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A Message From On High: The Vatican Urges People to Take Climate Science Seriously

A Message From On High: The Vatican Urges People to Take Climate Science Seriously

For many Tea Party leaders and their representatives in Congress, it is an “article of faith” that the Earth was given to humans by God for their exploitation and dominion. Many have used this distorted theology to support destructive mining and drilling projects, and to pass legislation attempting to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate planet-warming carbon pollution. Conservative members of Congress would rather the federal government subsidize oil companies than invest in clean energy technology.

But such reckless disregard for the Earth, its people, and natural resources is being challenged by a broad base of faith leaders who point to the many passages in the Bible that call for humans to be caretakers and good stewards of the planet. We can now add to their voices those of a working group of scientists appointed by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a nonsectarian organization presided over by Werner Arber, a Nobel laureate and a Protestant. The academy has just issued a report that declares, without qualification and with utmost urgency, that global climate change is occurring, that humans bear responsibility for it, and that it is our gravest moral imperative to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible.

The report focuses on the causes and implications of retreating mountain glaciers and other ice forms because their melting is a key indicator of global warming. The report says these developments provide “some of the clearest evidence we have for a change in the climate system.” The report’s authors consist of “glaciologists, climate scientists, meteorologists, hydrologists, physicists, chemists, mountaineers, and lawyers.” The authors document the quickened pace of melting glaciers, ice, and snow across the globe, and the potential drastic consequences for human populations.

They recommend three main actions: “reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions without delay … reduce the concentrations of warming air pollutants … [and] prepare to adapt to the climatic changes, both chronic and abrupt, that society will be unable to mitigate.”

While the report is significant in its acknowledgment of climate change and insistence on the need for the global community to take responsibility, it is hardly surprising that Catholic leadership commissioned and supported these findings. Pope Benedict XVI has been an ardent supporter for many years of recognizing the truth of climate change and the collective responsibility to reduce carbon emissions and preserve clean air and clean water. In fact, he has been dubbed the “Green Pope” in diplomatic cables leaked by WikiLeaks.

And in a true example of “lived faith,” the pope and his leadership spearheaded renewable energy projects right in Vatican City. In 2008 the Vatican began installing 2,400 solar panels atop the pope’s audience hall, which prevents 230 tons of carbon dioxide from being emitted annually. The Vatican even flirted with the idea of going completely carbon neutral by reforesting degraded land in Hungary to offset their emissions, though critics assailed the plan for its focus on offsets over efficiency improvements.

In the new pope’s first social encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” he proclaimed there is a “covenant” between humans and the environment, and “responsibility is a global one, for it is concerned not just with energy but with the whole of creation, which must not be bequeathed to future generations depleted of its resources.” He highlighted in particular the responsibility of wealthy developed nations to take the lead on these efforts.

The pope’s encyclical in tandem with the working group’s report are not meant to scare people. Rather, they are meant to confirm, once and for all, that people need to take climate change seriously, that it is no longer a matter of legitimate debate. The church’s strong moral voice shows the urgency of the issue and should persuade conservatives who oppose action to protect God’s creation that if they listen to one of the leading lights of the Christian faith on other issues, they should pay attention on this one as well.

This post was originally published by Science Progress.


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Photo from Catholic Church (England and Wales) via flickr
Written by Marta Cook, a Science Progress blogger

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7:21PM PDT on May 29, 2011

kudos to Pope Benedict XVI

1:21PM PDT on May 28, 2011

The Vatican City is a beautiful place, k;nowing that it is now partly powered by PV panels just amk'es it all the more attractive. Maybe the Church (in all its forms) could help more people benefit from this wonderful technology.

9:14AM PDT on May 28, 2011

I am glad that the Pope is doing all he can for the enviroment and the Earth, without the earth a lot of species will die humans for one as we all need oxygen, not many things can live without oxygen, and earth is our home we should save it instead of looking for other planets,this is the one and only numero uno very important earth!!

7:32AM PDT on May 27, 2011

Leslie, I'm glad about your comment. In case the pope has an idea of what he is talking about, he must promote population control!

11:04PM PDT on May 26, 2011

I so agree with my friend Ann K.....every leader has a responsability of teaching TRUTH!!!

9:20AM PDT on May 26, 2011

I'd like to hear priests bringing up the subject of climate change and environmental responsibility in their masses.

5:15AM PDT on May 26, 2011

maybe this will help our republican 'friends' get the message

1:28AM PDT on May 26, 2011

God gave man dominion over all the creatures and environment of Earth when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden. The destruction men have imposed upon the world has betrayed the trust of God far more than the eating of a million apples from the Tree of Wisdom. In this respect, if one is religious, the escalation of all the natural disasters currently ravaging the world, could conceivably be considered a pretty appropriate punishment. Even in a more secular regard, our earth can be seen as "fighting back".

I agree fully with the critical comments referring to the Catholic Church's stand against birth control. Population control is an important aspect in addressing the problem of global warming, in particular. More people means a greater demand for resources, more sewage, more emissions into the air and water, greater consumption of food and water, more endangered species and more devastation of natural areas.

1:24AM PDT on May 26, 2011


8:44AM PDT on May 25, 2011

Thank you!

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