New Video: What is Right? Climate as a Moral Question.

October 14, 2015

Pope Francis’ visit to the US catalyzed the growing sense across the country, and across the globe, that climate change is, above all, a moral issue.

More and more scientists have realized that speaking to this moral dimension is far more persuasive than speaking the language of science and fact, as compelling as those are.  Most people simply respond better to an issue that is framed in moral terms.


The emerging story of what Exxon knew, and when they knew it, shows that the differences have never really been about the science questions – even the major oil companies knew the basic science truths 4 decades ago.  They simply made a moral decision that the lives of the next ten thousand generations of human beings were not as important as their own profits, and we are now witnessing the early impacts of that decision.


27 Responses to “New Video: What is Right? Climate as a Moral Question.”

  1. It’s not just a moral thing. For the amoral who at least like to have a shred of self-respect, Pope Francis has something to say in §160 of the encyclical: “It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity.”

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Do any of the amoral have any real basis on which to have a shred of “respect” for themselves?

      IMO, any “respect” they have for themselves is more in the vein of self-satisfaction. Satisfaction at being able to simply ignore moral behavior and “get theirs” at the expense of others, those others who DO have some sense of morality, try to do the right thing, and often put the greater good ahead of their selfish needs and wants.

      And IMO, true “dignity” is something an amoral person simply cannot have, so why should they be concerned about the this part of the Pope’s message.

  2. tildeb Says:

    Pope Francis has no trouble undermining people’s dignity, like women, to further his Church’s goals. That he tries to shift moral blame about causing climate change to ‘secular’ forces while maintaining his Church’s unsustainable policy and doctrine for uncontrolled population growth reveals the paucity of his moral underpinnings.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      Hypocrisy has been a part of human behavior since before recorded history. The Church has owned its share from its very earliest days. What I don’t understand is why biased hypocrites like you write comments like this.

      So the Church (~2000 years old) has sinned down through the years, and this Pope can’t change the doctrine and behaviors overnight. But he IS moving in the right direction on AGW and economic justice, perhaps the two biggest challenges faced by mankind.

      That shows that he has “moral underpinnings” that should be applauded. Why would you “throw the baby out with the bathwater” just because there are some other things the Church is not getting right?

      The only “paucity” I see here is in the the quality of your argument and your lack of knowledge about human population dynamics. It is NOT the Catholics on this planet who are the major contributors to “uncontrolled population growth”.

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        See, DOG, some of us just call it like we see it.

        When we see a self-righteous moralizing hypocrite like the Pope, we call it. We don’t blithely accept that because he made nice noises about AGW that he has “moral underpinnings that should be applauded”, when he doesn’t.

        So, before you go telling other people that they are “biased” to criticize the Pope, maybe you should consider Agent Clarice Starling’s advice Hannibal Lector:

        “Why don’t you turn that high-powered perception at yourself and tell us what you see, or, maybe you’re afraid to.”

        • dumboldguy Says:

          GB, I’m tired of suggesting that you really need to read things before you respond to them, and particularly if they have anything to do with the Catholic church, against which you have demonstrated a knee-jerk prejudice too many times.

          I am not going to defend many of the church positions in the slightest—that’s why I left the church nearly 50 years ago—I disagreed with so much of what it practiced. I WILL defend the Pope upholding the church’s teachings only because, as I said, “…this Pope can’t change the doctrine and behaviors overnight” and can only move so fast. He IS the head of the Church, but can’t move a 2000 year-old entrenched institution instantly.

          I also said this Pope”…IS moving in the right direction on AGW and economic justice, perhaps the two biggest challenges faced by mankind. That shows that he has “moral underpinnings” that should be applauded”. That’s what I was talking about—JUST those two things—-and are you going to say that he is doing the right thing there but has NO “moral underpinnings” driving him? If not, why is he doing it?

          (And why do you insist upon attacking the Pope personally every chance you get? It wasn’t really germane to this discussion anyway—we can talk about morality without bringing in religions).

      • tildeb Says:

        But he IS moving in the right direction on AGW and economic justice, perhaps the two biggest challenges faced by mankind.

        Oh, I see. Let’s be proud and not criticize Exxon et al for knowing about their product’s relationship with climate change decades ago… because now they’re moving in the right direction. That’s why we should listen carefully and offer moral leadership to the various presidents and CEOs of carbon-based fuels: they’re moving in the right direction!

        Good grief.

