About

Twitter

Facebook

CUP Web site

RSS Feed

New Books

Author Interviews

Author Events

Keep track of new CUP book releases:
e-newsletters

For media inquiries, please contact our
publicity department

CUP Authors Blogs and Sites

American Society of Magazine Editors

Roy Harris / Pulitzer's Gold

Natalie Berkowitz / Winealicious

Leonard Cassuto

Mike Chasar / Poetry and Popular Culture

Erica Chenoweth / "Rational Insurgent"

Juan Cole

Jenny Davidson / "Light Reading"

Faisal Devji

William Duggan

James Fleming / Atmosphere: Air, Weather, and Climate History Blog

David Harvey

Paul Harvey / "Religion in American History"

Bruce Hoffman

Alexander Huang

David K. Hurst / The New Ecology of Leadership

Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh

Geoffrey Kabat / "Hyping Health Risks"

Grzegorz W. Kolodko / "Truth, Errors, and Lies"

Jerelle Kraus

Julia Kristeva

Michael LaSala / Gay and Lesbian Well-Being (Psychology Today)

David Leibow / The College Shrink

Marc Lynch / "Abu Aardvark"

S. J. Marshall

Michael Mauboussin

Noelle McAfee

The Measure of America

Philip Napoli / Audience Evolution

Paul Offit

Frederick Douglass Opie / Food as a Lens

Jeffrey Perry

Mari Ruti / The Juicy Bits

Marian Ronan

Michael Sledge

Jacqueline Stevens / States without Nations

Ted Striphas / The Late Age of Print

Charles Strozier / 9/11 after Ten Years

Hervé This

Alan Wallace

James Igoe Walsh / Back Channels

Xiaoming Wang

Santiago Zabala

Press Blogs

AAUP

University of Akron

University of Alberta

American Management Association

Baylor University

Beacon Broadside

University of California

Cambridge University Press

University of Chicago

Cork University

Duke University

University of Florida

Fordham University Press

Georgetown University

University of Georgia

Harvard University

Harvard Educational Publishing Group

University of Hawaii

Hyperbole Books

University of Illinois

Island Press

Indiana University

Johns Hopkins University

University of Kentucky

Louisiana State University

McGill-Queens University Press

Mercer University

University of Michigan

University of Minnesota

Minnesota Historical Society

University of Mississippi

University of Missouri

MIT

University of Nebraska

University Press of New England

University of North Carolina

University Press of North Georgia

NYU / From the Square

University of Oklahoma

Oregon State University

University of Ottawa

Oxford University

Penn State University

University of Pennsylvania

Princeton University

Stanford University

University of Sydney

University of Syracuse

Temple University

University of Texas

Texas A&M University

University of Toronto

University of Virginia

Wilfrid Laurier University

Yale University

Archive for the 'Environmental Studies' Category

Tuesday, May 24th, 2016

An Interview with Daniel Callahan, author of “The Five Horsemen of the Modern World”

The Five Horsemen of the Modern World, Daniel Callahan

“At the heart of the progress problem is that we usually do not want to stop progress, and don’t know how to do so even when we need to try.”—Daniel Callahan

The following is an interview with Daniel Callahan, author of The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity

Question: Why did you write this book?

Daniel Callahan: Most people write books because they have something to say: a careful analysis, a heated conviction, or a message to spread. Most scholarly savants usually spend years thinking through a topic and then put it all in a book. I don’t seem to fall easily into any of those categories. I wrote The Five Horsemen out of sheer curiosity, knowing something about some of my five horsemen but almost nothing about others; and not knowing where it would lead me. My curiosity was stimulated by what seemed to me a troubling similarity: a rare group of global problems, each seemingly different, that were all getting worse not better. How has that happened, and could it be that they do share some traits

Q: Do you offer solutions to the global threats posed by the five horsemen?

