Climate, Neighbors, Bogeymen and Responsibility

Getty Images, via BBC News: 'Many of the protesters in Hamburg were demonstrating against Donald Trump's position on climate change' (BBC News; 2017) used w/o permission.
Fancy dress protest at G20. (2017)

Last weekend I started re-reading “Laudato si’, on care for our common home,” AKA the “environmental encyclical” and the “Green Encyclical,” by Pope Francis.

Calling the 2015 encyclical “green” and “environmental” isn’t mere marketing. But there’s more to “Laudato si'” (“Praise be to You”) than that aspect of today’s political slogan-slinging.

Anyway, I’d gotten a few paragraphs into the introduction when this got my attention:

“More than fifty years ago, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire ‘Catholic world’ and indeed ‘to all men and women of good will’….”
(“Laudato_si’,” 3, Pope Francis (May 24, 2015))

I’ll be talking about a few points raised by “Laudato si'” and “Pacem in Terris.”

But first, a disclaimer. Or maybe a reassurance.

I’ll talk about issues with political angles, but this isn’t a political post. I’m not out to demonize or deify any candidate or party.1

Elections, Politics and Making Sense Anyway

Political cartoons: Homer Davenport's version of Mark Hanna in 1896; Karl Kae Knecht's 1912 Roosevelt mixing 'radical' ingredients in his speeches. From Wikipedia, used w/o permission.
Political cartoons of yesteryear: 1896, 1912.

My country’s midterm elections will strike next Tuesday.

So my news feeds are showing fewer than the usual number of headlines about climate catastrophe and cute but doomed critters.

On the other hand, I’m seeing more warnings against one party’s dangerously delinquent disciples and praise for the other party’s paragons.

I will be very glad when the election’s over, and that’s almost another topic.

Completely ignoring current issues isn’t an option. Neither is rabid support for or reviling of some person or cause.

Since I’m a Catholic, paying attention and thinking is a must-do. So is being a good citizen, even when I might prefer ignoring the whole brouhaha.

Loving God and my neighbors, and seeing everyone as my neighbor, comes with being a Catholic. That’s everyone. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 7:12, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; 10:2527, 2937; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1789)

So is doing what’s possible in public life. That includes recognizing humanity’s solidarity and respecting authority. Within reason. (Catechism, 1778, 1915, 1897-1917, 1939-1942, 2199, 2238-2243)

Loving my country is a good idea. Again, within reason. But letting love of country slop over into worship of country is a bad idea. A very bad idea. (Catechism, 2112-2114, 2199, 2239)

In any case, an adolescence spent in the 1960s helps me take politics with a grain of salt: or a few pallets, sometimes.

“…Beatniks and politics, nothin’ is new
A yardstick for lunatics, one point of view….”
(“Incense and Peppermints,” Strawberry Alarm Clock (1967) via

Climate and Weather, Change and Responsibility

Glen Fergus's graph: 'Temperature of planet Earth,' global average temperature estimates for the last 540 MY. (2015) based on Veizer et al (1999), as re-interpreted by Royer et al (2004); Hansen et al (2013);  Lisiecki and Raymo (2005), using Hansen et al (2013) prescription; EPICA Dome C ice core from central Antarctica.
Earth’s global average temperature estimates for the last 540,000,000 years.

“Laudato si'” discusses climate change, so I’d better at least mention how I see that issue.

Yes, Earth’s climate is changing. It’s been changing since long before we’ve been around.

Changes happen on different scales. Some are cyclic.

In the short term, here in central Minnesota, we’ve been experiencing a downward temperature trend and runaway defoliation.

We call it autumn, and it happens every year around this time.

I suppose I should be grateful that so many folks know about Earth’s annual climate cycles. Maybe that’s why they’re not packaged as crises on the nightly news.

Seasons happen, and I don’t think winter is anybody’s fault.

On the other hand, I’d be astonished if we hadn’t contributed to some of our weather- and climate-related problems.2

But I am quite certain that many weather and climate events have natural causes: that we do not have full control over Earth’s seasons and storms

Which may be just as well.

Harnessing Hurricanes: Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time
WikiProject Tropical cyclones/Tracks' storm track for 1947 Atlantic hurricane 8, 1947 Hurricane Sable. (October 9-16, 1947; original storm track plotted 2006, revised 2014)
Hurricane Sable returned to the Atlantic coast after a weather modification experiment. (1947)

In 1947, Hurricane Sable had crossed southern Florida and was safely headed out into the Atlantic. That’s when Project Cirrus researchers seeded it with dry ice. The idea was that the modified hurricane would weaken.

The experiment was partially successful. Hurricane Sable slowed, turned around and headed for North America’s east coast. Then, after doing property damage to the tune of about $2,185,000 (1947 USD) and killing one person, the hurricane fizzled.

Understandably, my nation’s government didn’t admit that Hurricane Sable had been seeded until years later. And anyway, the seeding couldn’t have made it turn around because the experiment’s premise was incorrect. That’s what some experts said, anyway.

Undaunted, researchers kept trying to control hurricanes. And thunderstorms.

