In his World Peace Day message Pope Benedict spelled out our responsibilities towards the environment. It was a message of hope. It was also a message that imposes responsibilities upon the faithful. At the same time, in accordance with the best of Catholic social teaching from the Vatican, it forcefully defined the environmental problem whilst stressing that it was important for assessments to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions. Despite this, many Christians who make statements about environmental issues seem to make hasty judgements, succumbing to ideological pressure which often emanates from environmental organisations that have views on issues such as population control that should be unacceptable to Catholics.
The Christian message on the environment should be an optimistic one. After all, the earths resources are a great blessing. Our message should stress the possibilities of a rightly ordered world, rather than being an apocalyptic message that sees population control and other authoritarian policies as the only way to protect the environment.
But, it is difficult to be optimistic as good news stories on the environment are normally buried. Although, in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina in 2005, we were told by experts how climate change was leading to increased numbers of severe hurricanes, there was no coverage the following year when the low number of hurricanes surprised the same experts. Indeed, if you search the internet, it is far easier to find stories predicting hurricane catastrophes in 2006 than stories describing the actual level of activity during that years hurricane season! In 2006/07, in the UK, a winter cold snap prompted a splurge of newspaper articles on how global warming could cause the breakdown of the Gulf Stream and would lead to freezing winters for the UK. But there were few follow-up articles looking at how uneventful and average that winter was, taken as a whole.
The news media, environmental campaigners and politicians all have an incentive to highlight bad news. The news media wants to sell papers; environmental campaigners are in the business of trying to achieve political change; and politicians wish to prepare public opinion for higher taxes and more regulation.
The Catholic Church closer to home sometimes jumps on this bandwagon. Our own Bishops Conference took an outlandishly pessimistic view of the environment in 2002 something that I have discussed at length in an earlier Catholic