Free Market Perspective on Pope Francis’s Forthcoming Speech to Congress


On Thursday of next week, Pope Francis will address a joint session of the U.S. Congress. He will be the first Pope in history to do so.

As reported in ClimateWire (subscription required), Thomas Reese, a commentator for National Catholic Reporter, opines that the Pope is coming as both pastor to American Catholics and as a prophet who seeks to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Another commentator described the Pope’s mission as “speaking truth to power.”

We won’t know what Francis has to say until he says it, but he is widely expected to reiterate themes from his recent Encyclical, which calls for “changes in lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat [global] warming,” and for drastic greenhouse gas emission reductions based on the assessment that fossil-fueled economic growth is “unsustainable” and “can only precipitate catastrophes.”

If so, then Francis also unwittingly comes to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, because few are as comfortable as the elites leading the international climate agenda, and few so afflicted as the billions of people in developing countries who lack access to affordable, reliable, carbon-based energy.

Speaking truth to power is noble, but to actually do it one must know what the truth is. On climate and energy, there are many fundamentals Francis does not seem to grasp.

One is simply that anthropogenic global warming is not per se a crisis or planetary emergency. What matters is how much warming there will be and with what impacts. Big, scary warming predictions come from climate models that increasingly overshoot observed warming.

The most comprehensive and accurate global temperature data come from satellite observing systems. In both the Remote Sensing Systems (RSS) and University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) satellite records of the bulk atmosphere (troposphere), the warming trend over the 36 year, 7 month record is 0.11°C per decade, which translates into a 21st century warming of 1.2°C.

That is well within the bounds (0.3°C-1.7°C) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) lowest warming projection (RCP2.6), which assumes a 70% reduction in cumulative greenhouse gas emissions from 2010 to 2100 compared to baseline projections. In short, the satellite records show about the same warming rate that climate campaigners urge policymakers to achieve via draconian restrictions on carbon-based energy. Is this a great atmosphere, or what!

As to impacts, climate campaigners blame global warming for extreme weather events but there has been no trend in the strength or frequency of land-falling hurricanes globally since 1970.

In addition, as the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) acknowledges, “there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale,” and “there is low confidence in detection and attribution of changes in drought over global land areas since the mid-20th century.”

More importantly, despite relying on climate models that run too hot, the IPCC tacitly rejects the climate trilogy of terror popularized by Al Gore and other climate activists. Specifically, AR5 concludes that in the 21st Century, Atlantic Ocean circulation collapse is “very unlikely,” ice sheet collapse is “exceptionally unlikely,” and catastrophic release of methane from melting permafrost is “very unlikely.”

Here’s the big picture that is so often ignored in the global warming debate. Affordable, plentiful, reliable fossil fuels make the climate safer and the environment more livable. For example, since the 1920s, roughly 90% of all industrial carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions entered the atmosphere and the world warmed by about 0.8°C. If fossil-fueled development were “unsustainable,” we would expect skyrocketing deaths and death rates related to drought, historically the most lethal form of extreme weather. Instead, drought-related deaths and death rates plummeted by a spectacular 99.8% and 99.9%, respectively. 

What made the decisive difference are technologies (mechanized agriculture, synthetic fertilizers, refrigeration, plastic packaging) and capabilities (motorized transport, modern communications, emergency relief programs) that depend on fossil fuels and the associated wealth-creating activities.

Francis exhorts governments to care for the planet as part of their duty to care for the poor. But the UN-sponsored climate treaty he supports poses an existential threat to the poor. In the COP 21 climate negotiations, the European Union and major environmental groups call for a 60% reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions below 2010 levels by 2050. What sacrifices would the 60-by-50 target impose on developing countries, where the vast majority of emissions growth is projected to occur?

Institute for 21st Century Energy scholar Steve Eule finds that even if industrial countries like the United States magically reduce their emissions to zero by 2050, the 60-by-50 target is unattainable unless developing countries cut their current CO2 emissions by 35%. If, less unrealistically, industrial countries reduce their emissions by 80%, developing countries would have to cut their current CO2 emissions almost in half – by 48%.

Note, an estimated 1.2 billion people in developing countries have no access to electricity and 2.3 billion don’t have access to reliable power, which limits capital investment and economic growth.

Nobody knows how developing countries can simultaneously eradicate energy squalor while reducing their consumption of fossil fuels by 35%-48%. Contrary to Francis, a “bold agreement” at the Paris climate conference would most likely harm rather than help the poor.

Some ‘progressive’ commentators speculate Francis’s speech will build a bridge between U.S. conservative Catholics and the global climate campaign. That is doubtful, especially if conservative Catholic commentators point out the scientific and moral weaknesses of the case for climate alarm and global energy rationing.

GOP leaders should of course listen respectfully to the Pope’s speech. But they should continue to battle on against EPA’s unlawful Clean Power Plan and President Obama’s strategy to lock in his domestic climate agenda through a United Nations-sponsored treaty he does not dare submit to the Senate for a vote on ratification.

For further discussion of these issues, see CEI’s “Sensible Sense of Congress Resolution on Climate Change” and the energy and climate chapters of our Agenda for Congress report.