DC: My flat, candid answer to that question is: no! Initially, I naively thought, I could, being the kind of smart guy who thinks he can solve all human problems if simply given the chance to do so. It soon became obvious that I could not do that, but was consoled to notice that no one else could either. I should have seen at once that problems festering for forty or more years, that had consumed billions of dollars in research and policy efforts, that evoke deep ideological and political differences, and that display a wide range of disparate convictions in public opinion, do not lend themselves to easy solutions. If you don’t believe that, read the book. That is not to say there is an absence of ideas. It is that most have not worked, and those that have are not sufficient.

Q: Why are they so hard to solve?

DC: At the root of each of the horsemen is the modern value of progress, but reaching back to the eighteenth century. At its core is the belief that through reason and science the human condition can be improved. There is no end of the possibilities. Global warming is the result of economic progress, bringing millions out of poverty and affluence to many more. It also pollutes our atmosphere. Food shortages are in great part due to population growth, a result of medical progress keeping people alive much longer. Waters shortages also result from population growth and great agricultural gains (70% of water consumption is for agriculture). Chronic illness is heavily due to aging populations, another fruit of medical progress. Obesity is a function of the availability of cheaper but less health foods. At the heart of the progress problem is that we usually do not want to stop progress, and don’t know how to do so even when we need to try.

(more…)

Monday, May 23rd, 2016

Book Giveaway! The Five Horsemen of the Modern World, by Daniel Callahan

This week we are featuring The Five Horsemen of the Modern World: Climate, Food, Water, Disease, and Obesity, by Daniel Callahan.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of The Five Horsemen of the Modern World to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 22 at 1:00 pm.

Barron H. Lerner, author of The Good Doctor: A Father, A Son and the Evolution of Medical Ethics, writes:

“It is hard enough to write a wise book on a single major social problem, but Daniel Callahan has written a wise book about five of them, ultimately proposing important suggestions for moving forward. The Five Horsemen should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in climate change, food distribution, the water supply, chronic illness or obesity…. This book challenges us to look at the global and local ramifications of everything we know and do.”

You can also read the chapter,”Our Overheating, Fraying Planet”:

Wednesday, April 13th, 2016

“One of the Things We Need to Rethink Weirdly Is Time.” — Timothy Morton

Dark Ecology, Timothy Morton

“One of the things we need to rethink weirdly is time. If future coexistence includes nonhumans—and Dark Ecology is showing why this must be the case—it might be best to see history as a nested series of catastrophes that are still playing out rather than as a sequence of events based on a conception of time as a succession of atomic instants.”—Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology

We continue our week-long feature on Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence, by Timothy Morton, with an excerpt from the book’s “Second Thread”. In the excerpt below, Morton considers the necessity for rethinking our conceptions of time as we grapple with ecological concerns and the posthuman:

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

Timothy Morton and Olafur Eliasson

The intellectual range of Timothy Morton, author of Dark Ecology: For a Logic of Future Coexistence, is rare among today’s academic. In addition to his important theoretical and philosophical work, he has also collaborated with visual artists and musicians, including Bjork. In the following video, Morton talks with noted contemporary artist Olafur Eliasson.

Morton and Eliasson’s interests intersect in many ways, ranging from man’s evolving relationship to nature to the role of art in such a society. In the following talk, Morton and Eliasson discuss these issues and more:

Monday, April 11th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Dark Ecology,” by Timothy Morton

Timothy Morton, Dark Ecology

This week our featured book is Dark Ecology
For a Logic of Future Coexistence
, by Timothy Morton.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Dark Ecology to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 15th at 1:00 pm.

Imre Szeman writes, “Timothy Morton’s Dark Ecology is a brave, brilliant interrogation of the presumptions that have driven our approach to the ecological and environmental challenges of our era.”

For more on the book, here is the chapter “The First Thread”:

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

VIDEO: Jeffrey T. Kiehl on What Earth’s Past Tells Us About the Future of Climate Change

In the following video, Jeffrey T. Kiehl, author of Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future, discusses how we can learn about future climate from Earth’s deep past. He offers a warning about the current trajectory we are on in terms of climate change:

“If we don’t start seriously working toward a reduction of carbon emissions, we are putting our planet on a trajectory that the human species has never experienced. We will have committed human civilization to living in a different world for multiple generations.”

