The Encyclical Letter

I don’t have much to say about the Encyclical Letter. It’s long and full of words. I am pleased that the Catholic Church is taking this seriously, but not because it’s the Catholic Church specifically, but because I think everyone should be taking this seriously. I know this is a cliche, but the Earth really is the only known, naturally habitable planet in the universe. It is still possible that life only exists in a thin shell, tens of kilometres thick, around a rocky planet, orbiting a G5V-star, in the outer parts of a galaxy we call the Milky Way. Maybe not, but we currently don’t know of life anywhere else in the Universe.

What’s maybe most amusing is how some have responded to the Encyclical. As Eli points out, it’s hard to distinguish some of the rants from what one might see on a site like Bishop-Hill. My own view is that anyone who invokes “the poors” when assessing someone else’s argument is struggling to defend their own position.

Even though I didn’t read through the Encyclical in full, I did try and find the bits that discussed the science itself. It’s not perfect, and I’m sure some will find reasons to criticise some of what is said and how it’s framed, but it is reasonably good, and that, in my view, is – at least – a good start. I thought I would simply repeat some of it below. I’ve highlighted bits that I found interesting, and simply removed some of what was said, mainly just to keep this reasonably short. You can always read it all by following the link at the beginning of the post.

23 …… A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. …. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. …..

24. Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction of part of the planet’s biodiversity. The melting in the polar ice caps and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous release of methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can further increase the emission of carbon dioxide. ….. Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain. If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.

25. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. ……

26. Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. ….

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37 Responses to The Encyclical Letter

  1. Interesting, had not expected so much scientific details.

  2. Willard says:

    Open Access for the win:

  3. thefordprefect says:

    Space… is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindbogglingly big it is… HHG2

    So maybe we are not alone

  4. thefordprefect,
    Indeed. I would be very surprised if there isn’t life on elsewhere in our own galaxy (in fact, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to find life elsewhere in our Solar System). That doesn’t really change, though, that today we are the only known – to us – life in the universe.

  5. anoilman says:

    The response from the usual suspects has been swift;

  6. Rachel M says:

    I think this is great. Pope Francis is the best Pope ever. It almost makes me want to become a Catholic. Or maybe not 🙂

    But seriously though, people listen to religious leaders. I’m not really sure why but they do. So this is significant and I suspect it will be effective.

  7. John Hartz says:

    Kudos to Pope Francis and the Vatican for bringing these issues to the forefront of public awareness and discussion. Francis’s moral authority and the multitide pf people (not just Catholics) who embarace his message about mankind and the environment are greatly improving the prospsects for meaningful international action on mitigating manmade climate change. The road to the December Paris summit is brighter because of Pope Francis and his key advisors.

  8. Sam Taylor says:

    The pope seems to be doing his level best to make me like him, which is frankly disturbing. He’ll have to go some way to replacing PJP2 on my fridge, mind.

    One thing I do find myself wondering about, though, is just how much truth there is to the whole “developing countries will have it worst” line. The bigger more complex (richer) countries have an advantage in the current world because, in general, they are much more efficient. This however comes at the expense of having much higher fixed costs to pay for maintenance of the system which allows them to achieve this efficiency. This is fine, so long as the conditions which the system is optimised for don’t change. Of course, climate change represents a large systemic change, likely with vastly increased costs for all sorts of activitities, and as such our systems are highly unlikely to be optimised for this new world. Low level local farming and foraging, by contrast, is fairly resilient and doesn’t have particularlly high fixed costs. The ideas are discussed a bit more in this paper by Galbraith and Chen ( ). I do wonder if isn’t just a comforting lie that we tell ourselves.

  9. Sam,
    As I understand it, the currently developed world is mainly in regions where the impacts are likely to be less severe than in regions where the developing world is mainly found. I, however, suspect that that is too simplistic a way to look at this and that, ultimately, we won’t really be able to seperate ourselves from what happens elsewhere. I also agree that it’s quite possible that we’re simply not optimised for what climate change will likely bring.