        Even this Pope with ample opportunity to address and start to even change the Church’s stance on uncontrolled human population growth that has an enormous impact on creating higher demands for energy most easily met right now by the fossil fuel industry. Has not done as much as these CEOs even admitting uncontrolled population is just such a contributor to climate change, yet we’re to think of his criticism of those darn ‘secularists’ to be some sort of moral guidance?

        Give your head a shake.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          For a guy who says some intelligent and perceptive things on his own blog, tildeb seems to have the blinders on here. Perhaps he is an understudy to gingerbaker? Or he has independently developed his own prejudices against the Catholic Church? Or he, like gingerbaker, needs to take a reading comprehension refresher course? He certainly needs to reread Logic for Dummies, because he has got straw men, non sequiturs, faulty premises, and even reduction ad absurdums stepping all over each other in this comment.

          tildeb’s Exxon straw man is really weak, and not even based on the facts—moving forward? Is Exxon doing any better than standing still on climate change and ducking their past sins? Good grief, indeed!

          tildeb’s “uncontrolled human population growth” rant is a good one—except that he got it exactly BACKWARDS (but that’s what false premise arguments are all about). The reason there has been “uncontrolled human population growth” on this planet is due to the utilization of fossil fuels over the past ~250 years PERIOD, NOT the teachings of the church that only 1/6 (ONE-SIXTH) of the earth’s inhabitants belong to and its leader. The use of fossil fuels, coupled with advances in technology and the rise of capitalism as a social/economic structure, has produced the rapid rise in population, as well as the resulting CO2 that is at the root of AGW.

          It’s the CEO’s that would like to blame “population growth” rather than accept the fact that unconstrained use of fossil fuels is the root cause. And let’s not forget that the REAL root causes go back to the discovery of fire and the rise of agriculture and “human civilizations” 10.000+ years ago. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy, and he is Us”. Our present situation regarding AGW, unsustainable societies and economic structures, too many people have just evolved—now we need to deal with it, and I will say AGAIN that you and GB are blinded to the truth by your prejudices.

          Give your ass a kick, tildeb, while I continue to shake my head—-I’d do it for you if I were there. Somebody needs to get you pointed in the right direction. Right now you’re just running your mouth.

          • tildeb Says:

            So you actually think that a doctrinal position against contraceptive use has absolutely no bearing on the issue of increasing population with an associated increase demand for more energy?

          • dumboldguy Says:

            The answer to your question is contained in my comments. You need to spend more time with your Reading Comprehension for Dummies and Logic for Dummies books.

            Perhaps you will then be able to understand what I said and ask some proper questions (rather than rhetorical ones).

          • tildeb Says:

            I say that to award environmental leadership on moral grounds to someone who supports the doctrine of unfettered population growth while blaming ‘secularists’ for the energy demands they produce is a mistake because the Pope demonstrates a paucity of moral authority on one of the major drivers of increasing energy demands while showing a lack of concern over the dignity of that half of the population who are to be used as baby factories. This is not a rant but an observation. Those are not synonyms just because the criticism is aimed at a religious figure.

            I think what you are doing, DOG, is exercising mewling apologetics for this reprehensible and morally bankrupt support, coupled with misguided blame, this Pope exercises because you privilege religion by fiat. That’s a critical mistake. You avoid tackling this criticism head on but excuse it on such flimsy grounds as “It is NOT the Catholics on this planet (I said Catholic doctrine) who are the major contributors to “uncontrolled population growth,”” (so I guess the doctrine that supports unfettered population growth that is then put into pra ctivce wherever Catholicism holds political and legal authority doesn’t really matter, right?) and “The use of fossil fuels, coupled with advances in technology and the rise of capitalism as a social/economic structure, has produced the rapid rise in population” (even though there is no rapid rise in population in the developed world – the primary users of fossil fuels – a fact which we are to pretend doesn’t stand contrary to your apologetic claim).

            Avoiding any facts contrary to your dismissive ‘opinion’, you then use the tactics of smearing and misrepresenting anyone who dares raise the same criticism I do rather than deal straight up with why granting moral leadership to such an undeserving person who is very much part of the problem is not a very smart or effective choice. Moral capitulation is not unusual in those who have willingly given up their own moral autonomy and borrowed a dubious replacement from some religious source. And you don’t disappoint, DOG.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Yes, tildeb does love to babble on—-without using much in the way of facts or logic to back up his biased opinions. He is also proving to be a worthy competitor for the Perfumed Sleeve Hanky award, particularly in that he insists on setting up straw men by misinterpreting or willfully misunderstanding my comments and then attacking them, sniffing down his nose in imagined superiority as he does so. The floridity and pomposity of “…mewling apologetics for this reprehensible and morally bankrupt support…” is a good example of his propensity towards rhetoric and bombast rather than substance.