(more…)

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

The Psychology of Climate Change — Jeffrey T. Kiehl

Facing Climate Change, Jeffrey Kiehl

The following post is by Jeffrey T. Kiehl, author of Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future:

Our reliance on fossil fuels as the main source to address our energy needs is untenable. The burning of these fuels is causing carbon dioxide levels to rapidly increase and thus warm the planet via the greenhouse effect. The burning of coal is destroying local air quality and placing many thousands at direct health risk. We are experiencing human caused climate change now. If we continue on our current path, planetary warming will reach unprecedented levels within decades. We can no longer afford to deny, ignore or diminish the problem of climate change. Yet, despite the overwhelming evidence for climate change we continue to burn these fuels and in the United States we continue to turn away from the warnings of what is happening to our world.

Denial is a classic way to avoid dealing with a disturbing issue. You can probably remember either consciously or unconsciously using this strategy to avoid or postpone action on a pressing problem. Disturbing information or situations evoke a sense of anxious dread within us. We feel overwhelmed by facing the situation and procrastinate. We all do this. Often when we actually do face the problem it turns out that addressing it was less painful than imagined. Our expectation of loss created a deep sense of fear that amplified the actual situation. Understanding the psychological processes that occur in situations of denial can actually help us penetrate the barriers preventing us from moving beyond the problem. This is why it is so important to explore the psychological dimensions of climate change. We can learn much from the experiences of clinical psychology, social psychology and neuroscience. These fields have delved into the many ways we make decisions and avoid making decisions. They shine a light of understanding on the darker shadow regions of denial, ignorance and diminishment. For example, the emotional reactions experienced around the issue of climate change mirror those of a physical or psychological trauma. Thus, the vast knowledge of trauma and its treatment can aid in dealing with the resistance to addressing the state of our climate system.

The physical, chemical and biological sciences have provided us with a comprehensive picture of climate change and our integral role in this problem. The manifold dimensions of psychology can provide ways to actually address the problem. By combining the studies of climate and psyche we not only see what is happening to our world and why, but also, how we can move beyond the problem to create a more flourishing world for future generations.

Monday, March 28th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “Facing Climate Change,” by Jeffrey T. Kiehl

This week we are featuring Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future, by Jeffrey T. Kiehl.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Facing Climate Change: An Integrated Path to the Future to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, April 1 at 1:00 pm.

Here’s what Michael Mann says about the book:

Facing Climate Change is a must-read for anyone concerned about human-caused climate change and how we get past the psychological barriers standing between us and a solution to this existential threat.”

You can also read the chapter, “A Journey from Climate Science to Psychology”:

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

An Interview with David J. Helfand, author of “A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age”

A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age

The following is an interview with David J. Helfand, author of A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind:

Question: Most people think we are living in the Information Age. Why the contrarian “Misinformation Age” in your title?

David J. Helfand: It is certainly true that the amount of information at our disposal is unprecedented, and the Internet democratizes access to this information in ways that are unique in human history. But we are now generating, worldwide, 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. If printed as standard characters, that represents the equivalent of 450,000 pages of text per person per day. Obviously, more than 99.99% of this “information” is not edited or vetted for accuracy. And the corollary of open access to the web for downloading information is that uploading information is equally unfiltered. The result? Unlimited opportunities for the propagation of misinformation, and unfettered access for individuals and organizations wishing to spread disinformation.

Q: Surely misinformation isn’t new, nor is the motivation of some to spread disinformation to advance vested interests. Why do you suppose the problem is greater today?

DJH: During the first 97% of the time members of the species homo sapiens have roamed the Earth, information was very limited but the important bits were generally of high quality. The member of the hunter-gatherer tribe who regularly led hunting parties toward the hungry lions instead of the zebras was quickly ignored (or eaten and eliminated from the gene pool; likewise with the one that gathered poisonous fruits). The sources of information—your clansmen—were unambiguous and there was an existential premium on good information.

