I wouldn’t ordinarily venture to dispute Sydney Cardinal, George Pell (that’s the Catholic dignatory, not a pitcher for a minor-league baseball team), but it can’t be a good sign of the quality of the Cardinal’s thinking that he’s quoted approvingly by Andrew Bolt.

Shorter Pell: people I like to read say that climate change isn’t happening. I’m sure they’re right.

There are a number of fundamental errors in the piece which have been addressed over and over again by others who are actually qualified in a way that I, along with the good Cardinal, am not. (The medieval warm period wasn’t warmer. Warming didn’t stop in 1998.) But I was saddened by this childish attempt to use basic confusion about definitions as what is, apparently, meant to be a devastating attack on the scientists who understand climate change.

Originally we were warned about the “greenhouse effect”; then it was “global warming”, followed in turn by “climate change”. Now we talk about reducing the “carbon footprint”.

Um. No. These are not four separate “scares” dreamed up by global warming fanatics, each one supplanting the preceding when it had failed to generate sufficient panic. These are definitions of inter-related aspects of a physical reality.

The greenhouse effect is a term that metaphorically denotes how greenhouse gases in our atmosphere keep the Earth at a fairly constant, and life-friendly, temperature.

Global warming is what happens when additional (human-caused) greenhouse gases in the atmosphere shift the Earth’s energy balance, leading to increased surface temperatures.

And when the average global temperature increases, we don’t only get warmer weather. There are multiple impacts on the climate system, including sea level rise, and changes to precipitation patterns. Climate change seems like a good term to describe that.

And as for reducing our carbon footprint.  Since carbon dioxide is a potent greenhouse gas and we’re releasing gigatonnes of the stuff right now, that sounds like good advice.

And does the Pope know what his Cardinal is up to? Caring for people and the planet, according to Benedict XVI, requires us to be concerned about climate change:

Care of water resources and attention to climate change are matters of grave importance for the entire human family. Encouraged by the growing recognition of the need to preserve the environment, I invite all of you to join me in praying and working for greater respect for the wonders of God’s creation!

2 Responses to “Head to head with a Cardinal”

  1. David says:

    Ah Cardinal Pell, an interesting man.

  2. Phil says:

    For anyone who’s been a bit baffled by Senator Stephen Fielding’s claims about the climate cooling over the past decade, I’ve gone through his claim at http://bloodwoodtree.org/2009/07/06/assessment-of-steve-fieldings-stance-on-climate-change/.