Brendan Hoban: Church turns up the heat on climate deniers

Church turns up the heat on climate deniers.

Western People 24th August 2021

‘May you live in interesting times’, it’s said, is a translation of a traditional Chinese curse. Sometimes, like the present, we discover we could do with less interesting times. Apart from the usual, everyday litany of life’s problems in the modern world, a still raging pandemic is an ongoing reminder of living through an ever-enduring crisis.

Covid has so dominated our lives for over a year and a half that every other problem has been effortlessly pushed into the background. But this summer a mountain of irrefutable evidence worldwide has conspired to bring climate change to the centre of the stage again, transforming it from an arcane interest of a few extremists to the growing perception that time is running out for planet Earth.

The evidence is incontrovertible: far-flung forest fires in California and Turkey; flooding in China and Germany; record temperature rises in Italy and Spain; warming seas dangerously consuming the polar ice-caps; and a series of other environmental catastrophes around the world. All of this, suddenly happening within a few summer months, has focused our minds on an inescapable conclusion – our planet is on fire.

Compounding this reality is the timely report last week from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The stark conclusion is that our planet is in measurable trouble, it’s our own fault and unless we change our approach, disaster looms. The damage can be reversed, of course, and great progress in terms of accessing and harnessing alternative sources of energy has already been made, but going the final mile will be both difficult and expensive.

Difficult choices face our planet. One is that countries – an obvious example is China – successfully transforming their economies by driving industrialisation and dragging their citizens out of poverty, are filling the atmosphere with carbon emissions from coal-fired energy which are damaging the environment.

The IPCC has specified in mathematical terms the price being paid in terms of rising sea-levels resulting from a refusal to change direction. While the levels may seem mathematically miniscule, the over-all result will be devastating, unless difficult choices are made now.

A recent Irish Times graphic gave a vivid representation of the major inevitable and irreversible climate changes that are going to take place unless a reversal in present policies takes place within a limited period of time. It showed what the predictable rises in sea levels would mean for those living in Ireland’s most highly populated area, from Drogheda to Bray. For anyone living there or with family living there, it was a stark reminder of the high stakes involved.

The next summit on climate change to be held in Scotland in November may serve to focus minds on the need for action. The word is that Pope Francis will attend, an indication of the seriousness with which he views the issue, a seriousness already demonstrated in his letter Laudato Si issued six years ago, one of the most impressive papal documents in living memory. Francis had hardly found his feet in Rome when he assembled a number of worldwide authorities in climate change, including Fr Seán McDonagh, to help him research his now famous encyclical.

One of Francis’ reasons for writing Laudato Si was to inspire Catholic parishes to help raise consciousness of the impending crisis for humanity unless there was a clear and committed change in industrial policies. Francis understood two things. One was that it was going to be difficult to convince mass populations of the need to make sacrifices that would involve a lessening of their incomes. A second was that a necessary building block for action was a process of ‘conscientisation’ – making people more and more aware of the deadly implications of climate inaction.

His great hope was that Laudato Si would be not just a clarion call for change but an opportunity for parishes to start the conscientisation process by encouraging local projects that would engage the support of the people. Unfortunately, apart from a few prophetically inspired initiatives, that didn’t materialise – even though, ironically, it’s probably the only issue in today’s world that engages the interest of the younger generation, now noted in religious terms for their almost universal disconnection from the Church.

Francis realised too that there would be voices raised suggesting that climate worries were not based on scientific data or were being exaggerated and that a counter-action was needed to address the climate change deniers, including some religious voices.

Just as pandemic deniers (including, to our shame, some religious voices) tried to underplay the seriousness of Covid despite the irrefutable evidence before their eyes, climate change deniers are already lining up to argue against the evidence not just of climate scientists but of their own eyes.

In the Sunday Times (August 15) a column by David Quinn, the director of the conservative Catholic Iona Institute, was headed, ‘Doom-mongers hog climate change headlines’. Most of the column argued that media reporting on climate change tended to be alarmist with headlines ‘predicting impending doom unless we rapidly mend our carbon-emitting ways’.