Today the sources are anonymous, or at least often unknown to you, and their motivation for providing accurate information is negligible; there are no consequences for misinformation nearly as severe as the lions. Thus, if mis- or dis-information serves one’s purposes—either for accumulating money or power, or for the strong innate motivation of reinforcing group identity—there’s no barrier to broadcasting it. Couple this with the viral capacity of social media and the instant accessibility of nonsense for all, and you have what I think should rightly be called the Misinformation Age.

(more…)

Monday, February 29th, 2016

Book Giveaway! “A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age,” by David J. Helfand

This week we are featuring A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind, by David J. Helfand.

In addition to featuring the book and the author on the blog, we will also be posting about the book on twitter, and facebook.

We are also offering a FREE copy of A Survival Guide to the Misinformation Age: Scientific Habits of Mind to one winner. To enter the contest please e-mail pl2164@columbia.edu and include your name and address. The winner will be selected Friday, March 4th at 1:00 pm.

Here’s what Neil deGrasse Tyson says about the book:

A Survival Guide for the Misinformation Age is an impassioned plea for science literacy. Given the state of the world today, in which scientifically underinformed voters elect scientifically illiterate politicians, David Helfand has written the right book at the right time with the right message. Read it now. The future of our civilization may depend on it.”
You can also read the chapter “A Walk in the Park”:

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Are You Resolved to Eat More Insects in 2016? — The Insect Cookbook

With The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet now available in paper and given that many of us have resolved to eat better, or at least differently, in 2016, we are re-posting Marcel Dicke’s TED Talk. In the video,Dicke, coauthor of The Insect Cookbook: Food for a Sustainable Planet, discusses the environmental and nutritional importance of eating insects:

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Michael Mann on the Assault on Climate Science

The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Michael Mann

“Let’s end the McCarthy-like assault on science led by the Lamar Smiths of the world. Our nation is better than that.”—Michael Mann, New York Times

Yesterday, we linked to Michael Mann’s important op-ed in the New York Times on social media but also wanted to feature it here on our blog. In his piece, The Assault on Climate Science, Mann describes the recent efforts of Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican who is chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, to challenge and obfuscate the findings of scientists regarding climate change. Smith, a climate-change-denier, has “issued various subpoenas to Kathryn D. Sullivan, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, demanding all internal notes, emails and correspondence concerning a study its scientists published in the journal Science.” As Mann argues that while Smith is entitled to ask for all pertinent scientific data and findings — and should do so — asking for correspondence between scientists risks the confidentiality that is crucial for frank discourse.

As Mann points out, this kind of intimidation of scientists is not new — Mann himself was the victim of it in 2005. At the time, many politicians — both Republicans and Democrats — came to his defense. The picture in 2015 is far bleaker as Republicans have done nothing to rein in the actions of Lamar Smith.

Mann concludes by writing:

While there is no doubt climate change is real and caused by humans, there is absolutely a debate to be had about the details of climate policy, and there are prominent Republicans participating constructively in that discourse. Let’s hear more from these sensible voices. And let’s end the McCarthy-like assault on science led by the Lamar Smiths of the world. Our nation is better than that.

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2015

Mark L. Clifford on The Greening of Asia

Mark L. Clifford, author of The Greening of Asia: The Business Case for Solving Asia’s Environmental Emergency, will be talking about issues relating to climate change in Asia at an event today at the China Institute. For those that can’t make it, here is a video of Clifford discussing the book:

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

International Climate Negotiations

Green Capital

“Over the years, the agendas for climate conferences have tackled new issues, even though the negotiations may have been at a standstill or even backsliding in terms of coordinating actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. New topics, such as climate change adaptation, the transfer of low-carbon technology, and innovative financial mechanisms, have been introduced through ad hoc working groups without really opening up new perspectives. The march toward increased cooperation in reducing emissions will be facilitated if these general categories are linked to specific questions that participants have raised, by suggesting they join concrete action programs to come up with solutions.” — de Perthuis and Jouvet

This week, our featured book is Green Capital: A New Perspective on Growth, by Christian de Perthuis and Pierre-André Jouvet, translated by Michael Westlake. The 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris from November 30 to December 11 of this year. De Perthuis and Jouvet look back at the complicated history of international climate negotiations and try to outline the contours of the “ideal” future climate agreement in the thirteenth chapter of their book, which we have excerpted here.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Green Capital!

