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Eco-Catholics, Eco-pessimism and the Decline of Confidence in Religion

Cathy Lynn Grossmann in USA Today writes:

Americans have less confidence in organized religion today than ever measured before — a sign that the church could be “losing its footing as a pillar of moral leadership in the nation’s culture,” a new Gallup survey finds.

“In the ’80s the church and organized religion were the No. 1″ in Gallup’s annual look at confidence in institutions, said Lydia Saad, author of the report released Wednesday.

Confidence, she said, “is a value judgment on how the institution is perceived, a mark of the amount of respect it is due.”

Why has respect for the moral leadership of the Church declined?

Perhaps religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular, under the leadership of Pope Francis, are to blame?

Mitchell C. Hescox in the National Catholic Reporter wrote:

Pope Francis’ increasingly powerful statements on global warming highlight that climate action is becoming a growing moral imperative for all people of faith. Why? Because climate action is about saving people.

[ … ]

Every child, born and yet-to-be born, deserves the promise and holy covenant of clean air and a healthy climate. What’s more, every child deserves to reach the fullness of his or her God-given intellectual abilities. If we continue to rely on toxic mercury-emitting, coal-burning power plants, we risk harming our children’s achievements.

[ … ]

Action to slow warming will protect future generations’ mental development and potential, by assuring that human development is healthy and sustainable as we move from dangerous, polluting and highly subsidized fossil fuels to clean, affordable renewable energy. This transition will turn energy poverty into energy prosperity.

The Catholic Church, aligning itself politically with the Obama administration, has declared war on coal, oil and natural gas. But will eliminating coal, oil and natural gas as energy sources truly help children “reach the fullness of his or her God-given intellectual abilities”? Will the move away from fossil fuels “turn energy poverty into energy prosperity”?

The short answer is no.

Julian Simon nailed his theses to the door of the eco-pessimist church by publishing his famous article in Science magazine: “Resources, Population, Environment: An Oversupply of False Bad News.” Thirty five-years ago Simon recognized the dangers of eco-pessimism. In his article he wrote:

False bad news about population growth, natural resources, and the environment is published widely in the face of contradictory evidence. For example, the world supply of arable land has actually been increasing, the scarcity of natural resources including food and energy has been decreasing, and basic measures of U.S. environmental quality show positive trends.

The aggregate data show no longrun negative effect of population growth upon the standard of living. Models that embody forces omitted in the past, especially the influence of population size upon productivity increase, suggest a long-run positive effect of additional people.

Prosperity is based on the availability of cheap reliable power. There are no such things as wind and solar power. There is wind-fossil fuel power and solar-fossil fuel power. This is because wind and solar are costly and unreliable sources of energy and require backup power generation, e.g. when the wind stops blowing and the sun sets.

In his column “The Poor Need Affordable Energy” Iain Murray writes:

Affordable energy is fundamental to what economist Deirdre McCloskey calls the “Great Fact” of the explosion of human welfare. It remains central to the reduction of absolute poverty. Yet, some Western governments are working to increase energy costs, purportedly to combat global warming.

What they are really combating is prosperity.

This is perverse and regressive. In America and Europe, energy takes up a much larger share of poor households’ budgets compared to other income brackets. For instance, a household with an annual income between $10,000 and $25,000 spends well over 10 percent of its budget on energy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And a January 2014 study for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity found that “households earning $50,000 or less spend more on energy than on food, spend twice as much on energy as on health care, and spend more than twice as much on energy as on clothing.”

Increasing the cost of energy also harms people’s health. That’s because energy use is so fundamental to modern life that it can take precedence over other household expenses — including health care. The National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association found that an increase in energy costs led 30 percent of poor households to reduce purchases of food, 40 percent to go without medical care, and 33 percent to not fill a prescription.

As Erick Erickson notes in his column “Ecology Theology“:

[T]he Bible does have an ecology theology in it.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Gen. 1:28 (ESV)

There are five imperatives in Genesis 1:28

(1) Be fruitful and (2) multiply and (3) fill the earth and (4) subdue it, and (5) have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.

  1. Procreation. Man is told to be fruitful and multiply again after the flood.
  2. Colonization. There is a frontier mentality. Don’t simply stay in paradise or within sight of it, but go to every corner of the earth. There is a civilization component.
  3. Fill the earth.
  4. Work and keep the earth.
  5. Subdue and have dominion. This is a royal figure of speech “to have dominion, to subdue, and to rule.” Man is a representative of God. This is a world and life directive including culture and spiritual realms. Man is to be the earthly overseer.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. Gen. 2:15 (ESV)

The great danger is when the church and state become one and the same. When the Church mimics the policies of the state confidence in both organizations declines.

If the Catholic Church wants to truly reduce poverty, then it will support efforts to provide cheap and reliable energy to every child. That means using more, not less, fossil fuels.

RELATE VIDEO: The moral case for fossil fuels.

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