Apart from criticising the way media operates, Quinn’s column effectively undermines the effort to convince people that there is such a thing as climate change – though in the last few sentences he managed to concede that ‘we needed to reduce reliance on fossil fuels’. But the difficult truth is that, suggesting that climate change is being exaggerated by some, effectively gives a licence to Catholic climate deniers to do the same.


Note: Congratulations to James Horan, the Mayo panel and all Mayo supporters on the stunning Croke Park victory over Dublin. I was particularly struck by their honest endeavour in the face of what Seán Moran in his Irish Times report described as the Dublin players’ ‘unrepentant indiscipline’. It exemplifies yet again how defeat trumps success when it comes to character-building. It may serve a bit to explain some of the Dublin players’ behaviour – a bit but not a lot.





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  1. Ger Hopkins says:

    This is an over the top screed about a problem that is not nearly as bad as Brendan makes out.
    Dublin’s behaviour was nothing out of the ordinary. And at least no one was in danger of being hit by a flying GPS. It can be as hard to show grace in winning as losing. I suppose Mayo are a bit out of practice.
    Good luck in the Final. Rooting for you.

  2. Joe O'Leary says:

    Lucid and unanswerable as always. Nature is now taking matters into her cruel hands and the voices of denial at last fall silent one by one. The churches could have done so much.

  3. Sean O’Conaill says:

    As Sean McDonagh is advocating that Irish churches and other church properties should install solar panels on roofs, could the ACP now initiate a poll of members re progress in that direction? I suggested this yonks ago but drew a total blank then.

    Would it not be totally galling if the Iona Institute and the Irish Catholic got there first?

    It’ll not be long now until oil or gas fired heating boilers will be churning away again in church basements. I’m sure Sean will be very willing to give absolution for this – but do his efforts not deserve a serious examination of conscience and a massive turn to repentance before Advent?

    What’s the situation in Killala diocese, Brendan? And wouldn’t wind turbines on steeples work beautifully down that way as well? (What to do about thuribles is another smokey issue!)

  4. Kathleen Faley says:

    Thanks Brendan for this timely reminder of what we realise we can no longer ignore – Climate Change and its ever increasing reminders throughout the world of its dire consequences. In regard to encouraging the Irish Bishops to inspire parishioners within the parishes in their Dioceses I would suggest Diocesan Assemblies where parishioners from all their Diocesan Parishes were invited to attend either in person or online through Zoom.
    Advertise it well in advance as an opportunity to get Parish Climate Change Activist Teams in every parish alongside the Tidy Towns Teams who have and continue to have a demonstrably upgrading impact on the visual face of our towns and villages. Parishes in the Dioceses do not have any Parish Climate Change Activist Teams at present that I am aware of.
    Speakers such as Fr. Sean Mc Donagh and Duncan Stewart from Eco Eye could provide both the reasons for and the solutions also for the bishops to Insulate the Church buildings within their Diocese and install solar panels on the Church roofs and Presbytery roofs also.

    The Galleries should not be ignored either as regards heat conserving insulation because the Galleries where the Choir usually sings from can be compared to ice-boxes in winter. The inner walls of the Church could be insulated and clear double or triple glazing glass could be installed in the inner shape of the windows as the unique stained glass beauty of the windows would not be disturbed and could remain in place such as they are.
    It would be a great show of example of responsibility by the Bishops to their diocesan parishioners that the issue of Climate Change is of huge importance to them as Diocesan leaders of the Catholic Church and it would support their Climate Change Activists as they work with the parishioners.
    Parishioners in their private domestic capacity have already upgraded their homes, some with solar panels but most with heat conserving insulation and double or triple glazed doors and windows so the whole idea would not be totally foreign to them but in regard to their Parish Church parishioners have to let that in the hands of the Bishop as that is his to make and take a decision on.

