Lord Deben's Catholic appreciation for climate science

The Gospel concept of stewardship permeates Catholic teaching. it is therefore entirely fitting that the Vatican is seeking to become the world's first carbon neutral state and that the Holy Father has laid such emphasis on our moral responsibility to battle against climate change.

Throughout the world, Catholic leaders have sought to respond to that call. Even in the United States where scepticism is so rife, the Bishops Conference has clearly called for common action on climate change.

Looking after the planet is a necessary response that derives directly from our belief in God as Creator. This is His world and we have the privilege, denied to any other creature, of knowingly sharing in His creative activity. As the science on global warming becomes ever clearer, our duty to act becomes the greater. Of course it is more comfortable to be sceptical. That would relieve us of the very responsibility that Pope Benedict has laid upon us.

The problem is that the sceptical case simply doesn't stack up. I wish it did. However, their use of partial arguments and unfounded assertions is no substitute for the broad mass of scientific data that shows a world warming at a rate that has never been equalled in more than 400,000 years.

To rely on the flawed arguments of the climate change deniers and to brush off the overwhelming view of the scientific community is like promoting an idiosyncratic interpretation of the Bible against the teachings of the Fathers.

Not only would that  be wrong, it is profoundly dangerous. If the scientific community turned out to be incorrect, all we would have done is to clean up the atmosphere and made better use of the world's resources that God has given us.

If, however, we followed the sceptics and they turned out to be wrong, we would have destroyed God's gift of a wonderfully productive planet and left devastation to our children. The risk is all on one side.

For Christians, the lesson of the astronomers is particularly pointed. Despite their investigation of millions and millions of other worlds, none has been found that is capable of sustaining life as we know it.

It seems that, at very least, this planet is extremely rare. It is precious and the delicate mechanisms that operate to keep it safe cannot be taken for granted. No wonder that John Paul II warned against heedlessly interfering with the ecosystem. We have to assume that so rare and precious a planet is also fragile.

Happily most of what we have to do to reverse the process of global warming and climate change is going to be necessary in any case. The world will have 9 billion people by 2050. There will be millions more who will expect the same kind of life that Australians and British people now enjoy. Already there are more middle class people in India than there are in Europe.

If we are to clothe, feed, and shelter all these we will have to conserve our resources and do more and more with less. Renewable energy will be crucial - whether the earth is warming or not. Using Australia's wonderful mineral resources responsibly must be a Christian imperative. It happens also to make business sense because the value of those resources will rise as the demand for them increases.

That's why the Chinese have made sustainability and the resource minimisation the central theme of their next Five Year Plan. Their leaders now believe that there will be no growth unless it is sustainable growth. The hard headed calculations of long-term secular thinkers is coinciding with the deepest of Christian insights.

We Catholics are called to bring the understandings of eternity to the calculations of the moment. Our gratitude to God for the physical universe is central to that. We are not put here to waste and pillage God's gifts but to conserve and enhance them.

They are there for our needs but not for our dissipation. That's why we acknowledge prudence as a virtue. By insisting that Governments and civil society recognise our global responsibility to fight climate change, we Catholics will be acting out our faith in practice. We will be the salt that has not lost its savour, the light shining in an otherwise frightening and threatened world.

- John Gummer, Tory member of the House of Lords and board member and columnist for the Catholic Herald (pictured).

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