The last I checked, courts had decided that available evidence hadn’t proven a cause-effect link between a weather modification experiment and the 1972 Black Hills flood.3

Dominion, Stewardship and Thinking Ahead
Brian H. Gill's 'Totally Depressing News Network' logo. (2018)
TDNN: Totally Depressing News Network. It’s fictional. The attitude, maybe not so much.

So, should I denounce weather modification as an affront to the Almighty, along with lightning rods and smallpox vaccines? I’d be following an established tradition.

“Smallpox is a visitation from God; but the cowpox is produced by presumptuous man; the former was what Heaven ordained, the latter is, perhaps, a daring violation our of holy religion.”
(A physician’s reaction to Dr. Edward Jenner’s experiments in developing a vaccine for smallpox, (1796) via Psychological Sciences, Vanderbilt University)

“I have read in the Philosophical Transactions the account of the effects of lightning on St. Bride’s steeple. ‘Tis amazing to me, that after the full demonstration you had given, of the identity of lightning and of electricity, and the power of metalline conductors, they should ever think of repairing that steeple without such conductors. How astonishing is the force of prejudice even in an age of so much knowledge and free enquiry!”
(Letter, To Benjamin Franklin from John Winthrop, 6 January 1768, via

Uh, no.

Even if I wasn’t a Catholic, I’d agree with Pope Pius VII: and see what we’re learning and the technologies we’re developing, as ‘precious discoveries.’

“…In contrast, many village priests in Italy, Germany, Switzerland, and England not only urged parishioners to seek the preventative treatment, they became wholesale vaccinators themselves. Pastors in Bohemia charged parents with responsibility ‘before God for neglecting the vaccination of their children.’ In 1814, the Pope himself endorsed vaccination as ‘a precious discovery which ought to be a new motive for human gratitude to Omnipotence.’…”
(“Deliberate Extinction: Whether to Destroy the Last Smallpox Virus,” David A. Koplow, Georgetown Law Library, Georgetown University Law Center (2004))

Besides, I don’t see much difference — apart from scale — between weather modification and older activities like crop rotation, recycling, and waste management, as sketched out in the Bible. (Genesis 1:2628, 2:5; Leviticus 25:3; Deuteronomy 22:67, 25:4 …)

Like it or not, we are in charge here: with authority to make reasoned use of this world’s resources, for ourselves and for future generations. We also have the responsibility that goes with our authority. Taking care of this place is part of our job. (Catechism, 16, 339, 356-358, 2402, 2415-2418, 2456)

We have “dominion,” but not ownership. We’re like stewards, or foremen.

I think weather modification is a good idea. I also think field experiments should be made very cautiously.

That goes double, at least, for having a go at changing Earth’s climate. Even if we think we’re “fixing” it. Maybe we should hold off large-scale experiments until field testing on another planet is an option: one where unexpected results won’t kill people.

Finally, I think discussions of weather modification, climate issues and anything else would be much easier if assorted activists, experts and media would turn down the hysteria a notch.

“Pacem in Terris” and Remembering the ‘Good Old Days’

Branford Clarke/Pillar of Fire Church's 'Saint Patrick's Day in America - 1926.'
Self-identified patriotic American Christians defending their country from people like me.

Pope Saint John XXIII’s “Pacem in Terris” runs to over 14,600 words in my language. There’s no way I can discuss the whole thing this week. Not adequately.

So I’ll pick a few points, and leave it at that.

First, about the encyclical’s language.

The version I’m reading is a translation from the original Latin.

There’s nothing magic about Latin, by the way. It was a widely-understood language when we got started, sort of like English is today. Plus, there’s some wisdom in having official documents in a standardized language.

Second, about how the English translation of “Pacem in Terris” uses “men” where I might say “people.”

The document I’ve been reading is — again — a translation from a Latin original, and both are nearly six decades old. My native language — and culture — have changed since then.

Another point: “Pacem in Terris” means “Peace on Earth.” That’s something we didn’t have then, and don’t have now.

But I still think it’s a worthwhile goal. And a long-term one. Very long-term.

Now, here’s a excerpt from “Pacem in Terris:”

“39. There are three things which characterize our modern age.
“40. In the first place we notice a progressive improvement in the economic and social condition of working men.
“41. Secondly, the part that women are now playing in political life is everywhere evident. … Women are gaining an increasing awareness of their natural dignity. … they are demanding both in domestic and in public life the rights and duties which belong to them as human persons.
“42. Finally, we are confronted in this modern age with a form of society which is evolving on entirely new social and political lines. Since all peoples have either attained political independence or are on the way to attaining it, soon no nation will rule over another and none will be subject to an alien power.
(“Pacem in Terris, on Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty;” 39-42; Pope St. John XXIII (April 11, 1963) [emphasis mine])

Not everyone has gotten the message, obviously.

Whoever’s running the show in Russia is still trying to “annex” Ukraine. The powers that be in Iran are having conniptions because women are acting like people. For many folks, working conditions and pay need improving. And old hatreds still fester.4

But I remember the ‘good old days.’

Quite a few changes have been for the better. Some weren’t, or weren’t entirely.

