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Majority of Catholics Are Worried About Climate Change and Support Immediate Action

Climate

Today marks the day of fast for Catholics in the U.S. as part of the "Lenten Fast for Climate Justice," a global campaign launched by the Global Catholic Climate Movement in partnership with Fast for Climate ChangeGreen Anglican Carbon Fast and others to encourage Pope Francis and the 1.2 billion Catholics around the world to take meaningful action in addressing climate change.

The Lenten fast is partially in response to Pope Francis’s call to action on climate change. 
giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

During this Lenten season, Catholics from more than 50 countries have signed up to fast for one day during the 40 days of Lent and today is the U.S.'s designated day. The goal of the fast is to “raise awareness on climate change” and to challenge Catholics to confront what Pope Francis has called “a globalization of indifference,” according to the National Catholic Reporter.

But are that many U.S. Catholics concerned about climate change? There's now data that says yes, according to a special analysis conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Overall, the organization found that Catholics, who make up 24 percent of all American adults, "are more convinced that global warming is happening, are more worried, and are more supportive of policy action than other Christians."

"We find that a solid majority of Catholics think global warming is happening (70 percent)," said Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. "By contrast, 57 percent of non-Catholic Christians think global warming is happening. Moreover, among those who think global warming is happening, Catholics are more likely than other Christians to think it is mostly human caused (48 percent versus 35 percent, respectively)."

Photo credit: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

Not only do they believe climate change is happening, but they are also more likely to be concerned about its impacts. "A majority of Catholics (64 percent) say they are very or somewhat worried about global warming—18 percentage points higher than all other Christians (46 percent)," said Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Photo credit: Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

It makes sense then, that more Catholics also express higher support for climate change policies than other Christians. "Catholics expressed the highest levels of support for funding more research into renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power (81 percent) and providing tax rebates for people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles or solar panels (81 percent)," according to Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.

Why more U.S. Catholics believe in climate change than other Christians is probably a complicated answer, but it certainly helps that their current leader, Pope Francis, who is extremely popular in the U.S. and globally, is an outspoken advocate for action on climate change.

Pope Francis celebrated his second anniversary as supreme pontiff on Friday, "Riding a wave of popularity that has reinvigorated the Catholic Church in ways not seen since the days of St. John Paul II," according to the Chicago Tribune. A recent poll from the Pew Research Center shows that nine out of 10 U.S. Catholics have a favorable view of Pope Francis, including six in 10 who have a "very favorable" view. The Pope is also viewed favorably by non-Catholics, including those with no religious affiliation. In a pew poll, 70 percent of all Americans and even 68 percent of religious "nones" view the so-called "people's Pope" favorably.

He's already more popular with U.S. Catholics than his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and almost as popular as Pope John Paul II, who has already been made a saint by the Catholic Church and is "widely considered one of the most charismatic and impactful pontiffs of the modern era," according to Pew.

In the last few months, the Pope has made headlines time and time again for his bold statements—saying that acting on climate change is "essential to faith," blasting "unbridled consumerism" for destroying the planet in a letter to G20 leaders before their annual summit, and calling the destruction of nature a "sin of modern times." Many Catholics around the world used the Pope's visit to the Philippines in January as an opportunity to urge the holy leader to take strong action on climate change.

His encyclical on the environment, which is expected to be released in June or July, is highly anticipated. The Pope has said he hopes the encyclical will spur negotiators at the Paris climate talks in December to make "courageous" decisions, according to the Chicago Tribune. He is also scheduled to visit the U.S. in September with a special visit to Congress, 30 percent of whose members identify as Catholic.

Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Vatican official who helped draft the encyclical said at a Lenten lecture at St. Patrick’s Pontifical University in Maynooth, Ireland that 2015 is “a critical year for humanity,” according to the National Catholic Reporter. In addition to the Paris climate talks, Turkson cited the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in July in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and the U.N. General Assembly’s meeting in September as two crucial global conferences to address climate change.

“The coming 10 months are crucial, then, for decisions about international development, human flourishing and care for the common home we call planet Earth," said Turkson.

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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