How Scientists Are Working With the Church to Mobilize Climate Action and Help the World's Poorest

What do you do if you’re a climate scientist and global leaders won’t listen to you? The public knows it’s happening. Parents fear for their children and grandparents for their grandchildren. Teachers in schools know too. We all do.


It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet earth in the next hundred years, let alone in the next thousand or million,” Stephen Hawking says at the digital forum the Big Think.

“Anyway you look at it climate change is really bad news,” VICE News — an international news organization created by and for a connected generation – reports.

Politicians, policy makers, and the public also know about the nefarious activities of global corporations as far back as the 1980’s to cover up the impact of their industries on climate change.

It is also common knowledge that 2015 was the hottest year on record and that it is highly likely the record will be broken this year.

We know that scientists are convinced that the warming of the oceans due to climate change is unstoppable.

We know it is worse than we thought.

We know that our prosperity is in peril unless we shift from a wasteful world.

And yet, scientists are completely stymied by recalcitrant politicians – nearly all in the U.S. and similarly in the U.K. – to act quickly to mitigate the damage that has been done by the way humans are maladaptively taught to live on the planet.

What might not be such common knowledge is that the Paris Agreement – COP21 – is highly unlikely to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels.”

Many scientists are in agreement that the Paris Agreement is too little too late. The differences in impacts between a temperature increase of 1.5° C and 2 °C are statistically significant, indicating dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system the closer we get to a 2 °C increase in temperature.

So what are scientists to do? How can they get their message across that serious action must be taken to ensure that our children and grandchildren are not placed at risk by the irresponsibility of the powerful elites who are so caught up with their own life experiences that they have abdicated their moral and ethical responsibility to protect the health and wellbeing of future generations of children?

The answer is “go see the Pope.” The Vatican is increasing the pressure on politicians to act quickly on climate change.

Partha Dasgupta, one of the founding advisors of the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk (CSER) at the University of Cambridge, has acted as the first author for the Vatican workshop statement Climate Change and the Common Good: A Statement Of The Problem And The Demand For Transformative Solutions.

Here is the statement which is presented in the document as a Declaration (PDF):

Unsustainable consumption coupled with a record human population and the uses of inappropriate technologies are causally linked with the destruction of the world’s sustainability and resilience. Widening inequalities of wealth and income, the worldwide disruption of the physical climate system and the loss of millions of species that sustain life are the grossest manifestations of unsustainability. The continued extraction of coal, oil and gas following the “business-as-usual mode” will soon create grave existential risks for the poorest three billion, and for generations yet unborn.

Climate change resulting largely from unsustainable consumption by about 15% of the world’s population has become a dominant moral and ethical issue for society. There is still time to mitigate unmanageable climate changes and repair ecosystem damages, provided we reorient our attitude toward nature and, thereby, toward ourselves. Climate change is a global problem whose solution will depend on our stepping beyond national affiliations and coming together for the common good. Such transformational changes in attitudes would help foster the necessary institutional reforms and technological innovations for providing the energy sources that have negligible effect on global climate, atmospheric pollution and eco-systems, thus protecting generations yet to be born. Religious institutions can and should take the lead in bringing about that change in attitude towards Creation.

This Declaration summarizes the scientific agreement from the recent Protect The Earth, Dignify Humanity summit.

The scientists who are the authors of the declaration recommended that the Catholic Church can help by mobilizing public opinion and public funds to meet the energy needs of the world’s poorest. These authors include Martin Rees who is a co-founder of the CSER,  alongside Jeffrey Sachs, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, and several others.

Forty-two climate scientists, pontifical academics and religious leaders are signatories (PDF), and the Declaration is thought to have substantively influenced the writing of the Encyclical Letter by Pope Francis, Praise Be to You (Laudato Si’): On Care of Our Common Home.

Now to the crux of this post. In his paper, The World 2050 and Beyond,

Martin Rees, the astrophysicist and co-author of the Vatican Declaration Climate Change and the Common Good, writes:

In today’s runaway world, we can’t aspire to leave a monument lasting 1,000 years, but it would surely be shameful if we persisted in policies that denied future generations a fair inheritance and left them with a more depleted and more hazardous world.

In one of his podcasts Rees asks if we care what happens to the next generation? It is the central question of our time that he asks repeatedly in different ways in so many of his presentations. All other questions are subsumed to the question of whether or not we care enough about our children to completely rethink the ways in which humans learn to live on Earth.

We can change the future for our children if we ourselves are willing to change. If we do not their future will be very grim and we will be culpable – not just the politicians who are weak and ineffectual, too caught up with their own power and privilege, and consumed by their own vanity, to effectively bring about change. But we, the people, who put up with the nonsense of those with power and privilege who behave as if they have the right to take the future of our children away, can – in spite of them — bring about change through a reimagining of human learning in ways that reconnect us with the world.  We can work together to pick up the humanistic threads of our existence, which stretch back to Montaigne and still further, and by constantly asking each other, “For the sake of our children — how can we live in ways that sustain the planet?”

Martin Rees says what happens to all life forms on this “pale blue dot” that we call Earth will depend on what humans do in this century.  For the sake of our children and grandchildren it is time global leaders stop being so selfish and take this challenge seriously.

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