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Introducing Green Capital

Green Capital

“Despite the supportive discourse of international organizations like the OECD and the World Bank, which has lent credibility to the idea of “green growth,” these new environmental concerns remain on the periphery of political and economic decision making. Worse, following the deep recession of 2008–2009, the outlook of decision makers has shortened: what counts now is a rapid return to growth and the reduction of unemployment. As for the color of growth, they seem to say, we’ll think about that later!” — de Perthuis and Jouvet

This week, our featured book is Green Capital: A New Perspective on Growth, by Christian de Perthuis and Pierre-André Jouvet, translated by Michael Westlake. Today, we are happy to present the introduction to Green Capital, in which de Perthuis and Jouvet explain the necessity and possibility of including and prioritizing climate policy in larger policy discussions, as well as giving a quick run-through of the topics that their book covers.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a free copy of Green Capital!

Monday, October 26th, 2015

Book Giveaway! Green Capital: A New Perspective on Growth

Green Capital

Green Capital takes us on a salutary journey through biodiversity, water shortages, the energy transition, and much more to stress the importance of ‘natural capital.’ The book provides an accessible discussion of the economic value of the environment and of the tragedy of the commons, and it explains why, despite our reluctance to employ them, price signals are necessary to create the right incentives. A call for greater environmental awareness and more common sense, Green Capital is a must-read for all those interested in environmental policy issues.” — Jean Tirole, Toulouse School of Economics and Nobel Laureate in Economics

This week, our featured book is Green Capital: A New Perspective on Growth, by Christian de Perthuis and Pierre-André Jouvet, translated by Michael Westlake. Throughout the week, we will be featuring content about the book and its authors on our blog as well as on our Twitter feed and our Facebook page.

We are also offering a FREE copy of Green Capital. To enter our book giveaway, simply fill out the form below with your name and preferred mailing address. We will randomly select our winners on Wednesday, October 28th at 5:00 pm. Good luck, and spread the word!

Monday, August 24th, 2015

The Economic Risks of Climate Change

In the following segment from The Leonard Lopate Show, Michael Oppenheimer and Geoffrey Heal, two contributors to Economic Risks of Climate Change: An American Prospectus, discuss their econometric research on human responses to climate, and explain private sector risk-assessment tools:

Economic Risks of Climate Change

Friday, August 21st, 2015

Reactions to Laudato Si’: The Great Gift of “Laudato Si’”

Reactions to Laudato Si'

“Pope Francis offers a brilliant explication of the importance of a new form of research, one that I like to call the emergent field of sustainable development, to integrate the areas of specialized knowledge into a comprehensive and interconnected form of understanding.” — Jeffrey D. Sachs

This week, rather than focusing on one featured book, we will be posting reactions to Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, commonly referred to as Laudato Si’, from scholars in a variety of fields: scientists H. H. Shugart and James Lawrence Powell, economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, and religion scholar Whitney Bauman. In today’s post, the final of the week’s feature, we are happy to present an article on the encyclical by Jeffrey D. Sachs that originally appeared in America Magazine.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of H. H. Shugart’s book!

The Great Gift of ‘Laudato Si’’
By Jeffrey D. Sachs

Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” is a great and timely gift to humanity. To avoid a catastrophic collision of the world economy and environment, humanity urgently needs to change the trajectory and functioning of the world economy. Yet the world economic system is a juggernaut nearly impervious to coordinated changes at the global scale. “Laudato Si’” opens the path to a veritable revolution of ideas to bring about the needed changes.

As Pope Francis eloquently and accurately describes, the economic juggernaut is destroying biodiversity, dangerously altering the climate and undermining the life-support systems of the planet for humanity and millions of other species. On all of this, Pope Francis offers a compelling summary of the scientific evidence, presented with clarity and precision. His concision and precision on these matters exemplifies the church’s profound commitment to the marriage of faith and reason, with its abiding commitment to science.

