some good background related to the Empire State.

What does interest me is the philosophy of what the town is asserting, as well as why and what presuppositions are behind their goals. Towards the end of the story we read this:
Facing these overwhelming forces, and aware of the health and safety risks associated with hydrofracking, the tiny Town of Wales recently outlawed new gas wells using the horizontal, hydraulic fracturing drilling technique.

The law asserts that the people of Wales possess certain natural and inalienable rights, including: the right to form a local government to promote their welfare, not the economic interests of corporations; the right to healthy local ecosystems and clean drinking water; and the right to protect themselves — even from harmful state actions.
First, let me say that as a regulator, I understand the frustration communities can go through when waiting for the state or feds to do what they need to do. Little ever goes the way we plan it or as fast as we want it—and that’s just as true in the world of regulation as it is everywhere else. After all, a regulator must weigh as much information as possible and they must do it very well, with all voices being heard. This takes time.

But more importantly, there is a fascinating facet hidden in this story about Wales, New York that has to do with the nature of transcendence.

The people of Wales seek to govern themselves and protect their rights. This is exactly what America’s founding fathers wished, and did. But our nation's founders knew where their life, liberty and the promised ability to pursue happiness came from—God. But of late, in a world that increasingly worships at the altar of Separation-of-Church-and-State (and often for good reason), the location of something prior to liberty—and thus that ensures liberty—becomes difficult to pin down.

It’s interesting that the people of Wales are claiming their rights within the context of ecological protection and public health. Human rights—and human being defined as a person from conception to natural death (and, actually, beyond that, too)—are embedded in the logic of the cosmos. And as Catholics proclaim, that logic—that logos—is indeed Jesus Christ, who was there in the beginning, when the Spirit moved over the waters and God spoke creation into existence.

I wish the people of Wales well and I will pray for them. I also look forward to learning more than what this news story could provide. I would be delighted to find that these good people see their rights as rooted in the logic of creation, in which all human beings are made in God’s image and thus must have their dignity affirmed at all times. In doing so, they will find an important link between protecting creation and their desire to protect—and govern—themselves.

As His Holiness writes in Caritas in Veritate,
On this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself — God's gift to his children — and through hard work and creativity. At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it. This means being committed to making joint decisions “after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying”[120]. Let us hope that the international community and individual governments will succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment. It is likewise incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations: the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet[121]. One of the greatest challenges facing the economy is to achieve the most efficient use — not abuse — of natural resources, based on a realization that the notion of “efficiency” is not value-free.
[120] Benedict XVI, Message for the 2008 World Day of Peace, 7: AAS 100 (2008), 41.
[121] Cf. Benedict XVI, Address to the General Assembly of the United Nations Organization, New York, 18 April 2008.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

An installation homily that speaks of human ecology

On the Feast of the Birth of the Blessed Mother

May God bless Archbishop Chaput, and the Church of Philadelphia  . . . of brotherly love.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tropical storms, trees, and grace

A week ago I was in darkness as tropical storm Irene swirled around my home, casting trees onto power lines, making the electrical grid groan as transmission breakers slammed open.

While the week since was busy at work dealing with how power outages were affecting wastewater collection and treatment infrastructure, I was one of the lucky ones. There was little damage at home and National Grid was able to restore my power some 18 hours after I lost it. Others in Rhode Island are just getting it back. And others around the Northeast won’t be restored soon—and some in Vermont, New York and New Jersey have had to deal with the tragedy of massive flooding. May God give rest to all the souls that were lost.

Irene—oddly, a name from the Greek word for “peace”—did her share of damage. Especially to trees.

This got me thinking about my neo-pagan friends who insist that nature offers complete harmony if only we’d leave it alone. Well, I don’t know about you, but after looking around at all the felled trees since last Sunday, it seems nature can be at war with itself.

Now, of course this is all part of the natural order. Downed trees make good food for all sorts of critters, fungus and microorganisms. And their absence brings sunlight to smaller trees around them.

But is this harmony? I suppose that’s in how one looks at things.

To me, the damage done by storms, and the good that can come to it, is both tragic and an opportunity for grace. Many people lost beloved, ancient trees. But the natural cycle of death and life seems remarkably like how God can bring good out of evil—out of sin.

As trees fall, so our fallen human nature often brings with it destruction. And as nature uses the opportunity of downed trees for new life, so God’s Grace is offered to us always so that our sinful nature—and the hurt, anguish, loneliness, pain, and death that comes with it—can be raised up.

I was talking to a wonderful couple after Mass today. The woman’s brother has a rare cancer, and she’s taking care of him. “God has a plan,” the husband noted. And we reflected on how God does not will evil, but He certainly allows it, and—more importantly—He can bring much good out of it, if we let Him. Sort of like the new life that can come from a great oak felled by an eighty mile-an-hour gust.

Something to consider. And while you consider this, please say a prayer for John, the brother who has cancer. May God give him strength and the support of family and loved ones; may his pain be lessened and may great good be brought from any suffering he and his loved ones endure.