Pope’s Encyclical Ignores Health Benefits of Modern Technology

Published July 23, 2015

The Vatican released Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, “Laudato Si,” which translates to “Praise be to You,” on June 18.

The highly anticipated letter to the global Catholic community focused on how the world must be better stewards of Earth, which the pope says includes reducing the world’s carbon dioxide production.

The pope wrote, “People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity, but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption, which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever-greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behavior, which at times appears self-destructive.”

As Francis released his encyclical, Chicago marked the 20th anniversary of the great heat wave that caused the deaths of nearly 800 people in the city in July 1995. Many of those who died were elderly, poor, and, most importantly, did not have air conditioning in their homes.

The role of air conditioning in preventing heat-related deaths cannot be overestimated, says H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Health Care News.

Prevents Premature Deaths

Air conditioning has been a boon to public health in the United States and other developed countries where it has become widespread, Burnett says.

Since its invention and installation in peoples’ homes and businesses, air conditioning has prevented thousands of premature deaths due to heat-related illnesses each year and millions of lives over the decades, Burnett says.

“One of the quickest and surest ways to reduce millions of unnecessary, premature deaths in developing countries is the widespread, reliable, electrification of those countries, which requires the use of either fossil fuels or nuclear power and the rapid adoption of air conditioning,” Burnett said.

Alarmed About Future

By condemning air conditioning and the use of fossil fuels, which are responsible for helping to extend lifespans and improve overall health, the pope is missing the forest for the trees, Burnett says. Fossil-fuel powered technology allows people to remain active and productive as they reach their 70s, 80s, and 90s, all while reducing hunger and malnutrition.

“Pope Francis is worried about preventing speculative future harms from an unlikely catastrophic climate change decades from now, based on predictions of deeply flawed computer models, and is ignoring the effect of that alarmism on the very real needs of those still living in poverty, hunger, and want today,” Burnett said.

Expanding the use of fossil fuels and air conditioning will save lives today, tomorrow, and into the next half-century. It will increase educational opportunities, improve economic conditions today and into the future, and ease adaptation to environmental changes, Burnett says.

“The wealth created using these tools and technologies now will allow future, wealthier generations to adapt to and or reduce harms from climate change, whatever the changes and for whatever reasons, they occur,” Burnett said.

Much More Than a Luxury

Even if the air conditioning remark may have been intended as a throwaway line, it exemplifies the encyclical’s uninformed attack on modern industrial civilization, which owes a lot to air conditioning and fossil fuels, says Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Ebell notes air conditioning’s many uses, which include physical comfort, protection from dangerous outdoor temperatures, applications in chemical and biological laboratories, and keeping data centers and mainframe computers operational. Air conditioning also cools food cooking and processing areas, hospital operating rooms, industrial environments, mining areas, nuclear power facilities, physical testing facilities, plants and farm growing areas, and textile manufacturing facilities.

The tenor of the whole encyclical is that there are too many rich people enjoying the benefits of modern technology and energy, and therefore we need to get rid of them and spend those resources on whatever the pope considers to be the real necessities of life, Ebell says.

“In other words, we don’t need to raise poor people up, we need to bring rich people down and level everyone [into poverty,]” Ebell said.

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.

Internet Info

James H. Rust, “Pope Francis’ Encyclical on Global Warming Fails,” Somewhat Reasonable, The Heartland Institute, June 23, 2015: http://blog.heartland.org/2015/06/pope-francis-encyclical-on-global-warming-fails/

“Message to Pope Francis: Fight Global Poverty, Not Global Warming,” The Heartland Institute, June 16, 2015: https://www.heartland.org/pope-francis-letter