Yet, as Pope Francis describes, the economy keeps barreling along, seemingly oblivious to these hazards and to the deadly costs they are imposing on the world’s poor and vulnerable people. In the very powerful phrase of his earlier exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” the world suffers from a “globalization of indifference” that makes it nearly impossible for humanity to reorient toward sustainable development over the current destructive trajectory. (more…)

Thursday, August 20th, 2015

Reactions to Laudato Si’: Is Pope Francis Right on the Science?

Reactions to Laudato Si'

“First, the consensus on anthropogenic global warming among publishing scientists exceeds 99.9%. Second, climate scientists do not claim that global warming “caused” a given heat wave, drought, or storm. Rather, they say that global warming has increased the odds of such events and is therefore partly responsible for the broad pattern of extreme weather. The Pope recognizes that global warming is not just something that will happen in the future: it is happening now and we need to respond now.” — James Lawrence Powell

This week, rather than focusing on one featured book, we will be posting reactions to Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, commonly referred to as Laudato Si’, from scholars in a variety of fields: scientists H. H. Shugart and James Lawrence Powell, economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, and religion scholar Whitney Bauman. In today’s post, James Lawrence Powell takes a close look at the actual science cited by Pope Francis in the encyclical and asks, simply, did the Pope get it right?

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of H. H. Shugart’s book!

Is Pope Francis Right on the Science?
By James Lawrence Powell

When most people read “Catholic Church” and “Science” in the same sentence, they are apt to think of the inquisition of Galileo, who narrowly escaped burning at the stake for espousing the Copernican view of a Sun-centered solar system. But that is old news. In 1992, Pope John Paul II stated his regret for Galileo’s treatment and in 2008, the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first telescopic observations, Pope Benedict XVI praised his pioneering astronomy. The Vatican astronomer Brother Guy Consolmagno won the 2014 American Astronomical Society’s Carl Sagan Medal for Excellence in Public Communication in Planetary Science for his many books.

The Catholic Church has also been forthright in its defense of evolution, Pope John Paul II telling the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996 that “…new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis.” Catholic schools in the U.S. and elsewhere teach evolution both as a fact and as the result of the modern evolutionary synthesis, the updated version of Darwin’s theory.

Though Young-Earth creationists maintain that our planet is only a few thousand years old, the Church has long accepted the antiquity of the Earth and the authenticity of the fossil record as validating the history of life. In 2004, before Cardinal Ratzinger had become Pope Benedict XVI, he endorsed a statement by the International Theological Commission that,

The universe erupted 15 billion years ago in an explosion called the ‘Big Bang’ and has been expanding and cooling ever since. Later there gradually emerged the conditions necessary for the formation of atoms, still later the condensation of galaxies and stars, and about 10 billion years later the formation of planets. In our own solar system and on earth (formed about 4.5 billion years ago), the conditions have been favorable to the emergence of life.

Thus Pope Francis’s recent encyclical — Laudato Si, or “Praised Be”— is but the latest in a series of statements from the Catholic Church that offer increasingly strong support for science. Pope Francis’s eloquent encyclical not only does that, but it also casts the protection of the environment and the prevention of global warming as predominantly moral issues. He introduces the encyclical as an “Urgent appeal for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.” Francis asks for “a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

The question I am addressing is whether the Pope gets the science of global warming right. We should not be surprised if he does, for he was trained as a scientist: before becoming a priest, young Jorge Mario Bergoglio trained and worked as a chemical technician. Just as no one can discredit Francis’s moral standing, neither can anyone discredit his understanding of science.

As would any climate scientist today, Francis regards human responsibility for global warming as an indisputable fact. He does not present a list of arguments designed to persuade his readers that anthropogenic global warming is true, but simply says that it is true:

A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.

Exactly right. First, the consensus on anthropogenic global warming among publishing scientists exceeds 99.9%. Second, climate scientists do not claim that global warming “caused” a given heat wave, drought, or storm. Rather, they say that global warming has increased the odds of such events and is therefore partly responsible for the broad pattern of extreme weather. The Pope recognizes that global warming is not just something that will happen in the future: it is happening now and we need to respond now.

