Catholic Rhode Island writer William Patenaude appears in an article by Matt Hadro for the Catholic News Agency (CNA) under the headline, “A Catholic ecologist’s take on climate change, the Paris agreement.” I know Bill a little, having spent some time with him at a local Catholic event or two, and having enjoyed his company and found him reasonable, I’m certainly inclined to see him as a person who is sincerely seeking “truthful ways of being honest about the urgency of this issue.”
In the interest of candor, I’ll note plainly that, despite his modest tone, I read hints of the more-political rhetoric of environmentalists:
… for Patenaude, a thriving economy and stronger environmental regulations can go hand-in-hand, and jobs don’t have to suffer as a result of a nationwide move to clean energy. …
“What we need to do is, we need to let them know all of the things – all of the impacts that climate change will have on them, but also, the new economy is a bright future for us,” he said.
The promises of economic health must be taken on faith, and the consequential gaze seems always to be future-looking, as in “the impacts that climate change will have on them.” Unfortunately, these dire prognostications are often paired with both distortion of past data and politically convenient calls to limit people’s rights, as I’ve addressed before.
If Bill’s looking for common ground, I’d suggest that he change his emphasis from attempting to convert people to faith in the dire future more toward this:
“I was not always on the bandwagon for climate change,” he admitted to CNA, but in his environmental work in Rhode Island, over time he began to notice substantial changes in precipitation and flooding “where we never really saw it before,” which “culminated in some massive flooding in 2010.”
The causes of this were clear, he said. Once the atmosphere warms due to increased amounts of greenhouse gases, it “can hold more moisture.” This leads to heavier rainfall and flooding, which means that stormwater and wastewater infrastructure must be updated. Patenaude said he saw this firsthand as he examined 19 wastewater facilities in Rhode Island. Coastal towns will also have to take into account the possibility of rising sea levels and greater coastal flooding in the future.
If our infrastructure is not up to its job, it must be updated, and if we project more-dramatic changes, then we should plan accordingly. In that statement, though, the reality of climate change is relevant only in the degree to which it is a factor in projecting how much we must prepare.
Environmentalists like to skip right past the discussion of whether our ability to mitigate climate change is worth the cost in rights and prosperity. (Promises that new technologies that can’t survive without heavy government subsidies will overcome regulations’ drag just won’t cut it.) And to the extent that our order of priority is humanity then the environment, a practical discussion would be what alternatives will actually work to reduce emissions. In that case, where are the ecologists’ calls for more natural gas, including fracking, and nuclear power?