            Tildeb also continues to show his ignorance of human population dynamics, the history of the rise of human civilization, technology, and social and economic systems, and Catholicism. But why seek knowledge on which to base one’s opinions when one can just Instead set up straw men and knock them down with BS?

            So, tildeb launches into more straw men and non sequiturs with yet another “it’s the Pope’s fault because he pushes (nonexistent among Catholics) “runaway population growth” on the planet. tildeb does this while failing to recognize that ALL humans are basically responsible for AGW because ALL of us have made a pact with the devil over the past 250 years and happily bought into fossil fuels and the “advances” they allowed. tildeb himself fails to address the moral failings of the capitalists who have pushed fossil fuels to get rich and covered up the AGW impacts as well as fought efforts to mitigate them..

            I’m tiring of looking at tildeb’s BS, so I’ll finish quickly with a few quick questions/observations in parens—he says:

            “…a lack of concern over the dignity of that half of the population who are to be used as baby factories”. (Which “half” of the population are you talking about, and what birth rate occurs in “baby factories”?)

            This is not a rant but an observation. (No, it’s neither—-it’s poorly supported opinion)

            “…the doctrine that supports unfettered population growth that is then put into practice wherever Catholicism holds political and legal authority….” (Since the ONLY place where the church has “political and legal authority” is Vatican City (pop. ~500) and a good number of them are priests and celibate, there will be no “runaway” growth there)

            And perhaps the best—- “The use of fossil fuels, coupled with advances in technology and the rise of capitalism as a social/economic structure, has produced the rapid rise in population”, even though there is no rapid rise in population in the developed world – the primary users of fossil fuels – a fact which we are to pretend doesn’t stand contrary to your apologetic claim”.
            (It would be difficult for tildeb to get this more wrong. Too bad he doesn’t really understand human population dynamics and what happens to birth rates as countries “develop” and social patterns shift. He really doesn’t understand economics either. Just more BS.)

            Finally, tildeb makes the accusation that I avoid facts? LOL and LMAO! There is not a single true fact in this whole pile of opinions from tildeb—-the few things here that masquerade as fact are in fact merely distortions or misinterpretations, and lend no weight to his opinions. Rather than get some facts to base his maunderings on, tildeb plays the victim and whines about being “smeared and misrepresented” and tries to reinforce the idea that what he says is “criticism” rather than ill thought and ill-informed BS.

            He closes with the classic words of the demented rooster strutting in the barnyard crowing about his imagined superiority—- “And you don’t disappoint, DOG”. Sorry to say that you DO disappoint us, tildeb. Perhaps you should stay over on your religion/atheism blog where you DO make some sense at times. We here on Crock don’t want to get wrapped up in metaphysical BS on the fringes of AGW. We DO, however recognize that the Pope IS a figure that elicits respect from many people and ARE glad that he is on our side on AGW, just as we would be glad if any religious figure or politician or celebrity did the same. Your need to attack him and the Church wastes our time.

            Oh, a personal PS on Catholic birth rates. My 4 Catholic grandparents had 10 children (5 on each side) between 1905 and 1920. Those 10 aunts and uncles had 12 children among them between 1940 and 1950—that’s me and my cousins, who have had 11 children among us. Our children are also having around 2+ children each, which is hardly “runaway population growth” but just above replacement level for 100 years now. You REALLY need to study human population dynamics AND the attitudes of Catholics toward birth control, tildeb—-many Catholics have ignored the “teachings” of the church for 74+ years—my family has.

          • j4zonian Says:

            That’s right, dog,

            We need to prioritize. Population growth rates have been falling since the 19960s and continue to. Population itself is projected to stabilize about 2050, although it’s likely to fall more rapidly and peak sooner because of the increasing chaos caused by climate catastrophe. Yes, we should do what we can to reduce it faster (by increasing equality; empowerment and education for all especially women; and security for all in sickness, old age and hard times) especially since those are all good things anyway. But the US empire and corporate duopoly party oppose them all, both in the US and elsewhere, so like Canada just did (halfway; sort of) we need to replace almost all the elected officials in the federal and most state governments and push the new government to take strong actions on many fronts.

            The poorest 6 billion on Earth emit only a little more than 20% of human greenhouse gases, while the richest 7% emit half the GHGs. The rich are at or below replacement rate; among the poorest is the only place significant population growth is happening, so making an issue of population is a distraction from the real problem and the real solution. Reducing the growth rate of poor people will have almost no effect on the climate crisis.

