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Friday, October 28, 2011

Cardinal Pell's voice welcome in climate change dialogue

Cardinal George Pell’s recently delivered concerns about the science and economics of climate change are not black-and-white, even if some news outlets (like this one) oversimplify his comments.

But while some wish to skewer Cardinal Pell for being a “climate change denier,”  in reading the actual talk that he gave to the Global Warming Policy Foundation we find a man seeking to make sense out of a complex scientific discussion that has immense implications for the poorest among us.

The cardinal’s review of the science of anthropomorphic climate change is certainly open to debate, which he admits, but his concluding words caught my attention:
The cost of attempts to make global warming go away will be very heavy. They may be levied initially on “the big polluters” but they will eventually trickle down to the end-users. Efforts to offset the effects on the vulnerable are well intentioned but history tells us they can only ever be partially successful.

Will the costs and the disruption be justified by the benefits? Before we can give an answer, there are some other, scientific and economic, questions that need to be addressed by governments and those advising them. As a layman, in both fields, I do not pretend to have clear answers but some others in the debate appear to be ignoring the questions and relying more on assumptions.
Many find it ironic that this talk came out about the same time that the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Group issued findings that seem to emphatically demonstrate the reality of human-induced climate change. (Alex Knapp at Forbes has a good overview of this story—even if you do have to get past the site’s advertising to read it.)

In another twist of fate, I first read about Cardinal Pell’s talk a day after I attended a climate-change policy seminar hosted by a local environmental advocacy group. The keynote speaker was not a climatologist. He was a mechanical engineer working for FM Global—a major insurance agency. His message was simple: Climate change is real enough for insurance companies to be paying attention and planning ahead. For me, this made more of an impact than the Berkeley study because it came from a company that has skin in the game—which is why they use the most advanced technologies to study the monetary and scientific data behind the headlines.

In fact, many of the speakers at this seminar made some of the same excellent points as the good cardinal: When climates change, there are costs. Who will pay for them? And how?

As Cardinal Pell warns, there are moral issues at play. For this reason I welcome all voices—especially pastoral ones—who remind us that human dignity and care for the poor must be factored in to the actuarial tables of insurance companies and the temperature studies of climate researchers.

Sure, Cardinal Pell is not a scientist (nor are many of the reporters who cover him) but he has great experience in the human condition—and that is a perspective that no dialogue can do without.

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