December 19th 2015

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY The first Christmas: a birth that set fire to men's hearts

CANBERRA OBSERVED A Nationals welcome no sure thing for Macfarlane

CLIMATE CHANGE $100bn a year climate fund the rub in Paris deadlock

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Free speech petition: appeal all 'right not to be offended' clauses

WATER POLICY Review tells of destruction of farms in Goulburn Valley

CULTURE AND POLITICS Liberalism's disappearing act on human freedom

TAX REVIEW Rise in GST a no go when the need is for jobs

HISTORY Taiwan's first people have survived waves of settlers

FREEDOM OF RELIGION Law not broad enough to contain freedom's flow

SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT Credit where credit is long overdue: B.A. Santamaria

FAMILY AND SOCIETY Swedish daycare part II: problems of weak parenting

CINEMA No life is lived as an island: It's a Wonderful Life

BOOK REVIEW A contribution to Pope Francis' call for a conversation on conservation


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contribution to Pope Francis' call for a conversation on conservation

News Weekly, December 19, 2015


The Pope Condemns the Poor to Eternal Poverty

by Ian Plimer

(Connor Court, Ballarat, 2015)
Paperback: 348 pages
ISBN: 9781925138801
Price: AUD$29.95


Reviewed by William Kininmonth



“I came into the world for this: to bear witness to the truth; and all who are on the side of truth listen to my voice.” John 18:37


Pope Francis, successor to Peter as shepherd to Jesus’ flock, is spiritual leader of the Catholic Church. By issuing the encyclical Laudato Si’ (“On care of our common home”), Francis has continued a long tradition of interpreting Jesus’ teaching for the faithful in a changing world.

Like many previous encyclicals, Laudato Si’ is a challenge to contemporary life, especially in its rebuke: “We have come to see her [Mother Earth] as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will”.

The title of Pope Francis’ encyclical, 

Laudato si’, comes from the refrain

in St Francis’ canticle, Laudes

Creaturarum, and means “praise be”.

Not everyone agrees with such a depiction of our relationship with Earth and our environment. Ian Plimer, a distinguished earth scientist has, in Heaven and Hell: The Pope Condemns the Poor to Eternal Poverty, provides a robust and well documented counterview to the popular messages of human exploitation and waste of resources, behaviour that Laudato Si’ claims to be causing dangerous climate change with profound consequences for future generations.

This is not Plimer’s first publication against what he considers to be exaggerated environmental activism. Previous books under the Connor Court banner include: Heaven and Earth; How to Get Expelled from School; and Not for Greens. Nor is it Plimer’s first foray into the overlap of theology and science; he has been an active campaigner against the literalism of creationist theology being presented as science.

In his opening pages Plimer explains that Heaven and Hell is a direct response to the release of Laudato Si’ and the consternation expressed to him by many Catholics about the veracity of the underpinning science from which its teachings emanate.

Plimer emphasises that Pope Francis is not making a lonely call in the wilderness when he expresses the objectives of Laudato Si’. As Plimer writes, we are all environmentalists, we all care about the environment in which we live, and we are all concerned not to jeopardise the opportunities of future generations.

Heaven and Hell takes strong issue with the implied guilt attributed to our generation. The left green environmental message of Laudato Si’, rejected by Plimer, is that the world’s resources are being plundered for greed, that overconsumption is producing mounting waste such that we are living in ever-increasing filth, and that one component of this waste (carbon dioxide) is polluting the atmosphere and leading to dangerous irreversible climate change. Capitalism, we are told by Laudato Si’, has failed the Earth.

Making the case

Plimer mounts his case against the Pope’s message of guilt across five chapters and 348 pages of readily understood argument. Unlike Laudato Si’, Plimer does not rely on the implied authority of “many scientists”; his logic and conclusions flow from cited scientific sources and the assembly of information in logical constructs.

The message is that we ought not to be afraid of climate change, from whatever cause. The scientific evidence presented is that the climate is always changing; we need to be able to adapt. Compared with most of the past million years we are now in a relatively warm interglacial period. Nonetheless, our climate is colder and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration is less than during the previous hundreds of millions of years that life as we know it evolved. Warming and increasing carbon dioxide do not make for the doomsday scenario being portrayed; as Plimer notes, carbon dioxide is plant food and warming is likely to be beneficial.

Over recent millennia, as human civilisation evolved, progress (and progress it has been) was built on harnessing energy and building technology. The rapid progress of Western civilisation since the so-called Enlightenment has benefited from the scientific method: observation, measurement and logical deduction to understand the world in which we live and benefit from that knowledge. In the West, and increasingly in the developing world as access to energy and harnessing of technology permit, life is becoming easier, longer and more pleasant.

Numbers generated by computer models are neither observation nor measurements; projections from computer models are no more than a possible scenario based on a simplified representation of the complex Earth system. Yet it is the projections of these simple representations that are the sole basis for alarm.

Real world upsets the models

As Plimer counters, with an array of documented examples, time and again evidence from the real world exposes the vacuousness of the alarmists’ claims. Significantly, despite nearly half of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration having occurred over the past two decades, there has been no appreciable change in global temperature over this period.

Nearly one-third of Heaven and Hell (chapter 3) is occupied with discussion of carbon dioxide, science and climate. Plimer tackles a series of issues about which misinformation has been spread in order to foment alarm. Sea-level rise, the destruction of corals, dangers from ocean acidity, and climate tipping points are examples of supposed dangers that he exposes as either mythical or highly exaggerated.

Left-green environmental activism has as its focus a yearning for a simpler life powered by renewable energy and without the contamination of “polluting” industries. In Laudato Si’ the life of St Francis of Assisi is promoted as an exemplar. The reality is that we cannot achieve the benefits of modern living (a marked reduction in manual labour, access to abundant nutritious food, longer life, reduced illness, playthings for leisure, and so on) without energy and industry – just as we cannot enjoy a new life without the occasional soiled nappy!

It is in analysing the morality of green-left environmental alarmism (chapter 4 of nearly 100 pages) that Plimer gets to the nub of his argument: to follow the lead of Laudato Si’ would condemn the developing world to ongoing poverty. That is, to deny them access to relatively cheap fossil fuels will prevent labour-saving technological advances being taken up.

CO2 is essential for life

Carbon dioxide is an unavoidable consequence of fossil-fuel combustion and a range of industrial processes. As Plimer cogently demonstrates, carbon dioxide is also essential for life. Why then is it demonised as a pollutant so dangerous that without immediate action to curtail its production by humans, life on Earth is threatened? Plimer’s analysis concludes that the storyline is a falsehood.

There is general agreement among scientists that if the concentration of carbon dioxide changes, then so too does the Earth’s surface temperature. However, there is fundamental disagreement about the sensitivity of surface temperature to changing carbon-dioxide concentration. Plimer has arrayed evidence to demonstrate great uncertainty about the science of climate change and the potential impact of carbon-dioxide emissions linked to human activity.

Unsettling the science

Heaven and Hell cannot be readily dismissed; it argues that the carbon-dioxide emissions generated by the activities of humans are inconsequential in the context of natural carbon dioxide cycling through the atmosphere and are unlikely to affect climate change to any great extent. It is a must-read because it exposes the shallowness of the alarmist dictum: “The science is settled”.

To conclude with Pope Francis’ own words in Laudato Si’: “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

Ian Plimer makes a valid contribution to the conversation when he asserts that to deprive developing countries of cheap fossil fuel is to consign them to ongoing poverty.

William Kininmonth is former head of Australias National Climate Centre and is currently Lieutenant (Victoria) of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

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