From George Will to the Heartland Institute, climate science deniers are a one-trick pony when it comes to responding to effective climate change communicators: smear, smear, smear. They are at it again, shamelessly, on the eve of the U.S. visit by the widely-admired Pope Francis — who issued a ground-breaking Encyclical on the moral urgency of climate action back in June.
George Will, the Donald Trump of deniers, wrote of the Pope, “Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.” In other words, all you folks out there who honor the Pope, Will wants you to know that you really hate America.
The Heartland Institute’s marketing director, Gene Koprowski, actually said that he and his colleagues believe the Pope is motivated by “pagan remnants” of “nature worship” reasserting themselves in the Catholic Church. But then what do you expect from a group that just three years ago compared all those who accept climate science — and the journalists who report on it accurately — to mass “murderers and madmen” such as Charles Manson, the Unabomber, and Osama Bin Laden!
Even the Philadelphia Inquirer had trouble swallowing the notion that accepting climate science makes the head of the Catholic Church a pagan:
“I think we’re seeing the revelation of an animistic form in the church,” Koprowski said.
Whatever his motives, Francis is in lockstep with the scientific consensus…. Scientists project that if the world does not restrict emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases, temperatures will rise an additional 4.7 to 8.6 degrees by century’s end.
What Francis understands that the deniers do not is that the inaction they preach all but guarantees warming at the high end of the range, which would be catastrophic to America and the world.
And Francis’s accurate understanding of climate science brings us back to a man with no understanding of climate science, George Will, the “Misinformer of the Year” for 2014.
Will asserts that Americans can’t “honor” the Pope because the pontiff supposedly opposes the things that made America great. “He stands against modernity, rationality, science and, ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources.”
Yes, Will, a leading voice against rationality and climate science, is accusing someone who gets the science right — and those who honor him — of being against science in a piece titled, “Pope Francis’ fact-free flamboyance.” This is Trump-like chutzpah. As leading climatologist Michael Mann has said, “George Will is known for grossly misstating the science of climate change.”
George Will may be the only major columnist in the country to ever have his own newspaper overtly contradict his lies and misstatements in its news pages.
Will’s second paragraph introduces what he apparently believes is his best example of the Pope’s “woolly sentiments that have the intellectual tone of fortune cookies”:
One example: “People occasionally forgive, but nature never does.” The Vatican’s majesty does not disguise the vacuity of this. Is Francis intimating that environmental damage is irreversible? He neglects what technology has accomplished regarding London’s air (see Page 1 of Dickens’s “Bleak House”) and other matters.
Memo to George Will: The climate change damage we are causing is irreversible. Indeed, we’ve known that fact since at least 2009, when a group scientists led by NOAA published a paper, “Irreversible climate change because of carbon dioxide emissions,” that concluded, “the climate change that is taking place because of increases in carbon dioxide concentration is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.”
If we were to listen to Will and Heartland, then we would be condemning our children, grandchildren, and countless future generations to “irreversible dry-season rainfall reductions in several regions comparable to those of the ‘dust bowl’ era and inexorable sea level rise.” That would make the planet a “bleak house” indeed.
While Will cites a work of fiction from the 1850s on his behalf, we should probably follow the Pope’s lead and base our action on actual science from the 21st century.
The world’s leading scientists repeatedly emphasize the “irreversibility” of climate change in their November 2014 synthesis of the entire scientific literature. Indeed, the Summary for Policymakers uses the word “irreversible” 14 times and has extended discussions of exactly what it means and why it matters.
Furthermore, every single major government in the world signed off on the Summary line by line without objection, making clear that this core conclusion has approached the realm of settled science. As the IPCC warns, we must slash carbon pollution now or risk “severe, pervasive, and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.” Scientists have “high confidence” these devastating impacts occur “even with adaptation” — if we keep listening to those like Will preaching inaction.
Certainly the fact that we are on track to harm billions of people who contributed little or nothing to their harsh fate makes climate inaction a grave “wrong.” But what makes our current inaction uniquely immoral in the history of homo sapiens is that the large-scale harm is irreparable on any timescale that matters — and, of course, that we could avoid the worst of the irreparable harms at an astonishingly low net cost according to all major independent analyses.
Given the unique immorality of climate inaction, it is no surprise that the Pope — one of the world’s leading voices on morality and our responsibility to future generations — would speak out forcefully against it. Sadly, it is also no surprise that the climate science deniers would respond by trying to smear him.
As for whether Americans should honor the Pope for speaking out on climate change, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Republican President Theodore Roosevelt put it best back in 1910 when he said, “Conservation is a great moral issue for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation.”
It is aggressive climate action, not continued inaction, that is patriotic and moral.