    The upcoming summit on Climate Change in Scotland in November at which Pope Francis hopefully will attend (remembering his recent hospitalisation) this should be the catalyst for the Irish Bishops to really take Climate Change on board as an urgent matter now and not later. I realise that many Churches are closing down due to lack of priests and this may be exercising their brains more than the issue of Climate Change but they could at least designate Churches that are to remain open so that the heat conservation insulation could be done on them Churches to begin with.
    The Bishops should not wait for the Archbishop of Dublin Dr. Dermot Farrell to give them the Go Ahead or for him to wait for the Go Ahead from Pope Francis. Pope Francis has already given that Go Ahead with the Publication of Laudato Si – Care for Our Common Home in 2015.

  5. Pól Ó Duibhir says:

    Brendan is solid as usual. My only criticism is that he is too optimistic. I fear we are well past the tipping point by now and, anyway, there is no way the radical action required at world level to stop feeding the atmosphere can be mobilised in time.

  6. Joe O'Leary says:

    Pól, I share your pessimism, but recalling how speedily the world mobilized for two World Wars, maybe if really pressed to it we can “mobilize in time”.

    We’re still spending billions on nukes, and they can’t even stop hurricanes, much less remedy the climate crisis…

  7. Pádraig McCarthy says:

    #9: Joe: Mobilisation.

    I sent a really way-out proposal to Éamon Ryan, Minister for the Environment, about how we could mobilise for action on the environment – not saying it’s THE answer, but to brainstorm some urgent imaginative action. Here it is:

    Nobody is safe until all are safe.

    We need a major headline worldwide project to show that we are indeed serious. We have an opportunity as we approach COP26 in Glasgow in November, and while Ireland chairs the UN Security Council. Our voice in the EU is also vital.
    The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that countries around the world can take steps which would previously have seemed ludicrous to suggest.

    We need a GLOBAL DEFENCE FORCE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT to secure the future of the planet and of our civilizations. It is not unusual for the Defence Forces of a country to take an active role when disasters strike. They have many resources which can be redirected where necessary.
    The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute reports that military spending in 2020 was almost $2 trillion:
    World military spending rises to almost $2 trillion in 2020 | SIPRI. Global military spending increased by 2.6 per cent in 2020, despite the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic. Where our heart is, that’s where our treasure is.
    In the Covid-19 pandemic, many organisations switched from their normal activities to provide what was necessary.
    Let Ireland and the EU bring a motion to the United Nations that for 2022 the Defence Forces of all member states undertake to be Defence Forces for the planet by agreeing to put 25% of their military resources, in personnel, equipment and finances, into action on climate change.
    Further, they will commit their Defence Forces to collaborating in providing the following for the planet:
    1. Reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
    2. Making accessible renewable energy resources for the world.
    3. Providing medical care, including Covid vaccines, for all countries.
    4. Clean water and food.
    5. Provision of energy-efficient homes.
    6. Educational facilities.
    Those companies which now manufacture and sell armaments would switch 25% of their capacity to producing good which promote and enhance life.
    Those who control vast percentages of global wealth, if they did not do so of their own accord, would be asked (if necessary shamed) to support this work of securing the future of this planet:
    “The level of financial inequality around the world is staggering. According to a new Credit Suisse report, 45.8 percent of global household wealth is in the hands of just 1.1 percent of the world’s population. Those 56 million individuals control a mind-boggling $191.6 trillion, …. Below that, 583 million people own $163.9 trillion, 39.1 percent of global wealth, despite accounting for just 11.1 percent of the adult population.”
    • Chart: The Global Pyramid Of Wealth | Statista
    This would send a strong message of hope to so many who are facing disasters of many kinds. Then:
    In 2023 the proportion of military resources for climate action would increase to 30%.
    In 2024 to 40%.
    In 2025 to 50%.

    Such joint action would be a powerful force in avoiding military conflict. Conversely, if some such joint action is not undertaken, there will be an increased likelihood of armed conflict arising from the displacement of populations due to drought, famine and flooding, and competition for resources, especially perhaps water. If we are unable to address the present refugee crisis, how will we deal with what is coming as a result of climate change?
    We must not bequeath to the coming generations the crisis for which we must now accept responsibility. The genesis of the crisis predates us, but we are responsible if we fail to take effective action.
    It’s too much to ask; it’s crazy. But not to ask is far crazier. We can do it. We must do it. We have the resources. Tackling Covid-19 is a rehearsal on a small scale. What we want now is the will to do it, for the planet and for ourselves and for the coming generations.