But I am profoundly glad that the ‘good old days’ aren’t coming back.

“Minority” is In the Eye of the Beholder
Brett Weinstein's photo: George Floyd protest in Washington DC. Vehicle burning, protestors protesting. (May 30, 2020)
Protestors protesting, car burning. Washington DC. (May 30, 2020)

One more excerpt, a long one.

A Cautionary Note
“97. It is worth noting, however, that these minority groups, in reaction, perhaps, to the enforced hardships of their present situation, or to historical circumstances, frequently tend to magnify unduly characteristics proper to their own people. They even rate them above those human values which are common to all mankind, as though the good of the entire human family should subserve the interests of their own particular groups. A more reasonable attitude for such people to adopt would be to recognize the advantages, too, which accrue to them from their own special situation. They should realize that their constant association with a people steeped in a different civilization from their own has no small part to play in the development of their own particular genius and spirit. Little by little they can absorb into their very being those virtues which characterize the other nation. But for this to happen these minority groups must enter into some kind of association with the people in whose midst they are living, and learn to share their customs and way of life. It will never happen if they sow seeds of disaffection which can only produce a harvest of evils, stifling the political development of nations.”
(Pacem in Terris, on Establishing Universal Peace in Truth, Justice, Charity and Liberty; 97; Pope St. John XXIII (April 11, 1963) [emphasis mine])

What is and isn’t a culturally-recognized “minority” varies with time and place. So does how culturally recognized minorities get treated.

I suspect that craziness exhibited by folks like the self-identified patriotic American Christians in that 1926 cartoon came partly from the horror of realizing that they were becoming a minority in ‘their’ country. That’s not an excuse.

But I think knowing what’s behind crazy ideas makes sense. If for no other reason than helping me notice and avoid similar but not identical psychological glitches.

For descendants of the 1926 lot, conditions in today’s America may seem even more dire.5

I don’t see it that way, but I wouldn’t. I’m a Norwegian-Irish-Scots-American who married a German-Dutch-English-American.

My Norwegian ancestors aren’t those blond giants. I don’t miss the days of “No Irish Need Apply,” and I’m drifting off-topic.

Or maybe not so much. I look “Anglo,” but I’m not. That’s been an advantage.

Human nature being what it is, wearing drab clothing, adopting dull mannerisms and dropping our accents helped my Irish forebears pass for ‘real Americans.’

So, I think, did a habit of not setting fire to our neighborhoods.

Well, not often setting fire to our neighborhoods. Metaphorically, at least.

Bogeymen, Dignity and Acting as if Neighbors Matter
From Harper's Weekly, via Chicago History Museum and Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission: Haymarket riot (May 15, 1886)
Death and drama in Haymarket Square, Harper’s Weeky’s version. (1886)

Or throwing bombs. Allegedly. The last I checked, we still don’t know who turned the Haymarket rally into a shooting gallery.

The Haymarket bogeymen were anarchists, not the Irish. But I think there’s a parallel of sorts with ethnic angst. And generally with the problem of dealing with folks who aren’t ‘the right sort’ for one unreason or another.6

Folks whose social, ethnic or economic backgrounds make them outsiders still have their share of humanity’s transcendent dignity. Acting as if everyone matters is a good idea. (Catechism, 1928-1942)

Everyone means everyone: including folks who don’t look, act or think just like me. It’s that ‘love my neighbors’ thing I talked about under Elections, Politics and Making Sense Anyway.

Making sense is a whole lot easier when none of us act like jerks. But it’s a good idea, even when it’s not easy.

Finally, really finally for this week, my experience strongly suggests that nobody’s got a monopoly on virtue or vice.

I’ve talked about vaguely-related stuff before:

1 Two encyclicals, a book and some background:

2 Change, seasons, cycles, and science:

3 Applied science and uncertain outcomes:

4 An era, languages and curent events:

5 Dealing with difference:

6 Attitudes and a little history:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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2 Responses to Climate, Neighbors, Bogeymen and Responsibility

  1. I think I just realized that the term “climate change” sounds as buzzwordy as “new normal,” “paid actor,” and “social distancing.” Not that things like wild weather, shifting terrain, strong viruses, and malicious art can’t be regular causes for concern, but there’s something really dehumanizing about how we come up with these terms, a kind of self-loathing we hide with the bragging part of our ego on the collective level, where we come together not to help each other grow into more and more decent people fit to live in heaven, but to use each other as meat shields and think that we can live in hell comfortably by doing that over and over. It’s hard to even just acknowledge it as it actually is without triggering our usually really bad coping mechanisms, but hey, God’s here working on and through us all, and may Our Perfect Servant Ruling Over Us keep on doing that.

    • I like your term, “buzzwordy.” There’s been a steady supply of that sort of thing, at least since I started paying attention, back in the day. The words and real-or-imagined issues have changed – but the attitude, not so much.

      Good news, as you said, paraphrasing, God is large and in charge.

      And we have free will: so using our brains, growing “into more and more decent people fit to live in heaven” and helping each other is an option.

Thanks for taking time to comment!