Prof. Roger Pielke Jr. on Pope: ‘Is science policy a theological matter?’
Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, the scientist who helped Pope Francis prepare the Encyclical Letter, wrote in an accompanying essay in explicitly Biblical terms, warning of “having eaten from the fruit of fossil fuel burning.” Schellnhuber’s association of the Fall of Man from the Garden of Eden with technological innovation is exactly the sort of counter-narrative to conventional Christianity’s tale of human dominion over nature that White and Francis (both the Saint and the Pope) have proposed. It is also compatible with a dominant strand of contemporary Western environmentalism that has scientists in roles that Church leaders used to play.
Nuclear power? GMOs? Birth control pills? Fracking? Human germline editing? Solar thermal stations? Vaccinations? Coal power? Good luck finding someone, anyone, with a consistently pro- or anti- technology position across just this small set of innovations. People around the world show a remarkable degree of inconsistency when applying religious principles to technological innovation. Of course, one person’s inconsistency is another’s pragmatism, and the pragmatic way to settle conflicts in through the difficult and frustrating process of politics.
On the one hand, one does not have to look far to find Earth looking like an immense pile of filth. For example, several weeks ago the city of Accra in Ghana experienced massive flooding, killing more than 150 people, many in a massive petrol fire. The flooding was a consequence of storm drains clogged with trash, the detritus of growing wealth. But on the other hand, Ghanaians do not appear to be looking toward any sort of “asceticism” as a response. Rather the President has said that the nation is “looking to set up silt traps in Ghana’s rivers, dredge sewers, relocate neighborhoods occupying floodplains and replace storm drains” – in others words, to technologies to address the problems caused by technology. More broadly, Ghana is going full speed ahead with a program of economic growth, much of it focused on exploiting fossil fuels, viewed not as a forbidden fruit but as a technology of empowerment, just as women have viewed birth control.