  8. Joe O'Leary says:

    Pádraig, congratulations on this blueprint for sanity. If only our politicians would take it up and use their influence.

    But recalling how they played along with the USA’s criminal activities in the Iraq War I am not hopeful.

    Did Ireland support the UN declaration that possession of nuclear weapons is a crime against humanity? Checking, I find this good news: On 6 August, 2020, the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, Ireland ratified the treaty.

    Japan, with its faith in a nuclear umbrella, shockingly refuses to support the treaty.

    This open letter from former leaders of nuclear-umbrella countries connects the Covid effort and the need to end the nuclear terror:

  9. Sean O'Conaill says:

    Archbishop Dermot Farrell’s 64-page Climate Crisis pastoral is downloadable here:

    He has science chops, obviously, but might brevity in the form of a bulleted list of proposals have suited his purpose better? Who nowadays jumps to attention at the publication of lengthy pastorals?

    Are we Irish Catholics not suffering from a pedagogical crisis – as well as an earth crisis?

  10. Paddy Ferry says:

    Brendan Hoban: Church turns up heat on climate deniers.

    Nick Cohen in tomorrow’s Observer. You could never accuse Nick of understating something.

    The Guardian/Obserever.
    Climate change deniers are as slippery as those who justified the slave trade
    Nick Cohen 5 hrs ago

    No one seems as defeated as the global warming “deniers” who dominated rightwing thinking a decade ago. Like late 18th-century opponents of abolishing the slave trade, Lord Lawson and the claque of Conservative cranks who filled the comment pages of the Tory press are remembered today as dangerous fools – assuming they are remembered at all.

    Nigel Lawson wearing a suit and tie: Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images
    The billions of dollars spent by the fossil fuel industry on propaganda and its acceptance by know-nothing elements on the right caused incalculable damage. They might have followed Margaret Thatcher, who warned in 1989 of C02 admissions leading to climate change “more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known”. The desire of business to protect profits and the vanity of politicians and pundits, who saw themselves as dissidents fighting the consensus rather than fanatics enabling destruction, helped to waste two decades of valuable time.

    Every argument they advanced has been disproved, as much by the experience of everyday life as science. Journalists are advised: “If someone says it is raining and another person says it’s dry, it’s not your job to quote them both. Your job is to look out the window and find out which is true.” The world only had to look at the weather outside to know who was trying to fool it.

    To pick from the dozens of examples in Richard Black’s history of the conspiracy theory (Denied: The Rise and Fall of Climate Contrarianism) , global warming is not a “swindle”, as a Channel 4 documentary informed its viewers in 2007. Glaciers and ice sheets are shrinking and the seas are becoming more acidic. If there was swindling, it was at Channel 4, as Ofcom suggested when it found the station guilty of several breaches of the broadcasting rules. It is not “erroneous” to assume that humanity is driving the climate catastrophe, as the Spectator assured its readers as late as 2017. The pace of man-made climate change is faster than anything in the Earth’s history and all attempts to invent other explanations have failed.

    Nigel Lawson wearing a suit and tie: Former Conservative party minister Nigel Lawson, photographed on 11 May 2016.© Photograph: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty Images Former Conservative party minister Nigel Lawson, photographed on 11 May 2016.
    Viscount Ridley, who presided over the collapse of Northern Rock, and now dismisses the collapse of the planet in the pages of the Times, said climate change was doing “more good than harm”. We should adapt to a warmer Earth and celebrate the reduction in deaths from the winter cold. But the seas and icecaps cannot adapt, nor can cities threatened with flooding and countries facing desertification. The lights did not go out as we switched to renewable energy, as so many pundits said they would. And energy bills have fallen rather than risen, despite the assertions of the noble Lawson to the contrary. Rightwing denialism appears buried so deep in the dustbin of history it can never be recycled.

