On April 28th, the Vatican held a major conference on climate change that called for a moral awakening. The summit addressed the need for urgent action including reductions in our consumption of fossil fuels. The conference was titled, Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development. It was hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Science and included 60 scientists, religious leaders and diplomats.
The opening address was delivered by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the conference participants included the American economist Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the UN Sustainable Solutions Network and the Earth Institute at Columbia University. As Sachs explained to reporters,
“Companies that invest in fossil fuels will lose money. Everybody needs to understand that policies are going to change to make it unprofitable if you wreck the planet,” he said. “Those companies that continue exploring and developing fossil fuel resources for which there is no safe use are going to pay a very heavy cost for that.”
This event included participants from each of the world’s major religions. As explained by the Vatican the goal was to, “help build a global movement across all religions for sustainable development and climate change throughout 2015 and beyond…[and] elevate the importance of the moral dimensions of protecting the environment in advance of the papal encyclical and to build a global movement to deal with climate change and sustainable development.”
The encyclical which has already been written is currently being translated and it is expected to be released this summer.
A statement by Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, who helped the Pontiff to write his encyclical said, “the ever-accelerating burning of fossil fuels…is disrupting the earth’s delicate ecological balance on almost unfathomable scale.” He said that a “full conversion” of hearts and minds is needed if we are to succeed in meeting the threat of global warming.
“In our recklessness, we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries,” Turkson warned. “And the lesson from the Garden of Eden still rings true today: pride, hubris, self-centredness are always perilous, indeed destructive. The very technology that has brought great reward is now poised to bring great ruin.”
The conference specifically focused on what the Vatican called, “the intrinsic connection between respect for the environment and respect for people—especially the poor, the excluded, victims of human trafficking and modern slavery, children and future generations.”
The Heartland Institute, a fossil fuel funded lobby group that poses as a think tank sent a delegation to Rome to protest the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. However, the Pope has been unequivocal in his belief that man is the primarily cause of climate change. The Pope has called exploiting the Earth a sin and has also indicated that a Christian who does not protect God’s creation “is a Christian who does not care about the work of God.”
The conference repeatedly referencing the scientific observation that humans are the driving force behind climate change and no space was provided for the anti-scientific views of climate skeptics (aka climate deniers).
Both Turkson and Ban made it clear that scientists and people of faith were united in their call for action. “Science and religion are not at odds on climate change. Indeed, they are fully aligned. Together, we must clearly communicate that the science of climate change is deep, sound and not in doubt.”
In addition to slamming the door on climate denial, the conference urged industrialized countries to reduce their carbon footprints and invest in clean energy. Turkson also called faith leaders to be role models. “Think of the positive message it would send for churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples all over the world to become carbon neutral,” he said. “At a time like this, the world is looking to faith leaders for guidance.”
Acknowledging that our current trajectory invites calamity the final joint declaration was categorical in its emphasis on immediate action. “Human-induced climate change is a scientific reality, and its decisive mitigation is a moral and religious imperative for humanity.”
The message from the Vatican summit was that all people of faith should embrace climate action and part of those efforts involve reducing our reliance on fossil fuels.
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