Guest Opinion: Dr. Tim Ball
Spanish-born American Philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” The recent Papal Encyclical announced the Catholic Church’s decision to join the scientific claims that humans are causing global warming and denounce climate scientists who oppose the claim. It came almost exactly 400 years after Galileo was denounced to the Roman Inquisition in the spring of 1615. The Catholic Church only acknowledged the errors of their actions, their last and most negative brush with science, when they forgave Galileo in 1992. Pope John Paul said labeling Galileo a heretic and confining him to life imprisonment was an error. It only took 377 years for the Church to catch up with reality. No doubt Galileo is delighted, assuming he made it to heaven.
Galileo supported the Copernican heliocentric view that put the Sun at the center of our Solar system. This contradicted the Church belief in the Ptolemaic geocentric view with the Earth at the center. He also challenged the Ptolemaic view that everything beyond the moon was perfect. Through his telescope, Galileo made and recorded the first observation of sunspots in 1610. It was heresy to claim the existence of these blemishes. Later, the sunspots became an important part of the research to determine natural causes of climate change.
Now history repeats itself because the latest conflict between science and the Church involves the Sun, or more accurately, exclusion of consideration of the Sun as the primary cause of climate change. The Vatican released the full Encyclical on Thursday, 18 June 2015.
There is considerable hyperbole in the early part of the document apparently designed to define the world in serious trouble because of human activity. There is also the establishment of guilt and culpability.
Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.
Some statements are quite remarkable and seem inappropriate for a document of such gravity. For example,
The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.
The reality is that most of the world is unoccupied (Figure 1). Also, the world is not overpopulated, and the proven solution to population reduction is development in the process of the demographic transition.
The primary purpose of this article is to address the basis for the climate concerns outlined in the Encyclical. The practice of hyperbole extends throughout the Encyclical including the heading for the section on climate change. It is labeled “Pollution and Climate Change”. This idea introduces the incorrect link made in comments by President Obama about “carbon pollution.” The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Encyclical identifies CO2 as the major cause of climate change, but CO2 is not a pollutant.
The distorted headline provides context for disturbing evidence that the Vatican does not know its science, any more than it did 400 years earlier. Their position is a matter of faith not facts, evidence, or science. With great irony, lack of knowledge about the sun is central again. Item 23 of the Encyclical provides all the information we need to show they don’t understand the science and, therefore, cannot understand how it is misused.
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.
Unfortunately, the Vatican is not aware that “variations in the earth’s orbit and axis” known as the Milankovitch Effect, is not included in the IPCC Reports or their computer models. The “solar cycle” refers to the changing activities on the Sun, manifest by sunspots, and they are not included in the Report or the models.
“Volcanic activity” is included in the AR 5 Working Group I Report under the heading of “Aerosol Burdens and effects on Insolation.” They comment,
Clouds and aerosols continue to contribute the largest uncertainty to estimates and interpretations of the Earth’s changing energy budget.
The quantification of cloud and convective effects in models, and of aerosol–cloud interactions, continues to be a challenge.
In Chapter 9, “Evaluation of Climate Models” they report on the gap between model results and reality.
The differences between the modelled and measured AODs (aerosol optical depth) exceed the errors in the Multi-angle Imaging Spectro-Radiometer (MISR) retrievals over land of ±0.05 or 0.2×AOD (Kahn et al., 2005) and the RMS errors in the corrected Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MODIS) retrievals over ocean of 0.061(Shi et al., 2011).
The great concentration of greenhouse gases the Encyclical identifies includes carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. They apparently don’t know these represent approximately 4 percent of the total greenhouse gases and are only 2 percent of all atmospheric gases. (Figure 2)
Figure 2: Source After Heritage.org
They don’t seem to realize that water vapor is by far the most important greenhouse gas. They acknowledge their list is only gases affected by human activity, but they don’t seem to understand that restriction is by design. The IPCC was directed only to examine human causes of climate change.
The cited paragraph contains all the evidence of the Vatican’s lack of understanding of what the IPCC studied. Limitations of IPCC studies were primarily created by the definition of climate change they were given, and they result in the very restricted nature of their conclusions. They seem unaware that all IPCC predictions are wrong. The reality is, if the predictions are wrong, the science is wrong. As a result, the position of the Vatican set out in the Encyclical is a matter of faith, not science. It appears that they are getting burned again, which sadly suggests they didn’t learn from history. As Mark 12:17 (King James version) says,
“And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.”