  10. anoilman says:

    When I grew up I would see TV shows showing people starving in Africa. Its easy enough to distance yourself from those images, and even what you’ve done to contribute to them. Its not like we really care in the West.

    But its quite another for us to see that kind of imagery and truly know we caused it. We inflicted it on them, and we did nothing to stop, or even slow it.

  11. John Mashey says:

    Listen to 09:00-13:30 in , BBC World today. BBC gives tobacco/fossil shill Steve Milloy a 4-minute rant, calls him an “environmental consultant.”

    I used to respect the BBC.

  12. Willard

    “Open Access for the win:”

    fascinating. thanks for the link.

  13. John Hartz says:

    Here’s an excellent indepth article detailing how the Pope’s Encyclical was developed and what comes next. The small group of scientists who advised the Pope is indeed an impresssive ensemble.

    Behind the Scenes With the Pope’s Secret Science Committee, Eric Roston,, Bloomberg, June 16, 2015

  14. John Hartz says:

    An interesting summary of the Encyclical by a Guardian reporter…

    Pope Francis has released an unprecedented encyclical on climate change and the environment. The 180-page document calls on rich nations to pay their “grave social debt” to poorer countries and lambasts the UN climate talks for a lack of progress. Here are eight things we learned:

    1.He thinks we should phase out coal
    2. He thinks the UN climate talks have failed to achieve much
    3.He doesn’t like carbon trading
    4. But he does like community energy
    5. He is neither pro nor anti genetically modified food
    6. He thinks consumption is a bigger problem than population
    7.He says iPhones and all our other gadgets are getting in the way of our relationship with nature
    8. Our gift to the next generation may be desolation:

    Eight things we learned from the pope’s climate change encyclical by Adam Vaughan, Guardian, June 18, 2015

  15. The fake ‘skeptics’ seem to be going through the encyclical with a fine tooth comb and finding all the non-climate references that they know some might find themselves disagreeing with—like abortion, GM and nuclear. It seems their plan is to undermine the climate message by highlighting contentious elements. Sort of “how can he be right on climate when he’s so wrong on these other things”.

  16. @John Mashey

    Individual BBC producers are given a lot of freedom to ‘explore’ topics. So it’s either a producer with ‘skeptic’ tendencies or, more likely, just plain ignorance or naivety. The other thing is that in broadcast, when you interview someone, you usually ask as soon as the tape starts rolling for them to give their name and job title. This bit will not be transmitted but it identifies the recording once it’s transcribed. An interviewer might also ask beforehand, “how do you want to be introduced”.

    I think this is the most likely explanation, though I agree it’s not an excuse. But most people, even broadcasters, haven’t cottoned on yet to just how polarised the ‘climate debate’ can be.

  17. Maybe we will have to find advanced life on another planet to make this one better. A part of the population seems to need an enemy. Without the cold war they turn to their own.

  18. Sam taylor says:


    Yes through some quirk of fate most rich nations seem better placed, but ultimately we’re all in this together. What happens in the middle East can affect Europe quite seriously, as we are currently finding out with this terrible migrant crisis.

  19. Sam taylor says:


    Good man. Garrett is exactly my flavour of doomer. Though his model does have some interesting quirks.

  20. John Hartz says:

    Sam Taylor:

    Something for you to chew on:

    New study finds plants grown under higher levels of carbon dioxide are lower in protein

    How fossil fuel emissions could take protein from the diets of the world’s poorest people by Graham Readfearn, Planet Oz, The Guardian, June 17, 2015

  21. OPatrick says:

    John Mashey

    Another BBC moment that riled me this morning was John Humphrys’ interview (starts just before 1:10) on the early end to subsidies for onshore wind (which itself looks disturbingly – and I hope improbably – like deliberate timing by the Conservatives to deflate any sense of progress that we might, mistakenly, be feeling). This seemed not much more than a rant on Humphrys’ part and was in my view highly unprofessional.