            The solutions are to change the lives and impact of the richest few percent (including most people posting here) by switching to efficiency, conservation, ecological lives and renewable energy, while transforming agriculture and forestry to sequester carbon.

    • We are all hypocrites in some way or another. I can be very pleased with his position on caring for the world around us, and not like his position on other things. He’s just a man (since I’m not a believer). I do think he might be the first Pope to say anything about not needing to breed like rabbits, though. That’s a first in the church.

      • tildeb Says:

        I agree… but hardly the qualifications that I think are needed for moral leadership on addressing AGW climate change.

        If the man had wanted to take such a leadership position (and we know he does and has the opportunity to make just such a move) then he could and should bolster his moral stance by advocating for a change in Catholic doctrine itself on unfettered population growth. He has not done this; instead, he uses climate change as a way to vilify ‘secularists’ and ‘humanists’ as if they, and the hypothetical selfish values they supposedly endorse through practice, are the root problem. And that’s intentionally disingenuous.

        In moral terms that willingness to misrepresent and vilify others for doctrinal advance while ignoring the doctrinal effect in practice that adds to it I think is reprehensible when the real problem – climate change caused by human activity – is used this way for selfish and doctrinal advancement known to be disrespectful, when practiced on without the consent of, half the world’s population. That’s why I claim a paucity of moral leadership from this Pope and the misogynistic and paternalistic organization he represents.

        • dumboldguy Says:

          “…I think…”
          “…advocating for a change in Catholic doctrine…”
          “…unfettered population growth…”.
          “…intentionally disingenuous…”.
          “…I think is reprehensible…”
          “….when the real problem…”
          “….used this way for selfish and doctrinal advancement known to be disrespectful, when practiced on without the consent of, half the world’s population…” (This statement is in Omnologos-Speak. Can anyone interpret?) .
          “…That’s why I claim a paucity of moral leadership from this Pope and the misogynistic and paternalistic organization he represents…”

          Boooooring—-ZZZZZZzzzzzz………!!!!!. (Wake me up when tildeb has more to offer than the same half-assed opinions)

          • tildeb Says:

            It takes quite a bit of ego and as much hubris to assume you are addressing an audience that actually cares about this kind of commentary and even more to assume you speak of other viewers as a ‘we’. What you didn’t do is address my criticism.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            You flatter yourself by calling your remarks “criticism”. True criticism must be fact-based and the result of rational analysis, not just the spouting of ignorant and unsupported opinions. I will repeat:

            Boooooring—-ZZZZZZzzzzzz………!!!!!. (Wake me up when tildeb has more to offer than the same half-assed opinions)

            PS It takes quite a bit of ego and much hubris for YOU to assume that YOU are addressing an audience that cares about YOUR kind of “commentary”. I feel safe in speaking for other Crockers—-I have been coming here for a while, and Crockers are obviously uninterested in this exchange—-no thumbs, no replies to either of us. They are ignoring this exchange or are simply content to let me deal with you. I reply to you only because I am a professional sheepdog by training and I am trying to educate you—-I am your friend, and only your friends will tell you when you’re full of shit, your enemies will let you continue to embarrass yourself.

  3. jimbills Says:

    A lot of Pope knee-jerk reactions. I’m shocked, I tells ya!

    The question should be whether or not climate change mitigation is a question of morality, not whether or not one likes the Catholic Church.

    Unfortunately, there is a schism going on in our culture right now about what underpins morality. Is morality doing unto others as you would have done to yourself? Or is it more selfish, as Ayn Rand would tell us?:

    As a whole we’re leaning towards defining morality on the basis of our reactions not requiring personal sacrifice, and this is seen in both the denial and the cornucopian camps:

    The truth is that we’re all choosing ourselves now over the comfort of later generations. We may not like that as an idea, but it remains.

    Going back to Rand, “The Objectivist ethics holds that human good does not require human sacrifices and cannot be achieved by the sacrifice of anyone to anyone.” Therefore, it’s actually unethical to sacrifice our current welfare to help make the world a better place for later generations.

    I think this is bat-sheet insane, but it’s the path we’re choosing as a collective.

    • rayduray Says:

      Boy, that Ayn Rand. She was no Mayan. They sacrificed for everything. Including fertility, good rains, population control, war wins and cheaper popsicles. Too bad Ayn was so focused on selfishness. She could have had it all if she’d just followed her instinct and sacrificed the entire human species for her philosophy, keep the self behind the seven veils. Kinda like the CIA in the Middle East.

