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Cardinal Pell tries to sow doubt on climate action

  • Ellen Teague

Cardinal Pell

Cardinal Pell

The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, has questioned the cost benefits of financing action to curb climate change, such as funding clean, renewable energy. "The cost of attempts to make global warming go away will be very heavy" he said last night in London; "they may be levied initially on 'the big polluters' but they will eventually trickle down to the end-users".

Speaking at the annual lecture of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), a climate sceptic think tank, chaired by former British chancellor Nigel Lawson, he expressed his controversial view that the evidence on human-induced climate change "is insufficient to achieve practical certainty on many of these scientific issues".

Introducing Cardinal Pell, GWPF Director Dr Benny Peiser complained that the British government "is forcing us to fund very expensive green energy" and welcomed Chancellor George Osborne's recent hints that he could water down the UK's ambitious carbon targets. He welcomed Cardinal Pell as a "courageous churchman" who raised "these awkward questions".

It was only under questioning from the audience in a two-thirds full Westminster Cathedral Hall that Cardinal Pell made clear that he was speaking as an individual and not presenting an official Catholic stance.

When told of a 2007 gathering of all the parishes in the Archdiocese of Manila to discuss climate change mitigation as well as adaptation, he responded that he felt the thousands of people present were "mistaken".

Members of the Columban Missionary Society and Fr Joe Ryan of Westminster Justice and Peace, challenged the Cardinal for accusing those calling for climate action as being scaremongers. Fr Ryan pointed out that the May 2011 report of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on 'Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene' did not deliberately set out to scaremonger when it listed numerous examples of glacial decline around the world, and the evidence linking that decline to human-caused changes in climate and air pollution. The report showed that the way of life of many people in the regions dependent upon glaciers and snow packs for water was under grave threat, It called to immediate action to mitigate the effects of climate change. The document is available on the Vatican website.

Commenting on the lecture, Tim Aldred of Progressio said: "it is strange that the Cardinal calls for action only on the basis of evidence, whilst apparently dismissing the evidence-based conclusions of (amongst others) the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and NASA". Aldred pointed out that "only last week the Berkeley Earth Project, in a major new study, reconfirmed the earlier conclusions that global warming is taking place and that the results are inexplicable without taking man-made CO2 emissions into account".

He also underlined that organisations such as Progressio help poor communities adapt to extreme weather as well as acting to reduce emissions which are driving the change in climate. "The potential impact of a failure to act on climate change has been highlighted for us by a week in which Progressio partners in El Salvador have been responding to serious flooding, with over 50,000 people in emergency shelters" he said. "Our partners tell us of the importance of preparing for future disasters, and also the need to address the emissions which are leading to an increase in the frequency of such extreme events".

"There is an overwhelming, and still growing, body of evidence that climate change is happening, that it's very likely to be caused by our carbon emissions, and that we need to be changing direction now in the way we use fossil fuels" responded Paul Bodenham, the Catholic Director of Operation Noah and Chair of Christian Ecology Link. "The vast majority of scientists and academies accept it, and the Pontifical Academy for Sciences accepts it, and we get on with the job, at home and in society at large, of fostering justice, prudence, temperance and love for God's creation".

Columban Father Sean McDonagh, who has written a book about Climate Change, said he feels Cardinal Pell is out of step with Vatican policy. He points out that a joint communiqué issued by the Holy See and the British Government last September, during the papal visit, clearly indicates the Vatican's position. The second paragraph stated that, 'The British Government and the Holy See share a conviction of the urgent need for action to address the challenge of climate change' and that 'action is needed at every level from the governmental to the individual if we are to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to set in motion the transition to a global low-carbon economy, and to assist poor and vulnerable countries to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are already inevitable'.

Father McDonagh said he feels it is "very regrettable" that Cardinal Pell is "planting seeds of doubt" about Climate Change just one month before the next round of UN climate negotiations in South Africa. Just last week, in his message for World Food Day, Pope Benedict said that "availability of foods is increasingly conditioned by volatility of prices and sudden climatic changes".

Cardinal George Pell's full talk can be found on the website of the Global Warming Policy Foundation -

Joint statement of British Government and Vatican on action to address world poverty and climate change, 17 September 2010

Progressio Briefing - Catholic Perspectives on Climate Change

'Fate of Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene' - A report by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, May 2011

Columbans UK Campaign on Climate Change

US Catholic Coalition on Climate Change


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