Skip navigation

Pell’s Moral and Intellectual Authority

Cardinal Pell occupies a strategic position in the Climate Change debate in Australia. He is sometimes cited (e.g here and here, and Greg Sheridan here) by the ‘Denialist’ side as an intelligent, impartial skeptic, but as a very senior clergyman, he is assumed by many ordinary Australians to be impartial and honest and consequently becomes an authority on Climate to them also.

In discussions with my family, who are not Catholic, Pell’s rejection of the Climate Change thesis convinces them that the Climate Change position is weak. They say ‘Pell knows many scientists who are afraid to speak out against Climate Change’. They consider him to be honest and fair. I would guess that many other pretty normal and not necessarily Catholic middle-class households also consider Pell to be credible on Climate Change.

The Source Of Pell’s Bias On Climate

In my opinion Pell is not impartial on Climate Change. He has a bias toward rejecting the Climate Change hypothesis as a result of his theological positions on Ecology, Population and Faith. This bias is evident in his rhetoric which displays a reactionary slant not compatible with an ‘open’ position on the subject.

For example, in a Sunday Telegraph column in Feb 2007 entited ‘Scaremonger’, he described the Climate Change case as ‘propaganda’ containing (but not limited to) ‘a lot of nonsense’ and ‘mild hysteria’ which is ‘dangerously close to superstition’ pushed by (but not limited to) ‘scaremongers’ and ‘some zealots’.

To my knowledge Pell never describes the Climate Change Skeptical case in these terms.

Pell’s reading on Climate Change is selective. He quotes various data from Skeptic sources, but does not cross-check the assertions against Proponent sources. As far as I am aware Pell has never retracted an assertion of his later shown to be incorrect. This indicates he is not interested in ‘further evidence’ as he claims.

Pell Gets It Wrong

In ‘Scaremonger’ Pell said:

The East Anglia university climate research unit found that global temperatures did not increase between 1998 – 2005.

Pell is apparently unaware that Client Change Proponents know that there are large natural short-term variations in Global Temperature. The cooler temparatures of 1998-2005 will probably become even cooler due to a La Nina event commencing in 2007. Pell knows that the long-term trend is the important indicator but then uses short-term data to bolster his own case while tarring Climate Change Proponents as harbouring those who use short-term data to magnify their case.

Scaremongers have used temperature fluctuations in limited periods and places to misrepresent longer patterns.

Pell quotes spatial variations in temperature to support the Skeptic case but is unaware that the pattern of spatial variation matches the Climate Change Proponent modelling.

Pell knows that CO2 levels rise during inter-glaciation periods but does not know that this is a different CO2 phenonemon than anthropogenic C02 which causes warming for reasons unrelated to natural global temperature cycles.

Pell notes that NASA has reported that the temperature on Mars has risen by 0.5C, uses this to refute the Proponent claim but is not aware that scientific opinion does NOT ascribe the increase in Martian temperature to an increase in Sunspot or other solar activity, which would be the only way that Mars and Earth could suffer Climate Change from the same source.

In fact, the Sun’s energy output has remained stable since 1978 and the most commonly suggested reason for the Martian temperature increase is a dust-blanket forming in its atmosphere due to prolonged violent winds.

Pell mentioned the Kangerlussuaq glacier in Greenland in an official statement as Archbishop Of Sydney in October 2007, saying that it ‘is not shrinking but growing in size’.

Pell’s source knew but did not say that:

1) Kangerlussuaq has had massive ice-loss from 2000-2006;
2) 2006 showed a seasonal variation with parts of the glacier thickening but with an overall slight loss of ice mass.
3) The pattern of ice-loss is consistent with global warming.
4) The article warns of the possibility of major long-term melting of Greenland’s ice mass.

Pell was deceived by his source, Bjorn Lomborg, who intentionally misrepresented the facts, cherry-picking an article without being faithful to the article’s conclusions, actually reversing them.

I am not aware of Pell denouncing Lomborg as a hysterical, propogandist zealot, as being in the grip of a pagan worship of money or power or peddling nonsense and superstition. These terms Pell reserves for Climate Change Proponents, indicating his lack of objectivity.

Pell’s assertion that Greenland was warmer in the 1940’s than it is today is true, but once again ignores long-term trends. Pell has pulled one period from a century of data and made THAT period normative. Considering the period 1915-1965 as a whole, Greenland is 2 degrees Celcius warmer over the past decade.

