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Pope delivers stern warning on climate, with 5 key points

Photo credit: Christoph Wagener/Wikimedia Commons

Photo credit: Christoph Wagener/Wikimedia Commons

Scott Sutherland
Meteorologist/Science Writer

Thursday, June 18, 2015, 9:20 AM - Pope Francis' encyclical on climate change was leaked to the press on Monday, but on Thursday the 100-plus page document was officially released to the public with a message to the world: radically transform how we live, consume and produce, or face the destruction of not only the environment, but humanity as well.

"Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet," Pope Francis wrote in the letter. "In this encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home."

Here are five major points from the encyclical, officially released on Thursday, June 18.

1. Human activity is responsible for the majority of global warming

Pope Francis does not mince words here.

"The catastrophic predictions now can no longer be looked on with contempt and irony. We can leave to future generations too many ruins, deserts and filth," the draft encyclical says.

Although he acknowledges that there are some natural causes for global warming, the encyclical will be clear about the role of humanity:

"It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanism, the changes in the orbit and the axis of the Earth, the solar cycle)," the draft text reads, "but numerous scientific studies indicate that most of the global warming in recent decades it is due to the large concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) mainly emitted due to human activity."

2. The poor will be disproportionately affected by climate change

The changes in Earth's climate system that will result from global warming are poised to affect the entire world in one way or another. However, Pope Francis - already a champion the less fortunate - puts specific emphasis on how climate change will affect poorer and less developed nations.

"There is an ecological debt that the North has to the South," the text reads, referring to the fact that the more developed nations in the northern hemisphere are responsible for the majority of the current greenhouse gas emissions.

He does not give these poorer nations carte blanche in their desire to be more developed, however. Instead, he warns these nations off the path of industrialization, and counsels them to accept the help of more developed countries in combating climate change, and to find a new path that is more sustainable.

3. "Middle road" solutions are only a delay on the path to destruction

Pope Francis undoubtedly supports the world's movement towards climate action, especially with the upcoming climate talks in Paris later this year.

However, in the document, he comes down hard on the idea of carbon trading as a proposed solution, writing that this plan "could give rise to a new form of speculation and would not help to reduce the overall emission of polluting gases" and that it could "support the super-consumption of certain countries and sectors."

Instead, he supports the wholesale movement away from fossil fuels, and cites solar power as the ethical choice (while cautioning that even this needs to be applied responsibly and fairly throughout the world).

4. Reliance on technology to save us is path to doom

Although technological solutions will certainly come into play with any climate action plan, the message of the encyclical includes a warning to avoid "blind trust" in these kinds of solutions.

"Unfortunately, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis are frustrated not just by the refusal of the powerful, but also because of lack of interest among the rest of us," the text reads. "Denial of the problem also occurs in wanting to be comfortable and a blind trust in technical solutions."

5. Radical transformation of how we live will be necessary for real change

Some solution proposed by Pope Francis, for changing our way of life, are quite simple. For instance, he recommends getting out of the house more, to connect with friends and neighbors, and also with nature. 

"The environment is also a way of communing with the divine," he wrote in the document.

Not only does getting out into nature, and seeing the natural world, bring a connection to it that helps promote protection of those environments (ask any astronaut who sees the world from orbit), connecting with others around us builds stronger societal bonds.

"Living in environments deprived of harmony can cause inhuman behavior and leave inhabitants susceptible to corrupt organizations: for instance, the social anonymity of living in the suburbs," the encyclical says. "However, love is stronger, and once ego and selfishness are overcome, living in crowded conditions can also cause a sense of community and lead to improvements in this area."

While these are fairly quick and easy methods of strengthening our connection to the world and those living in it, the key to Pope Francis' message is that we need to radically transform our way of life in order to halt the "unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem."

"The most extraordinary scientific progress and the most prodigious economic growth don’t necessarily give authentic social and moral progress to humanity," Francis wrote in the draft. Instead, he promotes the "urgency and necessity of a radical change in human conduct" and "a dialogue about how we’re building the future of our planet."

Among his more radical ideas is the establishment of a "true world political authority" which would "manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis, to prevent deterioration of the present and subsequent imbalances; to achieve integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to ensure environmental protection and pursuant to the regulations for migratory flows."

Scientific, social, economical, ethical... and now moral

There are already several reasons why we should address climate change and cut back on carbon pollution. At least 97 per cent of climate scientists agree that human activity is the dominant cause of the current warming trend, and the science clearly shows the dangers of continuing on our current path. Socially, everyone will suffer the consequences of climate change in some way, so its everyone should do their part to help, or at least cause no harm. Economically, there will be less impact if we deal with climate mitigation and changes in energy infrastructure now, rather than later (or not at all). Ethically, it's about taking responsibility for our actions and mistakes, and working to correct those mistakes.

Now, Pope Francis is emphasizing the moral case - that from a religious perspective, humanity has been "gifted" with the Earth, but has also been tasked with the care of this world.

"It is important to read the biblical texts in their context," Pope Francis' encyclical will read, "and remember that these invite us to 'cultivate and care for' (Gen. 2:15) the garden of the world. While 'cultivate' means to plow or work a plot, 'to care for' means to protect, heal, preserve, conserve, to watch over. This implies a responsible reciprocity between human being and nature. Every community may take from the bounty of the earth that which it needs for its own survival, but it also has the duty to protect it and ensure the continuity of its fertility for future generations."

Sources: Slate | The Guardian | Think Progress

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