Mayors Flock to Vatican to Sign Pope Francis' Climate Declaration
Mayors and governors from major world cities are convening at the Vatican today and tomorrow in a first-of-its-kind meeting to urge global action on climate change. The summit is part of Pope Francis' ongoing campaign to urge global leaders to take meaningful action on climate change at this year's UN climate talks in Paris.
— Christine Pae (@christinepae) July 21, 2015
The leaders will sign today a declaration stating that the Paris summit "may be the last effective opportunity to negotiate arrangements that keep human-induced warming below 2 degrees centigrade."
In one of the opening speeches, California Gov. Jerry Brown "denounced global warming deniers, who he said are 'bamboozling' the public and politicians with false information to persuade them that the world isn’t getting warmer," according to The Blaze. Gov. Jerry Brown, whose state is in the midst of an epic drought, urged world leaders to stand up in opposition to climate deniers.
“We have a very powerful opposition that, at least in my country, spends billions on trying to keep from office people such as yourselves and elect troglodytes and other deniers of the obvious science,” said Gov. Brown. The final declaration states that “human-induced climate change is a scientific reality and its effective control is a moral imperative for humanity.”
Gov. Brown's remarks were met with rapturous applause, and to Brown's credit, California's environmental policies are a model for other governments. But many believe Brown needs to do more.
David Siders of The Sacramento Bee and George Skelton of The LA Times both point out that the Pope and the governor part ways on cap and trade. Brown's administration has hailed it as a solution to "throw off the shackles of fossil fuel dependency" while growing the economy, according to Skelton.
The Pope, on the other hand, was heavily critical of the concept of cap and trade in his encyclical. Buying and selling carbon credits, Pope Francis wrote, “may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.” Skelton calls cap and trade a "euphemism" for "peddling pollution permits" as a way to raise "a ton of money for state government."
And there's another big issue Pope Francis and Gov. Brown don't see eye to eye on: fracking. It hasn't received much attention from the press, but the Pope spoke out against fracking in 2013 when he was interviewed by a fellow Argentinian, Fernando Solanas, who produced the documentary La Guerra del Fracking, or the Fracking War.
“We in the faith community applaud Pope Francis for highlighting the moral imperative of addressing climate change and protecting creation, and appreciate that he is bringing leaders like Jerry Brown to the Vatican to highlight the issue,” said Rev. Ambrose Carroll, a senior pastor at the Church by the Side of Road in Oakland, California, and a member of Faith Against Fracking. “We hope he will be able to get Governor Brown to see the indisputable incompatibility of his attempts to fight climate change while enabling the worst climate polluters to continue fracking.”
Yesterday, Latino communities in California, who disproportionately live near fracking and other extreme oil drilling sites in the state, sent a letter to Pope Francis urging him to intercede on their behalf. In California, more than 60,000 children—of which 60 percent are Latino—attend school within one mile of a stimulated oil well, according to Californians Against Fracking. Last week, a California family sued Gov. Brown arguing that the state's new fracking regulations do not protect the health of Latino children.
The groups are hoping that Pope Francis will sway Gov. Brown to follow in the footsteps of states such as New York, which has an outright ban on fracking, and Maryland, which has a two-year moratorium.
Gov. Brown is "an American politician who, despite having done much to further the global conversation on climate change, continues to put his own state's environmental and public health at risk by supporting the expansion of fracking and other extreme oil drilling," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch.
"We urge Pope Francis to send a clear message to Brown and other elected officials that fracking—in California, in Europe or elsewhere—has no place in his vision for a greener planet.”
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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