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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

If global warming is a religion, then Al Gore must be Pope Leo X

Last week's news that Al Gore has purchased an $8 875 000 seaside mansion in Montecito California stirred a memory of one of those venal Renaissance pontiffs who allegedly said after his election "since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it". The Pope in question was Leo X (1475 - 1521), and the parallels with Pope Al of the Church of Global Warming are striking.

Leo X, born Giovanni de Medici, was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, ruler of the Florentine Republic. He was made a cardinal at age 14 and was elected Pope in 1513. He is most famous for having been at the helm of the Catholic Church during the rise of Martin Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a vivid description of him:
Leo's personal appearance has been perpetuated for us in Raphael's celebrated picture at the Pitti Gallery in Florence, which represents him with Cardinals Medici and Rossi. He was not a handsome man. His fat, shiny, effeminate countenance with weak eyes protrudes in the picture from under a close-fitting cap. The unwieldy body is supported by thin legs. His movements were sluggish and during ecclesiastical functions his corpulence made him constantly wipe the perspiration from his face and hands, to the distress of the bystanders. But when he laughed or spoke the unpleasant impression vanished. He had an agreeable voice, knew how to express himself with elegance and vivacity, and his manner was easy and gracious. "Let us enjoy the papacy since God has given it to us", he is said to have remarked after his election. The Venetian ambassador who related this of him was not unbiased, nor was he in Rome at the time, nevertheless the phrase illustrates fairly the pope's pleasure-loving nature and the lack of seriousness that characterized him. He paid no attention to the dangers threatening the papacy, and gave himself up unrestrainedly to amusements, that were provided in lavish abundance. He was possessed by an insatiable love of pleasure, that distinctive trait of his family. Music, the theatre, art, and poetry appealed to him as to any pampered worldling. Though temperate himself, he loved to give banquets and expensive entertainments, accompanied by revelry and carousing; and notwithstanding his indolence he had a strong passion for the chase, which he conducted every year on the largest scale. From his youth he was an enthusiastic lover of music and attracted to his court the most distinguished musicians. At table he enjoyed hearing improvisations and though it is hard to believe, in view of his dignity and his artistic tastes, the fact remains that he enjoyed also the flat and absurd jokes of buffoons. Their loose speech and incredible appetites delighted him. In ridicule and caricature he was himself a master. Pageantry, dear to the pleasure-seeking Romans, bull-fights, and the like, were not neglected. Every year he amused himself during the carnival with masques, music, theatrical performances, dances, and races. Even during the troubled years of 1520 he took part in unusually brilliant festivities. Theatrical representations, with agreeable music and graceful dancing, were his favourite diversions. The papal palace became a theatre and the pope did not hesitate to attend such improper plays as the immoral "Calendra" by Bibbiena and Ariosto's indecent "Suppositi". His contemporaries all praised and admired Leo's unfailing good temper, which he never entirely lost even in adversity and trouble. Himself cheerful, he wished to see others cheerful. He was good-natured and liberal and never refused a favour either to his relatives and fellow Florentines, who flooded Rome and seized upon all official positions, or to the numerous other petitioners, artists and poets. His generosity was boundless, nor was his pleasure in giving a pose or desire for vainglory; it came from the heart. He never was ostentatious and attached no importance to ceremonial. He was lavish in works of charity; convents, hospitals, discharged soldiers, poor students, pilgrims, exiles, cripples, the blind, the sick, the unfortunate of every description were generously remembered, and more than 6000 ducats were annually distributed in alms.
Leo X was known for his expensive tastes and bacchanalian lifestyle, which he financed by auctioning off church offices and by the widely condemned practice of selling indulgences whereby sinners could redeem their sins for a fee:
Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that the large treasure left by Julius II was entirely dissipated in two years. In the spring of 1515 the exchequer was empty and Leo never after recovered from his financial embarrassment. Various doubtful and reprehensible methods were resorted to for raising money. He created new offices and dignities, and the most exalted places were put up for sale. Jubilees and indulgences were degraded almost entirely into financial transactions, yet without avail, as the treasury was ruined. The pope's income amounted to between 500,000 and 600,000 ducats. The papal household alone, which Julius II had maintained on 48,000 ducats, now cost double that sum. In all, Leo spent about four and a half million ducats during his pontificate and left a debt amounting to 400,000 ducats. On his unexpected death his creditors faced financial ruin. A lampoon proclaimed that "Leo X had consumed three pontificates; the treasure of Julius II, the revenues of his own reign, and those of his successor."
It was reported that the Pope travelled around Rome "at the head of a lavish parade featuring panthers, jesters, and Hanno, a white elephant." Alexandre Dumas wrote of his reign:
Under his pontificate, Latin Christianity assumed a pagan, Greco-Roman character, which, passing from art into manners, gives to this epoch a strange complexion. Crimes for the moment disappeared, to give place to vices; but to charming vices, vices in good taste, such as those indulged in by Alcibiades and sung by Catullus.
Al Gore, by comparison, was also born into a rich & influential family, the son of a wealthy US Senator, and he lives in a manner that would put a Medici to shame. His mansion in Nashville has the carbon footprint of a small town:
Given that Gore calls the fight against global warming a “moral imperative” in the movie, you might reasonably think that he practices what his movie’s web site preaches. But you’d be wrong.

