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The Guardian, April 28, 2015

Vatican official calls for moral awakening on global warming

Increasing use of fossil fuels is disrupting Earth on an “almost unfathomable scale”, a top Vatican official has said, warning that a “full conversion” of hearts and minds is needed if global warming is to be conquered.

The statement by Cardinal Peter Turkson, Pope Francis’s point man for peace and justice issues, was made at a Vatican summit on Tuesday, which focused on climate change and poverty. His call for a moral awakening of politicians and people of faith is a likely precursor to the highly anticipated encyclical on the environment, which was drafted by Turkson and which Pope Francis is expected to release in June.

“In our recklessness, we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries,” warned Turkson. “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.”

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general who delivered the keynote address at the summit, said he believed the pope’s encyclical – coupled with the pontiff’s planned speeches before the UN general assembly and a joint session of the US Congress – would have a profound impact on climate change negotiations.

“[The encyclical] will convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience,” Ban said.

While he declined to comment on any details of the encyclical following his morning meeting with the Argentinean pontiff – the document has already been written and is being translated – he said he was counting on the pope’s “moral voice and moral leadership” to help accelerate talks.

Pope Francis’s September address will be the first time any pope has spoken before a special session of the general assembly.

Both Turkson and Ban emphasised 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,” Ban said.

Turkson called on leaders of all faiths to be good 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. This is why Pope Francis has chosen to issue an encyclical on protecting the environment at this unique moment in time.”

The Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity meeting has brought about a rare meeting of minds between scientists and religious officials on climate change, even if they frame their arguments in different ways.

Teresa Berger, a professor at the Yale Divinity School, said she believed the encyclical would have an overarching theological vision – one of “a God-sustained universe, anchored in a theology of creation as articulated in the biblical witness. And based on this, Pope Francis will probably not mince words, but note as evil, for example, the sin of exploiting the Earth.”

Francis has already said he believes global warming is mostly manmade and that a Christian who does not protect God’s creation “is a Christian who does not care about the work of God”. He has also linked environmental exploitation to social and economic inequality, saying: “An economic system centred on the god of money needs to plunder nature to sustain the frenetic rhythm of consumption that is inherent to it.”

Activists hope the summit and the encyclical will influence the next round of international negotiations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which will take place in Paris in November. The pope, whose foray into diplomacy helped spur negotiations between the US and Cuba, is expected to address the topic in a speech before the UN in New York in September.

Some conservatives in the US, where the Republican party has fiercely resisted attempts to regulate greenhouse gases and questioned the scientific consensus on global warming, have criticised the pope for getting involved in the issue.

“Francis sullies his office by using demagogic formulations to bully the populace into reflexive climate action with no more substantive guide than theologised propaganda,” Maureen Mullarkey wrote in First Things, a conservative journal.

Another conservative group, the Heartland Institute, which seeks to discredit established science on global warming, held its own meeting in Rome on Monday– and will hold a second on Tuesday – in which officials derided the pope for taking on the issue.

“You demean the office that you hold and you demean the church whom it is your sworn duty to protect and defend and advance,” said Lord Christopher Monckton, a prominent climate sceptic and former policy adviser to the former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. Monckton’s opinions have been refuted by scientists, who have called his statements “very misleading” and “profoundly wrong”.

The summit at the Vatican has been organised by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and its stated goal is to help “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”.


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This article originally appeared here.

Jeffrey pine photo by John Villinski.