      I kid you, of course. 🙂

  4. Another great and insightful video. I have thought long and hard about the ethical implications of working in an industry situated around fossil fuels. In Houston (where I live), a lot of seemingly benign contracting jobs or financial service jobs are just subcontractors whose main client is major fossil fuel or pipeline parts. I ended up drafting a set of core professional values to make it easier for me to evaluate the “morality” of future contracts.

  5. I spent more than ten years arguing the science, to absolutely no end. A couple of years ago I got so tired of making the same scientific arguments over and over that I changed my focus to the morality of the issue. Which, to be honest, is more to the point of why I even argue with people about it. The science itself is fascinating to me, but I recognized I’m an anomaly about that, most people simply DON’T CARE about ocean circulation, or pv = nrt, or carbon chemistry. I don’t know if my dropping the science arguments and focusing on how immoral it is to not act on this has made any difference, but I suspect it’s more likely to make a difference in the end. Wish I would have started that ten years ago instead of 2.

    • redskylite Says:

      Kudos to you and people like you for trying for so long and hard to convince others, I have not been trying for quite so long, but have sweated considerable blood and tears in trying to get the gravity of our situation and the need for urgent action over to others.

      Having grown up and started work in the 1960’s in environments when all classes smoked and workplaces, mass transport and leisure facilities were hazy nicotine filled spaces, something truly transcendental must have taken place from then to now. It really worked and society changed. Same with attitudes to different sexual orientations and (in some places) racial tolerance.

      So there is hope, a lot of hope, especially for the next generation and with decent education by honest, hardworking teachers. I can only hope the same leap can be made from fossils to renewables, and we can stop the very worst from happening at such a rapid rate, on the course we are currently steering towards.

    • otter17 Says:


      Yes, don’t get bogged down with an AGW denier over science, except maybe a reply or two initially. You’re right. AGW deniers do not care about science evidence one bit except in the service of confirming their bias, which is often the solution aversion bias. Thus, arguing the science will continue to go round-and-round without making any progress because arguing the science is only a proxy for the real issue at the middle of the denier’s mind, which is the solution aversion. Also, there is to a lesser extent, the biases of political affiliation leadership and job security if the denier is directly tied to the fossil fuel industry. Those don’t seem to be as common or as highly influential.

      It may seem awkward, but transition quickly to a question like “so what is your preferred method to reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2050, and 100% thereafter, if you were convinced of the need”. It is amazing how the dynamic of the conversation changes… as you then essentially have all the power in the conversation. They will without fail attempt to avoid and dodge this question for at least three or likely many more replies. I have yet to see one just straight answer on first questioning how they would prefer the GHG reduction solution.

      You may have seen the Duke research recently titled “solution aversion: motivated disbelief” (should be enough search terms there to find the PDF). I believe there is a Figure 4 that shows the large disparity in AGW acceptance based solely on how much the study participant liked or disliked a solution that was given to the participant before the AGW survey. It also occurred to a less extent on gun control solutions.

      The point being, don’t ever get bogged down for more than two or three posts discussing the science with a denier. They don’t care about doing any risk mitigation, because they don’t care that even their nation’s National Academy of Sciences recommends it. They just don’t care, because you will often find that they personally think that GHG reductions are impossible, or that it will take a worldwide dictator to make it happen, or that it would require killing off most of the human population and reverting to a hunter-gatherer set of societies. I am not kidding, these are all real responses from Yahoo News article commenters.

      So, go by the latest in psychology research. Start off your engagement with a denier by posting something about a solution that would be favorably received by the denier in question. I often lead in with the idea that we can lower taxes overall by addressing AGW (maybe add a carbon tax can allow hard workers and innovators to reduce their personal tax burden). You will have far more favorable odds to get an actual productive and cordial conversation since it defuses all that baggage about an Al Gore dictatorship holocaust leading to a neo stone age that they have swirling in their head from those partisan radio/TV shows, think tanks, and blogs. Good luck.

  6. climatebob Says:

    The American people share a huge responsibility for protecting their coal and oil companies at the expense of thousands or millions of lives due to climate change. The cost to the USA is going to be crippling and the country is not prepared for the huge changes that are coming. Europe and China are miles ahead mentally and in the huge changes in energy sources that are required to face the future.

  7. […] cut” of last week’s video. It’s darker, tougher, and more politically edged than the version posted last week. See which one you like […]

  8. […] “Director’s cut” of last week’s video. It’s darker, tougher, and more politically edged than the version posted last week. See which one you like […]

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