Article: A Sanctified Perspective on Climate Change

Pope Francis Wrote that climate change was mostly down to human activity and policies were urgently needed to cut carbon emissions, such as by reducing fossil fuels and developing renewables.

Even though Pope Francis quoted in his Enlyclical letter other popes including his predecessor who consistently discoursed the need for safeguarding the environment, he expressed genuine admiration for Saint Francis of Assisi who reminds everybody that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.

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On July 16, 1228, Francis was proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory IX.  He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment, and is one of the two patron saints of Italy (with Catherine of Siena).  On November 29, 1979, Pope John Paul II declared St. Francis the Patron Saint of Ecology. Many of the stories that surround the life of St. Francis say that he had a great love for animals and the environment.

Over 800 years ago, Saint Francis acknowledged what Mother Earth was suffering from. He cited:

  • “This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail”. We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

Pop Francis wrote: “I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically”.

  1. Concentration of Greenhouse Gases (GHG):  Pope Francis wrote – It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.  Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system.

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Here are some supporting facts: Human activities result in emissions of four long-lived greenhouse gases (GHG): Carbon Dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous Oxide (N2O), and Halocarbons (A group of gases containing fluorine, chlorine or bromine). Atmospheric concentrations of GHG increase when emissions are larger than removal processes.

Global atmospheric concentrations of CO2, CH4 and N2O have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years. The atmospheric concentrations of CO2 and CH4 in 2005 exceeded by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years.

The fact of the matter is that even slight increases in atmospheric levels of CO2 can cause a substantial increase in temperature.  CO2 tends to remain in the atmosphere for a very long time (time scales in the hundreds of years). Water vapor, on the other hand, can easily condense or evaporate, depending on local conditions. Water vapor levels therefore tend to adjust quickly to the prevailing conditions, such that the energy flows from the Sun and re-radiation from the Earth achieve a balance. CO2 tends to remain fairly constant and therefore behave as a controlling factor, rather than a reacting factor. More CO2 means that the balance occurs at higher temperatures and water vapor levels.

Human beings have increased the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere by about thirty percent, which is an extremely significant increase, even on inter-glacial timescales.  It is believed that human beings are responsible for this because the increase is almost perfectly correlated with increases in fossil fuel combustion, and also due to other evidence, such as changes in the ratios of different carbon isotopes in atmospheric CO2 that are consistent with “anthropogenic” (human caused) emissions. The simple fact is, that under “business as usual” conditions, we’ll soon reach carbon dioxide concentrations that haven’t been seen on Earth in the last 50 million years.

Fossil fuel is a general term for buried combustible geologic deposits of organic materials, formed from decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, or heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth’s crust over hundreds of millions of years. Because of the immense time spans to create coal, oil and natural gas, they are classed as non-renewable sources of energy.

Combustion of Fossil Fuels, for electricity generation, transportation, and heating, and also the manufacture of cement, all result in the total worldwide emission of about 22 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year. About a third of this comes from electricity generation, and another third from transportation, and a third from all other sources.

2.  Destruction of Ecosystem:  The capacity of ecosystems to provide benefits to humans that is to provide ecosystem services, derives from environmental cycles of water, nitrogen, carbon, and phosphorus. These processes have in some cases been significantly modified by human activity. Changes have been more rapid in the second half of the 20th century than at any other time in recorded human history:

Here are some supporting facts:  Humans rely on ecosystems to supply food and other necessities for a healthy human life. Certain human activities have had a devastating impact on ecosystems, however. From pollution to overharvesting, the damage and exploitation of wildlife and natural vegetation by humans has left some ecosystems in bad shape.

Pope Francis wrote – If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.

  • Water Cycle: Water withdrawals from rivers and lakes for irrigation, urban uses, and industrial applications doubled between 1960 and 2000. Globally, humans use slightly more than 10 percent of the available renewable freshwater supply. However, in some regions such as North Africa, groundwater is withdrawn at a faster pace than it is renewed;
  • Carbon Cycle:  In the last two and a half centuries, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased by one third. Land ecosystems were a net source of carbon dioxide during the 19th and early 20th century and became a net carbon sink sometime around the middle of the last century. This reversal is due to increases in plant growth brought about by, for example, new forest management and agricultural practices;

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  • Nitrogen Cycle:  The total amount of nitrogen made available to organisms by human activities increased nine-fold between 1890 and 1990, especially since 1950 because of the use of synthetic fertilizers. Human activities are now responsible for as much nitrogen made available as all natural sources combined; and
  • Phosphorus Cycle:  The use of phosphorus fertilizers and the rate of phosphorus accumulation in agricultural soils nearly tripled between 1960 and 1990, but has declined somewhat since. The flow of phosphorus into the oceans is now three times the natural flow.

Biologists and paleo-ecologists estimate that humans have driven roughly 1,000 species extinct in our 200,000 years on the planet. Since 1500 we have killed off at least 322 types of animals, including the passenger pigeon, the Tasmanian tiger and, most recently, the baiji, a freshwater dolphin in China. Another 20,000 or more species are now threatened with extinction according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which keeps a list of all the known endangered plants and animals on the planet. The population of any given animal among the five million or so species on the planet is, on average, 28 percent smaller, thanks to humans. And as many as one third of all animals are either threatened or endangered, a new study in Science finds.

3.  Poverty and Migration:  The changing climate is already jeopardizing gains in the fight against hunger, and it looks set to worsen,” said Oxfam. “A hot world is a hungry world. If the remainder of the 21st century unfolds like its first decade, we will soon experience climate extremes well outside the boundaries of human experience.”

Oxfam predicted that world hunger would worsen as climate change inevitably hurt crop production and disrupted incomes. They suggested the number of people at risk of hunger might climb by 10 percent to 20 percent by 2050, with daily per-capita calorie availability falling across the world.

Here are some supporting facts:  Low-income countries will remain on the frontline of human-induced climate change over the next century, experiencing gradual sea-level rises, stronger cyclones, warmer days and nights, more unpredictable rains, and larger and longer heatwaves, according to the most thorough assessment of the issue yet.

Pope Francis wrote – Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.

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The report, In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement, is based on a first-time global survey of environmental change and migration. It is illustrated with a series of detailed maps, generated by CIESIN, that show how and where significant displacements may occur. Among its findings:

  • Breakdown of ecosystem-based economies including subsistence herding, farming and fishing will be the dominant driver of forced migration;
  • Climate change will increase the frequency and intensity of natural hazards such as cyclones, floods and droughts.  Rains in parts of Mexico and Central America, for instance, are projected to drop as much as 50 percent by 2080. Farmers in parts of Mexico and North Africa’s Sahel region may already be moving in part due to changing rain;
  • Sea level rise directly threatens the existence of some 40 countries. Saltwater intrusion, flooding and erosion could destroy agriculture in the densely populated Mekong, Nile and Ganges deltas. A rise of two meters, or six feet–well within some projections for this century– would inundate nearly half the Mekong’s 3 million hectares (7.5 million acres) of farmland. Some Pacific island nations including the Maldives (pop. 300,000) are already considering prospects for total relocation;
  • Ongoing melting of alpine glaciers in the Himalayas will devastate the heavily irrigated farmlands of Asia by increasing floods and decreasing long-term water supplies. The glacier-fed basins of the Ganges, Brahmaputra, Irawaddy, Salween, Mekong, Yangtze and Yellow rivers now support over 1.4 billion people; and
  • Most migrants will probably move within their own countries, or to countries next door. Many will be poor, and many will be unable to move far enough to improve their lots. Ripples from resulting conflicts and collapses will hit richer countries.

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4.   Masking the Problems/Concealing their Symptoms:  Pope Francis wrote – Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption.

Here are some supporting facts:  George Monbiot published 10 top climate change deniers in the Guardian who either masking the problems associated with climate change or helping to conceal their symptoms:

  • Sammy Wilson, Northern Ireland Environment Minister: Wilson maintains that environmentalism is a “hysterical pseudo-religion”. Climate change is natural and “beyond our control”, so “resources should be used to adapt to the consequences of climate change rather than King Canute style vainly trying to stop it.” But the minister for hysterical pseudo-religion intends to cling onto his brief come hell or high water.

All the major parties in the Northern Ireland assembly have now said Wilson is unfit to hold the office, after he used his powers this week to ban government television adverts from the province’s airwaves. Wilson said the Act on CO2 ads were insidious green “propaganda”.

“He has effectively made a Unilateral Declaration of Independence against Her Majesty’s Government on this crucial issue and is making Northern Ireland a laughing stock around the world. It is high time the first minister reined this maverick in, or perhaps this is merely a continuation of the DUP’s battle against science and reason;”

  •  Václav Klaus, President of Czech Republic:  He told the US Congress that “manmade climate change has become one of the most dangerous arguments aimed at distorting human efforts and public policies in the whole world … Communism was replaced by the threat of ambitious environmentalism.” Climate change, he says, is caused “not by human behaviour but by various exogenous and endogenous natural processes (such as fluctuating solar activity).

“He describes concern about climate change as a “new wave of dangerous indoctrination of the whole world” and says that “global-warming alarmism is challenging our freedom, and Al Gore is a leader of that movement;”

What it doesn’t say is that he has long acted as a paid advocate for the tobacco company Philip Morris, while the fake grassroots group he runs has also received funding from ExxonMobil.

His website has been the main entrepôt for almost every kind of climate change denial that has found its way into the mainstream press. Milloy claims to be campaigning against “faulty scientific data and analysis used to advance special and, often, hidden agendas”, which seems to be a pretty good summary of his own activities;

  •  Prof Pat Michaels, Cato Institute:  Michaels played a starring role in Channel 4’s The Great Global Warming Swindle and is regularly used by the US media, largely because he is one of the very few deniers who has any relevant scientific credentials.

He maintains that: “When it comes to global warming, apparently the truth is inconvenient. And it’s not just Gore’s movie that’s fiction. It’s the rhetoric of the Congress and the chief executive, too.

“Something he is less keen to reveal is that, as a leaked memo from an electricity company shows, he has recently been paid at least $100,000 by companies involved in coal-fired power production to make the public case against climate change. In 2007 Michaels withdrew as an expert witness from a court case about climate change, after it became clear that his other sources of funding could be revealed to the public;

  •  Christopher Monckton, Former Adviser to Margaret Thatcher: Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, whose academic qualification is a classics degree, maintains that “politicians, scientists and bureaucrats contrived a threat of Biblical floods, droughts, plagues, and extinctions worthier of St John the Divine than of science.” He came to public notice with a long paper published on the website of the Sunday Telegraph, accusing the UN of scientific fraud. His paper was filled with sciencey equations and calculations, which were rapidly dismissed as bunkum by real scientists.

He has threatened several of those who have challenged his scientific claims with libel suits, but they have not yet materialized. Though he has never held a seat in the Lords, he maintained in a threatening letter to two US senators that he was “a member of the Upper House of the United Kingdom legislature”.

He has also claimed that, among other unlikely feats, he was responsible for winning the Falklands war. His grand statements about climate science and his own credentials have earned him the nickname among some environmentalists of Viscount Monckhausen;

During her vice-presidential campaign, she embarrassed John McCain by maintaining: “I’m not one though who would attribute it [climate change] to being manmade.” She has refused to classify the polar bear as an endangered species on the grounds that the sea ice is here to stay, but is making plans for opening up the Arctic Sea to oil drilling, on the grounds that the ice is due to disappear. Could her ambivalence towards climate change have anything to do with the fact that Alaska is a major oil state? You betcha;

In 2003 he delivered a speech to the Senate called The Science of Climate Change, in which he said: “The claim that global warming is caused by manmade emissions is simply untrue and not based on sound science … With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that manmade global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it.

“Seeking to characterize environmentalists, he says: “I could use the Third Reich, the Big Lie … You say something over and over and over and over again, and people will believe it, and that’s their strategy.” He has also compared the US Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo. Terrifyingly, until 2006 Inhofe chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works;

  •  Melanie Phillips, Daily Mail Columnist: Mel P (Genuinely Scary Spice) appears to believe that half the scientists on earth are engaged in a series of giant conspiracies. She dismisses not only climate change but also the entire canon of evolutionary science. She also stoutly defends the thesis that MMR injections cause autism.

She claims that “the theory that global warming is all the fault of mankind is a massive scam based on flawed computer modelling, bad science and an anti-western ideology … The majority of well-meaning opinion in the Western world believes a pack of lies and propaganda”. She has also maintained that “carbon dioxide forms a relatively small proportion of the atmosphere, most of which consists of water vapour;”If this were the case, we would need gills.

  • Christopher Booker, Sunday Telegraph Columnist: Booker writes a column in the Sunday Telegraph. It’s filled with so many misleading claims about climate change, evolution, asbestos, speed cameras and the European Union that it would take an encyclopedia to document them.His most famous contention was made in a column in February 2008. The previous September, he noted, “sea ice cover had shrunk to the lowest level ever recorded. But for some reason the warmists are less keen on the latest satellite findings, reported by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. … Its graph of northern hemisphere sea ice area, which shows the ice shrinking from 13,000m sq km to just 4m from the start of 2007 to October, also shows it now almost back to 13m sq km.

“To reinforce this point, he helpfully republished the graph, showing that the ice had indeed expanded between September and January. The Sunday Telegraph continues to employ a man who cannot tell the difference between summer and winter. The prestigious and highly sought Christopher Booker prize for climate change denial was named in his honour; and

He maintains that “since I said I didn’t believe human beings caused global warming I’ve not been allowed to make a TV programme.” This is odd because he stopped making TV programmes in 1994. He was making public statements in support of mainstream climate science until at least 2000, and his first public statement to the contrary was in 2004. But the conspiracy extends even further. “Have you noticed there is a wind turbine on Teletubbies?” He asked in the Daily Express. “That’s subliminal advertising, isn’t it?”

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Pope Francis expressed his regrets for many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. He believed that it requires a new and universal solidarity.  

Pope Francis recognized, encouraged and thanked all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home (Earth) which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the poorest people in the world. 

Here is how Pope Francis appealed to the world about the environmental crises:

  • I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges; and
  • It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary.

Resources:

  1. ENCYCLICAL LETTER of the holy father;
  2. Wikipedia – Francis of Assisi;
  3. IPCC – Drivers for Climate Change;
  4. Global Warming FAQ;
  5. Global Greenhouse Warming – Fossil Fuel;
  6. eHOW – The kind of Human Activities that have Destroyed Ecosystem;
  7. Green Facts – Ecosystem Change;
  8. Scientific American – Facts or Fictions;
  9. The Guardian – Climate Change will hit Poor Countries hardest, study shows;
  10. The Earth Institute – Climate Change Could Drive Vast Human Migration; and
  11. The Guardian – Monbiot’s Royal Flush – To 10 Climate Change Deniers

 

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