  22. OPatrick,
    The problem I have with how subsidies for onshore wind farms are presented is that it never seems to be made clear that this is really talking about the Renewables Obligations, the cost of which is passed onto the consumer. Many think – as far as I can tell – that these are in addition to what they pay on their bills. As far as I’m aware, it’s not. It’s really just a regulated obligation that suppliers source some fraction from renewables at a pre-determined price (the strike price). The government isn’t – as far as I’m aware – actually subsidising onshore wind directly through taxpayers.

  23. anoilman says:

    Strike prices are normal. You cannot build any sort of power plant without a strike price. All coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants have a guaranteed price. That cost is then passed on to the consumer.

  24. AoM,
    That’s also my understanding. As I understand it, what they’re referring to as subsidies is really just an obligation that the power companies source a certain minimum from onshore wind at a pre-determined strike price. It’s not – I don’t think – something in addition to the strike price.

  25. BBD says:

    John Mashey

    This seemed not much more than a rant on Humphrys’ part and was in my view highly unprofessional.

    Humphrys has form for that 😉

  26. Willard says:

    The Land of the Free shows yet again how to manufacture Grrrowth:

    FORT MEADE, Md. — With the declassification of nearly all of the National Security Agency’s metadata following the expiration of the Patriot Act, the government agency announced today that they had released all the data on a new website,

    The secret ingredients lie in the externalities:

    According to Lambert, “Our experts predicted these externalities. When you look at the big picture this project will create jobs. With a constant stream of data we need people to sift through and catalog it. The jump in divorce rates alone will generate billions in revenue for divorce lawyers, alimony and child support, apartment leases, couples counseling and bail payments.”

  27. Infopath says:

    TurbEd quotes Galileo:

    “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”

    Not sure there was a point to the quote since you didn’t comment on it, but just in case…

    Let’s not confuse ‘authority’ in the Galileo quote with scientific consensus in the Pope’s encyclical.

    “Authority of a thousand” was the Church saying “it is so because (God, the Bible, etc.) says it is.” This Pope (surprisingly and refreshingly) isn’t doing that; he is instead quoting the scientific consensus of his time. And scientific consensus is not, in and of itself, authority; it is the distillation of “the humble reasoning” of hundreds of men and women.

    Now, of course a lot of people may start thinking (or thinking differently) about Climate Change simply because “the Pope said so,” (paraphrasing Rachel’s comment) but at least this time “the Pope said so” because the science says so. And this *is* IMO surprising and refreshing.

  28. russellseitz says:

    I expect we’ll see a second opinion from the Church of Scotland

  29. OPatrick says:

    The problem I have with how subsidies for onshore wind farms are presented is that it never seems to be made clear that this is really talking about the Renewables Obligations, the cost of which is passed onto the consumer. Many think – as far as I can tell – that these are in addition to what they pay on their bills. As far as I’m aware, it’s not. It’s really just a regulated obligation that suppliers source some fraction from renewables at a pre-determined price (the strike price). The government isn’t – as far as I’m aware – actually subsidising onshore wind directly through taxpayers.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if this was the sort of level of discussion that was actually taking place? I suspect that is what Gordon Macdougall, the chief executive of RES, was expecting when he agreed to go on the Today programme. Instead what he got was a tirade of ‘sceptic’ talking points that wouldn’t have been out of place on Bishop Hill.

  30. Richard says:

    Re. BBC Today I tweeted John Humphrey’s for being “superficial and supercilious” which he often is. Misha Hussain is always far better briefed and more incisive in interviews, and did a reasonable job with the Minister. Remember also, when The benighted Terry Wogan (loved by many, loathed by me) was hosting the BBC bfast programme on radio 2 he used every opportunity for years dissing global warming, and despite repeated complaints he kept at it. The drip drip effect of this is incalculable on public opinion.