    And yet there is nervousness among the impressively large number of Conservative politicians who are serious about pushing for net zero. They are pleading with their colleagues to understand the advantages to consumers and businesses that a determined remaking of the economy would bring. The Conservative Environmental Network is already in a fight with a small group of rightwing MPs, who claim “the poorest will pay the highest price for net-zero fantasies” (even though no measure is more likely to reduce fuel poverty than a government home-insulation drive). That battle will only intensify.

    I put “denier” in quotes at the top of this piece because the enemies of science (and of us all) are endlessly malleable shapeshifters. Once they can no longer deny the existence of man-made global warming, they shift and keet on shifting so no one can ever pin them down. In this, they mirror the defenders of slavery 230 years ago, who created the modern world’s first corporate PR campaign and provided an example for all who have followed.

    The comparison isn’t harsh. One day, the attack on climate science will be seen as shocking as the defence of human bondage. Indeed, that day should have long passed. They are overwhelmingly old men or, in the case of Lawson, a very old man. They grew up in a 20th century where the carbon economy was natural: the way the world was and would always be. Slavery was equally natural to the plantation owners and slave traders of Georgian Britain. It had always existed, everywhere on Earth.

    The 18th century had its Viscount Ridleys who opined that slavery did more good than harm. In 1789, during the hearings for the first abolition bill in history, one witness told parliament that Africans wanted to be enslaved and “nine out of 10 rejoice at falling into our hands”. The pro-slavery lobby was as well funded as the fossil-fuel lobby, and as relentless. The Telegraph comment pages did not exist in 1789 so it commissioned The Benevolent Planters by one Thomas Bellamy to appear at the Theatre Royal in London’s West End. The play told the story of Oran and Selima, lovers who are separated in Africa. Their capture by slavers is a blessing. Far from being oppressors, kind slave owners bring the couple together in the West Indies and allow them to live productive lives together.

    William Wilberforce was assailed by claims that if Britain abolished slavery, “our manufactures will droop in consequence, our land-tax will be raised, our marine destroyed, while France, our natural enemy and rival, will strengthen herself by our weakness”. Today, Nick Timothy, the man who destroyed Theresa May’s premiership, tells Telegraph readers the British will be forced into penury by “net-zero zealots” while other countries “break their promises” and profit from our naivety.

    In the 18th and 21st centuries, as soon as one fake position was exposed, another took its place. The arguments change. The intent remains the same.

    It remains an open question as to whether Boris Johnson secretly shares a denialist intent. Conservative environmentalists look on him with approval as he prepares to host the Cop26 climate change conference in November. He says all the right things, but the investment and political will needed to electrify transport, reduce meat eating and refit the housing stock are nowhere to be seen. Denialism is a shapeshifter. Its latest form may be a bombastic prime minister who promises the Earth but does next to nothing to protect it.

    • Nick Cohen is an Observer columnist

  11. Ger Hopkins says:

    Sean @12, thanks for that.
    I haven’t read the Pastoral Letter. It’s not a subject I’m greatly interested in.

    The document does seem very well produced and attractive. “God’s Grandeur” is a very apposite choice. There’s a confidence and vitality about this letter that contrasts with previous Pastorals in the Diocese.

    I agree, Sean, that something more immediate and direct would be an improvement. Possibly bullet points but definitely video. The Archbishop making some of the main points to camera. It would be a boon to religion teachers. Imagine what Immaculata Productions or Blue Flag Media – the people who produced this – could do.

    When the Church is strong a Pastoral Letter serves to direct that force in a given direction. The Pope can still do this. Not so much in Ireland today. This Pastoral Letter is really just another voice added to the chorus on climate change.

    When Irish Church leaders exhort us to fight climate change it’s hard to see what is new there. Why get excited about this letter.

    It might be more interesting if instead of using the Gospel message to promote climate awareness our leaders used climate awareness to promote the Gospel message. Rather than showing how the Gospels and Catholic belief should lead us to act on behalf of the planet it might be worthwhile trying to show climate activists how the values and impulses their environmentalism is based on can lead naturally to and have a fuller fruition in the transcendental and human centered belief system of the Catholic Faith.

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