Spin Cycle: Free Markets, Poverty and the Environment

The Spin Cycle is a reoccurring feature based upon just how much the latest weather or climate story, policy pronouncement, or simply poo-bah blather spins the truth. Statements are given a rating between 1-5 spin cycles, with less cycles meaning less spin. For a more in-depth description, visit the inaugural edition.

The Papal encyclical Laudato Si’ is so rife with messages spun to fit the Pope’s liking that we hardly know where to begin.

The general theme of the encyclical is that in much of the world, a devotion to free market capitalism (i.e., profits) has disturbingly replaced a devotion to Mother Nature and such misplaced adoration is leading the world to deviate from God’s will and into poverty and ruin.

In doing so, the Pope downplays the myriad and remarkable technological achievements that have arisen in the developed world and have led to an improved standard of living, abundant food, greater well-being, longer lifespans, and a protected and healthier environment. It is from these existing and future technologies—largely made possible by free market conditions—that the solutions to poverty and accompanying environmental degradation will be rooted.

Going forward, we should not seek to rejoin with Nature (as the Pope urges), but rather decouple from it. This concept has been described recently in the Ecomodernist Manifesto. While we think this manifesto needs a bit of tweaking (e.g., less reliance on government actions), it seems decidedly on the right track (and one in nearly opposite direction of current state of environmentalism—which the Pope seems to be an adherent). For more on the Ecomodernists’ take on the papal encyclical, this collection of tweets from Michael Schellenberger of The Breakthrough Institute is especially enlightening.

When it comes to human poverty, there is a mountain of research dedicated to the topic. The role played by human-caused climate change (the particular focus of the encyclical) is virtually unidentifiable, much less quantifiable. Thus, an encyclical stressing a centrally coordinated (and compelled) international response to climate change—focused on eliminating the cheapest, abundant, and most reliable form of energy—as a solution to global poverty can only serve as a distraction from the issue.

There are lots of directed actions that can be effective at helping those around the world who live in poverty, but attempting to alter the course of the global climate isn’t among them. Bjorn Lomberg offers a few suggestions (and there are surely countless others):

These policies — ensuring freer trade, greater access to family planning, and nutritional interventions — cost a fraction of expensive, inefficient climate policies. When helping the world’s poorest is the goal, these are the investments that would truly make the biggest difference.

Instead of empowering, the policies being forwarded by the Vatican will lead to a worsening of the very social and environmental problems it seeks to address.

For this reason, we assign Pope Francis’ encyclical our highest rating—Permanent Press—“purposefully misleading commentary on science which will hinder actual scientific debate and credibility for generations to come, especially those with negative policy outcomes”—and award it five spin cycles.