Further evincing his understanding, the Pope writes:

It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space.

Again, exactly right. Several factors affect global temperature but only one can explain the rise in temperature since the 1970s: the increase in greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion. A climate scientist might argue that the last sentence of the quotation is an oversimplification in that it does not explain the mechanism by which greenhouse gases increase temperature. But the sentence as it stands is correct and sufficient for a general audience.

The Pope also demonstrates his understanding of the consequences of unchecked global warming:

The melting in the polar ice caps and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous release of methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can further increase the emission of carbon dioxide. Things are made worse by the loss of tropical forests which would otherwise help to mitigate climate change. Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain.

As result [of human activities] some species face extinction.

The effects of climate change will be felt for a long time to come, even if stringent measures are taken now.

As remarkable as Francis’s understanding of science is his powerful and eloquent language:

We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us.

The environment is… on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.

Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn.

The Pope ends the encyclical with the moral argument in the form or a prayer, entreating God to,

Enlighten those who possess power and money that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.

The sentence that I will remember most is this one: “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.” Like climate scientists, the Pope regards global warming as threatening the future of humanity.

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

Reactions to Laudato Si’: Laudato Si and the Art of Unknowing

Reactions to Laudato Si'

“[T]he Pope is arguing that in light of this context we all need to practice “failure”: or that which disrupts the “business as usual” notion of progress as solely economic and technological. I’m not suggesting this Pope is queer-friendly (or even feminist-friendly), but I am suggesting that the deeply Catholic understandings of the “common good” and “social teachings” are, in the face of the productionist paradigm, queer.” — Whitney Bauman

This week, rather than focusing on one featured book, we will be posting reactions to Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical Letter Laudato Si of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home, commonly referred to as Laudato Si’, from scholars in a variety of fields: scientists H. H. Shugart and James Lawrence Powell, economist Jeffrey D. Sachs, and religion scholar Whitney Bauman. In today’s post, Whitney Bauman does a close reading of the Encyclical and comes to some surprising conclusions about the Pope’s message.

Don’t forget to enter our book giveaway for a chance to win a signed copy of H. H. Shugart’s book!

Laudato Si and the Art of Unknowing
By Whitney A. Bauman

There is much to be commended in the Pope’s recent Encyclical on “the environment.” He clearly did his doctrinal, historical and philosophical homework on issues of human-earth relations. There is much one would expect to find in the document: such as the use of St. Francis in the title, couching of creation-care in terms of “the common good” and the prominence of catholic social teaching. There are also some surprises—such as his knowledge of the history of the environmental movement and his use of Integral Ecology which understands nature and culture as already and always together. At times it reads like a traditional Papal document while at others it reads more like something that Bruno Latour or leaders of the New Materialism might have written. In this brief piece, I want to focus on two points that I find most poignant in the Encyclical: the critique of modern technological society and the call for a more robust dialogue between religion and science. Both of these points participate in what Judith/Jack Halberstam calls “The Queer Art of Failure” or what Catherine Keller might call “the Art of Unknowing.”

In The Queer Art of Failure, Halberstam writes: “Under certain circumstances failing, losing, forgetting, unmaking, undoing, unbecoming, not knowing may in fact offer more creative, more cooperative, more surprising ways of being in the world” (Halberstam, The Queer Art of Failure). The creativity of abject identities, of those who have failed to live up to the norms of hetero-normative, anthropocentric capitalism, is indeed the source of creativity for seeking a different planetary future. In other words, failing is precisely what we need in this day and age if we are to find our way forward through the problems brought about by globalization and climate weirding. Pope Francis identifies this problem as well in his critique of modernity found in the Encyclical. He writes (and here I quote at length):

§107. It can be said that many problems of today’s world stem from the tendency, at times unconscious, to make the method and aims of science and technology an epistemological paradigm which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. The effects of imposing this model on reality as a whole, human and social, are seen in the deterioration of the environment, but this is just one sign of a reductionism which affects every aspect of human and social life. We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups. Decisions which may seem purely instrumental are in reality decisions about the kind of society we want to build.

(more…)