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Despite Pope's Call to Climate Action, Churches Still Hold Millions in Fossil Fuels

Climate

Pope Francis’ bold call to tackle climate change and save the planet appears to be in conflict with U.S. Catholic churches' millions of dollars of investments in fossil fuels industries, including fracking, a new Reuters report shows.

Journalist Richard Valdmanis combed through church disclosures and portfolios and found: "Dioceses covering Boston, Rockville Center on Long Island, Baltimore, Toledo and much of Minnesota have all reported millions of dollars in holdings in oil and gas stocks in recent years."

"The holdings tend to make up between 5 and 10 percent of the dioceses' overall equities investments," Valdmanis noted, "Similar to the 7.1 percent weighting of energy companies on the S&P 500 index, according to the documents."

Furthermore, the investigation finds that, while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops provides ethical guidelines discouraging investments in firms related to contraception, abortion, pornography and war, it does not issue similar warnings about fossil fuels stocks.

This is despite Pope Francis's 180-page Papal Encyclical, a formal letter to Catholic bishops released in June, underscoring the moral imperative to take aggressive steps to address climate change. "This home of ours is being ruined and that damages everyone, especially the poor," he wrote, adding: "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."

The Archdiocese of Chicago acknowledged to Reuters the contradiction between the pope's message and its over $100 million worth of fossil fuel investments. "We are beginning to evaluate the implications of the encyclical across multiple areas, including investments and also including areas such as energy usage and building materials," Betsy Bohlen, chief operating officer for the Archdiocese, told Reuters.

In response to growing grassroots campaigns across the globe, over 300 institutions worldwide have committed to divest from fossil fuels, roughly a quarter of them faith-based organizations. The United Church of Canada announced Tuesday it will be the latest religious institution to divest and the Catholic institution Georgetown University voted in early June, two weeks before the encyclical, to halt its direct investment of its endowment funds in coal mining companies.

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Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

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"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

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The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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