On Antarctic temperatures, in ‘Scaremongers’ Pell said that ‘the Antarctic is getting colder and the ice is growing there’ but did not say or did not know that:

1) His reporter considerd only the two decades from 1978 but the primary source discussed a 40 year series showing Antarctica getting slightly warmer on average;
2) Climate models predict a lesser Climate Change effect in the Southern Hemisphere, and less the further South you go.
3) Antarctic wind currents and ocean dynamics mitigate local warming
4) Warming is unambiguous on the Antarctic coast
5) Only in the interior was cooling supposedly present.
6) In Jan-March 2002 the Larsen B sector collapsed and broke up, 3,250 km² of ice 220 m thick disintegrated, meaning an ice shelf covering an area comparable in size to the state of Rhode Island disappeared in a single season.

In short, on Antarctica, Pell was selective to the point of myopia. Really, he doesn’t want to know and if Pell is serious about being open to further evidence he will be interested in this report Antarctica ‘melting faster than first thought’
summarizing an article in Nature magazine regarding latest Australian research in Antarctica.

Pell The Climate Change Lyre Bird

So, taking Pell point by point on Climate, he is wrong every time. Far from assembling a cohesive intellectual case against Climate Change Pell has merely accumulated a melange of factoids disconnected from any integrated understanding of the issue.

What is interesting about Pell is that every time he is interviewed on Climate he throws out different nuggets of Climate data indicating he is constantly gathering denialist material, much as a Lyre Bird might collect any bright and shiny piece of junk it finds in the scrub, just because it thinks its attractive.

The Lyre Bird, like Pell, has no interest in connecting the junk materials together or understanding what they really are or constructing something useful out of them, it just stuffs them into his nest which is the structure it is really interested in attending to.

Pell’s ‘nest’ is Catholic theological positions on Ecology, Population and Faith. These are the larger and more important structures that Pell is really interested in defending. Climate Change is only salient for Pell as it intersects his true areas of concern. Pell is quite happy to misuse Climate Change data in order to bolster his theological perspectives and faith mission.

The fact that Pell has a consistently replenishing source of denialist literature indicates he is reading some denialist websites or magazines. It would be interesting to trace the pattern and timing of Pell’s assertions on Climate to see where he is getting his material from. Any takers ?

Pell On Paganism and Climate

Pell’s real concern about Climate Change is that it is a modern expression of Paganism, a quasi-religious belief based on dialectical fear and worship of the natural world, not whether or not Climate Change is real.

In this article in The Catholic World Report, January 2008, Pell ‘indicated his disappointment’ with the way Australians ‘have embraced even the wilder claims about man-made climate change as if they constituted a new religion.’

some of the more hysterical and extreme claims about global warming appear symptomatic of a pagan emptiness, of a Western fear when confronted with the immense and uncontrollable forces of nature … In the past pagans sacrificed animals and even humans in vain attempts to placate capricious and cruel gods. Today they demand a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions!’

Climate Change Diverts Clergy From Their Proper Calling

Pell also believe that as Christian clergy succumb to what he describes as the ‘green fundamentalist faith’, this will reduce their effectiveness at proclaiming the Gospel of saving faith in Jesus, which is the core business of Jesus’ church.

Pell said:

Radical environmentalists are more than up to the task of moralizing their own agenda and imposing it on people through fear. They don’t need church leaders to help them with this, although it is a very effective way of further muting Christian witness


Jesus Christ didn’t say anything on global warming

so therefore, generally-speaking, neither should His ministers or disciples. Climate Change and Ecology should be issues of lesser importance to Christians.

Pell does not say that environmental issues are irrelevant for Christians – he is in favour of developing ‘clean’ (CO2 emission-free) power – but that environmental issues are second-order issues such as proclaiming faith in Jesus

There are many measures that are good for the environment that we should pursue… [but] I strive to argue rationally towards God the Creator, and reject substitutes

and inter-personal social issues such as marriage breakdown and abortion

It’s much less important than the faith of the five or ten or fifteen per cent of the poorest Australians; it’s much less important than the problem of marriage breakdown, it’s much less important than the problem of abortion.

Pell On Climate Change And Population

Pell strongly criticized the Medical Journal Of Australia for publishing a letter from Obstetrician Dr. Barry Walters, who proposed an annual Carbon tax on families with more than two children.