In the wake of the movie winning an Oscar last month, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research reported that Gore’s Nashville mansion consumed more than 20 times the electricity than the national average. Last August, the Gore mansion burned more than twice the electricity in a single month as the average American family uses in an entire year. Gore’s heated pool house alone uses more than $500 in electricity every month.
Gore's new house in Montecito is on a similar Roman scale:
Gore spent $8,875,000 for the ocean-view villa on 1.5 acres with – get this – a swimming pool, spa with fountains, and – we like this part a lot – six fireplaces to go along with its five bedrooms and nine bathrooms. We wonder if Gore’s toilets of choice, the kind you must flush more than once to clear the bowl, are featured in those nine bathrooms.
Gore also owns a 4 000 sq ft house in Arlington Virginia and another home in Carthage, Tennessee. He frequently rents private jets to travel around the world, and keeps a 100 ft houseboat moored at a marina in Tennessee. At his daughter's 2007 Beverly Hills wedding, guests dined on endangered Chilean sea bass.

How does Gore finance this extravagant existence? Partly by selling indulgences in the form of carbon offsets, which are described below by an organization which markets them:
People around the globe often have this quirky feeling whenever global warming is mentioned. While everybody wants to help, it seems that people don't really know how. Changing your lifestyle and reducing your carbon footprint is a good start, but there are times when you really need to travel by air to fulfill your professional and personal commitments such as company visits to branches, regular visits to relatives or maybe holding performances at different venues if you are an artist.

These activities increases you travel footprint. You may have acquired some sort of guilt feeling that in way you may have contributed to the worsening condition of the Earth. A plane ride domestically releases per person over 1,700 pounds of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Anyway, you can breathe easier because we have companies that would help you offset the hazards you may have caused the environment and they are called carbon offset providers. Simply calculate the amount of carbon dioxide you have polluted into the atmosphere and for a corresponding volume of emissions, a set fee is collected by these providers.

Money is then channeled to eco-friendly projects in your behalf. These projects are designed to give zero greenhouse gas emissions, others reduces carbon dioxide presence in the air.
Gore buys indulgences for his own carbon emissions from a company that he co-owns, so he is in a sense paying himself for his own carbon sins:
Gore has described the lifestyle he and his wife Tipper live as “carbon neutral,” meaning he tries to offset any energy usage, including plane flights and car trips, by “purchasing verifiable reductions in CO2 elsewhere.” But it turns out he pays for his extra-large carbon footprint through Generation Investment Management, a London-based company with offices in Washington, D.C., for which he serves as chairman. The company was established to take financial advantage of new technologies and solutions related to combating “global warming,”
If Al Gore is sighted parading through Washington on a white elephant, we'll know for sure that history has repeated itself. Perhaps a Reformation is at hand.


Madman said...

Amen, brother. I love your blog.

Joanne (True Blue) said...

Fascinating comparison, Eric. Well done.

kursk said...

Al Gore is Pope Leo x without the humour.

Larry said...

I think Gore should be "Poop Leo X" since...well, you know.

Anonymous said...

If you are really interested in Leo X, check out his fascinating story "Confessions of an Infallible Man -- the Secret Memoir of Pope Leo X" on or