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Mayors Flock to Vatican to Sign Pope Francis' Climate Declaration

Climate

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.

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."

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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.

Several groups, part of the coalition Californians Against Fracking, are hoping that the Pope will use the summit as an opportunity to convince Gov. Brown and other world leaders to ban fracking.

“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 last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.

On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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