As the blog Cafe Theology reported, Pell, speaking in Seoul, where he was awarded the Mysterium Vitae Grand Prix award for his outstanding efforts for the pro-life movement, said

this is a striking illustration of where a minority neo-pagan, anti-human mentality, wants to take us

The connection from Pell’s views on Climate Change and Paganism to those of fertility are explicit, indicating Pell’s approach to Climate is integrated at the Theological rather than the Ecological level and it is the Theological level which forms the basis and context for his thinking about Climate, not the supposed ‘evidence’ from Skeptical sources which Pell adduces in a haphazard, opportunistic manner.

Pell explicitly rejects any connection between population and climate change. In a statement made during Catholic World Youth Day in July 2008 he said:

I’m a bit of a sceptic about the claim that human activity is likely to produce a man-made catastrophe. I’m well aware that over the years, there have been great changes in the climate.

The accommodation between this statement and the Catholic position on fertility is obvious.

Summarizing Pell On Climate

Pell rejects Climate Change because, for him, it interferes with the issues with are truly important: proclaiming the gospel, protecting society from false or empty religion and obedience to Catholic teaching on fertility.

He has collected a melange of disconnected factiods on Climate from Denialist sources which he spinkles into the public debate as an innoculation against the competing pagan faith of Climate Change. He does not attempt to integrate his melange into a cohesive explanation of Climate Change, being content to opportunistically misuse Climate data in the service of faith issues he feels are truly important.

Yet Pell presents himself as an open-minded inquirer who has carefully studied the issue of Climate Change while portraying Climate Change proponents as fear-mongering propogandists. He loosely associates himself with scientists as a means of cultivating the appearance of objectivity. These scientists are always Denialists.

He never corrects himself on Climate and makes no real effort to understand the arguments of Climate Change Proponents. He never contradicts specific denialist assertions, limiting himself to a vague statement that industrial activity must have some mild but insignificant effect on climate. This ‘concession’, while sincerely believed, is also projected to cultivate the appearance of objectivity.

I suspect Pell may be self-deluded. He may genuinely believe he has considered the evidence for Climate Change, but like all self-delusions, it falls to pieces as soon as the surface is scratched.

Get Your Game Together, George

I am somewaht disappointed in Pell. Any one of his specific assertions about Skeptic data can be disproved in five minutes by Googling the relevant counter-argument. It is apparent that Pell has not done basic cross-checking of Skeptic-sourced facts. In this way he has become an uncritical conduit for bad science and lazy commentary which serves the ‘ruthless commercial forces’ he so accurately said prey upon youth and society in general.

Pell’s community deserves better than that and as a custodian of an influential moral position which even non-Catholics respect, he is letting all of Australia down on this issue. He has become a patsy for the Denialists.

Pell must know that Climate is a particularly cutting-edge issue amongst youth. If Australian Catholic youth come to believe that their Cardinal is untrustworthy on Climate then he may just hasten the departure to Paganism he is so desperate to prevent.

In my opinion, it is in Pell’s interests that he upgrade his knowledge on Climate and correct his own record on the topic. In his shoes I would start immediately. Next time he is interviewed on Climate he should repudiate some of his own prior assertions such as those above. In this way he can gain proper credibility on Climate Change based on facts, not merely his position.

Last Word On Lyre Bird

I do not think Pell is a liar, but blinded and controlled by bias emenating from otherwise worthy motivations. I also suspect Pell possesses an innate conservatism unrelated to his Catholicism which may cause him to reject almost any progressive cause thus further predisposing Pell to deny Climate Change. It is this innate conservative which leads him to describe consider for the Climate Change thesis as a mere ‘enthusiasm’ which will soon pass.

But its time to wake up, George. Get that junk out of your nest.


Here’s a great, brief encapsulation of argument against the Denialist position by David Karoly the brilliant Professor Of Earth Sciences at Melbourne University.


3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] Under The Milky Way There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Bruce…but let’s stick to Politics and Cricket, eh? About « Cardinal Pell: Australia’s Climate Change Lyre Bird […]

  2. […] The Australian is thus caught with its pants down misrepresenting Climate Change science. It is not interested in fairly representing the climate debate and finds a willing echo chamber in those with vested interests to defend, such as Barnaby Joyce and Cardinal George Pell. […]

  3. […] Pell On Climate (Part 2, Part 1) […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: