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Vatican on climate: Pray for science

The cost of action “pales in comparison to the price the world will pay if we fail to act now.”

We call on all people and nations to recognise the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses. We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home. By acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life. We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us. The believers among us ask God to grant us this wish.

The bumpersticker version of the Vatican plea for climate action: Pray for science.

Humanity’s only hope is if we listen to what the science tells us is happening now and what is likely to happen if we stay anywhere near our current emissions path. As the AP put it:

A Vatican-appointed panel of scientists has reported what climate change experts have been warning for years: the Earth is getting warmer, glaciers are melting, and urgent measures are necessary to stem the damage.

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Precisely. I suppose it is an open question as to whether anybody who doesn’t accept science — presumably the same people who ignore what their medical doctors say — will listen to the Vatican. But humanity’s conscious decision-in-the-making to ignore science and thereby needlessly ruin the lives of billions of people in the coming decades is certainly one of the greatest moral issues in history, so the Vatican’s voice is certain welcome.

Here are some excerpts from the “Report by the Working Group Commissioned by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences”:

Anthropocene: Aggressive exploitation of fossil fuels and other natural resources has damaged the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the land we inhabit. To give one example, some 1000 billion tons of carbon dioxide and other climatically important “greenhouse” gases have been pumped into the atmosphere. As a result, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air now exceeds the highest levels of the last 800,000 years. The climatic and ecological impacts of this human interference with the Earth System are expected to last for many millennia, warranting a new name, The Anthropocene, for the new “man-made” geologic epoch we are living in.

The word anthropocene “was coined in 2000 by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen,” who co-chaired the distinguished group of international scientists that put together this report. Still, it’s nice to see the panel and the Vatican embrace the term.

Perspective on Past Changes: In response to the argument that “since the Earth has experienced alternating cold periods (ice ages or glacials) and warm periods (inter-glacials) during the past, today’s climate and ice cover changes are entirely natural events”, we state:

The primary triggers for ice ages and inter-glacials are well understood to be changes in the astronomical parameters related to the motion of our planet within the solar system and natural feedback processes in the climate system. The time scales between these triggers are in the range of 10,000 years or longer. By contrast, the observed human-induced changes in carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, and soot concentrations are taking place on 10–100 year timescales -at least a hundred times as fast. It is particularly worrying that this release of global warming agents is occurring during an interglacial period when the Earth was already at a natural temperature maximum.

Snap. You go, myth-busting Vatican panel of scientists.

Since a sustainable future based on the continued extraction of coal, oil and gas in the “business-as-usual mode” will not be possible because of both resource depletion and environmental damages (as caused, e.g., by dangerous sea level rise) we urge our societies to:

I. Reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions without delay, using all means possible to meet ambitious international global warming targets and ensure the long-term stability of the climate system. All nations must focus on a rapid transition to renewable energy sources and other strategies to reduce CO2 emissions. Nations should also avoid removal of carbon sinks by stopping deforestation, and should strengthen carbon sinks by reforestation of degraded lands. They also need to develop and deploy technologies that draw down excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These actions must be accomplished within a few decades.

II. Reduce the concentrations of warming air pollutants (dark soot, methane, lower atmosphere ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons) by as much as 50%, to slow down climate change during this century while preventing millions of premature deaths from respiratory disease and millions of tons of crop damages every year.

III. Prepare to adapt to the climatic changes, both chronic and abrupt, that society will be unable to mitigate. In particular, we call for a global capacity-building initiative to assess the natural and social impacts of climate change in mountain systems and related watersheds.

The cost of the three recommended measures pales in comparison to the price the world will pay if we fail to act now.

The rest of the report is a brief review of the science.

A few key extracts:

  • “The temperature guardrail for avoiding “dangerous anthropogenic interference” is now proposed to be at 2° C warming (above the pre-industrial level), although many scientists argue and many nations agree that 1.5° C is a safer upper limit.”
  • “We cannot adapt to changes we cannot understand. Adaptation starts with assessment.”
  • “Geoengineering is no substitute for climate change mitigation.”

Kudos to the Vatican for putting together this panel and issuing its report. Pray for science.