  31. Andrew Dodds says:

    Richard –

    Yes, a drip feed of jokey, casual ‘what do the eggheads know’ dismissal is not great. Another interesting example is the Daily Express with it’s constant stream of extreme-weather predictions (generally ‘2 feet of snow in November’ kind of thing). Which seeps into the subconscious – ‘These forecasters are forever predicting doomsday and it never happens..’.

    The interesting thing is that if it were casual racism or sexism of the ‘just having a laugh’ variety it would be off the air in the instant.

  32. anoilman says:

    Anders: Strike prices can be artificially high. This is probably true with early solar/wind systems which were very expensive compared to now. On the other hand, there probably aren’t many of those systems, and likely they’ll be entering End Of Life shortly.

    Hinkley Nuclear plant is to have a strike prices of 0.0925 (Pounds) or $0.18(cdn) per kwh which is indexed to inflation.

  33. AoM,
    Yes, I realise they can be high. My point was mainly that there isn’t some extra payment direct from the government, it’s all via the consumer.

  34. Richard says:

    Given the huge subsidies globally (directly or otherwise) to oil and gas exploration, and quite recently, Osborne wrt UK, where is a good comparative review of subsidies to nuclear, oil and gas, and renewables. We know of course that subsidies can be direct (in terms of tax during development of new opportunities), financial preferential terms (strike prices that ensure long term profitability), or deferred (in case of failure to factor in costs of cleaning up nuclear), and probably some others. Not to mention the ultimate which is the adaptation costs arising from fossil fuels. So like for like comparisons are difficult (renewables have low ‘clean up’ costs). But I’d be interested to know of the best source for a thorough comparative review. A level playing field would surely make renewables worthy of considerable support to overcome the lack of proper accounting both now and historically for the off balance sheet costs of fossil fuel energy.

  35. Brian Dodge says:

    @ Sam Taylor: Rice yields decline with higher night temperature from global warming
    “We analyzed weather data at the International Rice Research Institute Farm from 1979 to 2003 to examine temperature trends and the relationship between rice yield and temperature by using data from irrigated field experiments conducted at the International Rice Research Institute Farm from 1992 to 2003. Here we report that annual mean maximum and minimum temperatures have increased by 0.35°C and 1.13°C, respectively, for the period 1979–2003 and a close linkage between rice grain yield and mean minimum temperature during the dry cropping season (January to April). Grain yield declined by 10% for each 1°C increase in growing-season minimum temperature in the dry season, whereas the effect of maximum temperature on crop yield was insignificant. This report provides a direct evidence of decreased rice yields from increased nighttime temperature associated with global warming.”

    Average GDP for countries consuming <50lbs rice per capita is $21849; 50+ lbs per capita, $8433; 100+ lbs, $2579.(annual figures; data from IRRI, World Bank, &


    Myanmar(Burma) 227 1112
    Vietnam 215 1729
    Bangladesh 197 936
    Indonesia 149 3714
    Thailand 145 5389
    Philippines 121 2594
    SouthKorea 92 24862
    Malaysia 91 10248
    China 84 6194
    India 77 1509
    IvoryCoast 77 1529
    Japan 62 43823
    Iran 50 5988
    Brazil 48 12413
    Hong Kong 47 36530
    Taiwan 46 21352
    SaudiArabia 46 24516
    Iraq 43 6281
    Egypt 42 3106
    Nigeria 37 2843
    Uruguay 33 15079
    Australia 21 66311
    SouthAfrica 20 7524
    Pakistan 15 1251
    UnitedStates 14 51358
    Canada 11 52452
    Turkey 9 10578
    Mexico 9 10308
    Argentina 8 14524
    EuropeanUnion 6 35000

    If there's a drought in California, you drill a (deeper) well; if there's a drought in East Africa, you starve.

  36. Pingback: The allure of articulate confidence. | …and Then There's Physics

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