Counterpoint: Pope fails to understand how free enterprise works

SHARE Counterpoint: Pope fails to understand how free enterprise works
SHARE Counterpoint: Pope fails to understand how free enterprise works

Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si more or less accurately recapitulates the findings of mainstream climate science. Basically, loading up the atmosphere with greenhouse gases produced largely from burning fossil fuels has boosted the average temperature of the globe over the past half century or so. Fine, as far as that goes.


The Pontiff then moves on to use the problem of climate change as an example of the deep spiritual and ethical problems allegedly stemming from the whole enterprise of modernity. Climate change is not a technological and economic problem involving trade-offs, it is a moral issue. Whenever someone, even as nice a man as Pope Francis is, declares something a moral issue, what they are saying to people who disagree with them is: Shut up! How dare you talk of trade-offs!

With due respect, the Pope apparently misunderstands how science and the free enterprise system work. Oh, he praises the miracles of medicine, electricity, agricultural productivity, automobiles, airplanes, biotechnology, computers. But he apparently has no clue as to how the progress he celebrates and which lifted billions from humanity’s natural state of abject poverty came about.

The “idea of infinite or unlimited growth,” the Pope writes, “is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit. It is the false notion that ‘an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed.’”

The earth is not unlimited, but human ingenuity is. Climate change and other environmental problems are not moral issues that require sacrifice and abnegation; they will be solved by continued technological progress and economic growth. Anything that slows down that process will slow down the cleaning up and restoration of the natural world.

Ronald Bailey is a science and technology writer for the libertarian journal Reason. This essay was edited for space from a longer Reason blog entry.

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