There will be science in the climate encyclical

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Hans-Joachim ("John") Schellnhuber


Hans-Joachim ("John") Schellnhuber

Hans-Joachim ("John") Schellnhuber

Hans-Joachim (“John”) Schellnhuber

The conventional wisdom is that Pope Francis will stay away from the scientific details in his forthcoming encyclical on climate change. George Weigel’s Roman contacts, for example, “suggest that ‘he won’t get into the science.’”

The conventional wisdom is wrong.

How do I know this? No, I haven’t gotten a sneak peek at the document, which will be unveiled at an 11 a.m. press conference in Rome next Thursday. I know this because yesterday the Vatican announced that one of the three panelists at the unveiling will be Europe’s leading climate scientist.

He’s John Schellnhuber, founding director of the Postdam Institute for Climate Change and the person responsible for proposing that  global mean temperatures be stabilized at two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial level — currently the target of international climate negotiations. He will not be in Rome as scientific window dressing.

Sitting alongside Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Vatican’s point man on climate, and Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon, the leading Greek Orthodox theologian, he will, I predict, explain why the two-degree goal, if achieved, will itself require major efforts to remove carbon from the atmosphere. More importantly, he will stress the need for very fast emissions reductions in accordance with the science, pointing out that if no action is taken, billions of people will die.

A major object of the exercise, for Schellnhuber as well as the pope, will be to ensure that the U.N.’s upcoming climate conference in Paris does what needs to be done. “It will not be a piece of cake,” he told Reuters this month. “It would be perhaps comparable to what the United States did in the Second World War — they changed their economy to producing tanks rather than automobiles.” 

Naturally there will be all kinds of pushback, much of it claiming the political impossibility of achieving the necessary reduction in carbon emissions.

“It’s just not feasible,” Oliver Geden, of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, was quoted by the Guardian as saying. “Two degrees is a focal point for the climate debate but it doesn’t seem to be a focal point for political action.” Five years ago, Schellnhuber briefed Obama administration officials and was informed that his findings were “not grounded in political reality” and that “the Senate will never agree to this.”

Schellnhuber’s response? “Political reality must be grounded in physical reality or it’s completely useless.” How much do you want to bet that the encyclical won’t be grounded in physical reality?

  • Samuel Johnston

    “How much do you want to bet that the encyclical won’t be grounded in physical reality?”
    Wonderful punch line!

    If you agree with the author and contents that we need a rapid, effective, and sweeping mobilIzation if we are to divert from the current pathway, PLEASE
    #1 sign the pledge using the link above and share it with family & friends
    #2 follow through on the pledge by whatever means are at your disposal: turn off unused appliances; lower the air conditioning level; eat less beef [methane, plus energy of raising, feeding, processing, & transport]; convert to LEDs; weather strip windows & doors; enjoy mass transit & carpooling; most important – hold legislators’ feet to the fire at every level… this challenge is much greater than federal politics can handle alone. We REALLY do need mobilization of every man, woman, child, and organizations from government to the private sector. We have the technology. There is time… if we start now: literally every religious and moral leader declares there is a moral imperative to…

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    hm. Not many people posting here. Articles that aren’t about being nice to gay people just don’t get much following from all the angry Christians who retaliate copiously to articles that are. Interesting.

  • mememine69

    Fear mongering, bible thumping, planet loving climate blame “believers”? Too funny!
    Since the Pope now embraces your climate blame “beliefs”, will you inclusive and tolerant and accepting liberals now become; “anti-evolution, anti-gay and pro-life as well?
    Denying the tropical fossils found under both polar caps denies evolution itself.

  • Sadie

    How about you first explain this term “climate blame” that you keep using. What do you think it means?

  • Daniel Berry, NYC

    Would you please try that again? I can’t make heads or tails of your comment.

  • Sarah Jenkins

    If this was science news, it would state that Schellnhuber is known as a bureaucrat among scientists; a non-contributing scientist, and that he acknowledged that his 2 degree statement had no basis in science. If it was an article reflecting religious or humanitarian views, it would include the views of religious leaders and climate scientists who signed the Cornwall Alliance petition against the UN’s CO2 limits and the 31,487 BS or better scientists who signed the Oregon Petition, stating that Kyoto Protocol CO2 limits are dangerous to the environment and to mankind, and which currently cause tens of thousands of deaths a year due to fuel costs and reduce food production and cause starvation. But it’s neither; it’s a politically correct article that benefits Rothschild bankers and the UN diplomats and heads of state who bought shares in Edmond de Rothschild’s Geneva bank to finance UN-mandated green projects, beginning in 1987, at the UNCED Conference.