As Amazon Synod approaches, Vatican’s claims about environment deserve scrutiny

As Amazon Synod approaches, Vatican’s claims about environment deserve scrutiny

Steven Mosher Blog

Editor’s Note: Steve Mosher has written a two-part series on the upcoming Amazonian Synod. Part I, below, addresses certain scientific claims about the Amazon made by the synod organizers, chiefly Cardinal Barreto. Part II will address the cardinal’s new proposals — purportedly based on lessons learned from the indigenous peoples of the Amazon — on how the Church can achieve gender equality, alleviate the priest shortage, and use environmentally appropriate matter in the celebration of the Eucharist.

May 30, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — Preparations are in full swing for the Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops in the Amazon Basin, set to take place from October 6 to 27, 2019. The synod will reflect on the theme: “The Amazon: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology.”

That “new path,” the Preparatory Document for the Pan-Amazonian Synod says, involves “Listening to indigenous peoples and to all the communities living in the Amazonia … [and] is of vital importance for the universal Church.”

But the real import of the upcoming synod, in the view of its organizers, extends well beyond the Amazon and even beyond the Church itself. As they put it, the synod will transcend “the strictly ecclesial-Amazonian sphere, because it focuses on … the future of the entire planet.”

Now, a reasonable person might ask what 300,000 hunter-gatherers living a primitive existence in the vast Amazonian rain forest have to teach the Catholic Church. And how will this knowledge really play a decisive role in our planetary future, as the document suggests?

Fortunately for the curious, Cardinal Barreto of Huancayo has lately given us a detailed outline of how listening to the Amazonian indigenous will save not only the Catholic Church, but the planet itself.

Barreto’s expectations for the meeting presumably closely parallel those of Pope Francis. A Jesuit himself, Barreto is known to be close to the pope. Not only that, but as vice president of the Pan-Amazonian Ecclesial Network (REPAM), he has played a leading role in organizing the synod.

So what does the cardinal have to tell us?

Sounding not very different from your typical left-leaning environmentalist, the cardinal advises us to listen to the “cries” of the land; to care for creation; and, specifically, to protect the Amazonian rainforest.

“It’s a very important region for the life of the planet and the future of humanity,” Barreto said. Already one-fifth of the rain forest has been lost to deforestation, he went on. This is the “green lung” of the planet, he explained, so called because it produces much of the world’s oxygen. The vitality of the region is being seriously threatened by “economic interests.”

The cardinal went on to suggest that the deforestation of the “world’s lung” would be equivalent to a human being losing a lung, comparing it to Pope Francis losing part of one lung as a young man. “What happened to the pope is happening to the Amazon,” he said, insisting that the stripping of the forest “must be stopped” if the Amazon is to survive.

Apocalyptic statements like the above — always couched in highly charged terms like “saving the rainforest” and “green lung of the planet” — are often bandied about by the environmentally “woke.” They are uncritically accepted by many. But are they true?

In other words, does Cardinal Barreto know what he is talking about?

It is true that, of the original 7.5 million square kilometers of rainforest, about 20 percent has been cleared of its original vegetation. The land is not simply clear-cut and abandoned, however. It is used for other productive purposes, like growing food crops and grazing animals.

Moreover, given the year-round growing season in the tropics, deforestation is hardly a one-way street. Indeed, any tract of farmland or grassland left untended immediately starts reverting to rainforest. This means there is a lot of re-forestation going on each year in the tropics as well.

How much re-forestation? The New York Times has reported, “By one estimate, for every acre of rain forest cut down each year, more than 50 acres of new forest are growing in the tropics[.]”

In other words, someone needs to tell Barreto that the rainforests of the world are doing just fine.

His claim that much of the world’s oxygen comes from the Amazon is equally bogus. As a onetime marine biologist, I can say with relative certainly that 70% of the oxygen in the atmosphere is produced by marine plants, particularly those single-celled plants we call phytoplankton.

So, if only 30% of the Earth’s oxygen is produced on land, what percentage of this is attributable to the Amazon? Hardly any, it turns out. Since any organic matter produced by old growth rainforest decays almost immediately, nearly all of the oxygen that the plants produce is reabsorbed.

That means that the Amazon is a kind of “sink” — in the scientific sense — for oxygen. While a great deal is produced there through photosynthesis, very little escapes the basin. Rainforests in general contribute little net oxygen to the atmosphere.

If you want to know what land areas contribute the most net oxygen to the atmosphere, look to the Russian taiga, the boreal forests of Canada, and the world’s grasslands.

These are the real “lungs of the earth,” not the Amazon. And they are in no danger of disappearing.

Breathless warnings about impending environmental collapse have long been a staple of radical green propaganda.

What is new is that leading prelates of the Catholic Church are joining the doomsday chorus.

I am merely a layman and a convert, but it seems to me that the leaders of the Catholic Church should expend their time and energy saving souls, rather than preaching what is patent scientific nonsense.


Steven W. Mosher is the President of the Population Research Institute and the author of Bully of Asia: Why China’s “Dream” is the New Threat to World Order.