Pope Francis: Acting on Climate Change Is Essential to Faith
Pope Francis will be touring the Philippines today, including a visit with survivors of Super Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, which was devastated by the typhoon that killed 6,300 people in 2013. Catholic organizations around the world are taking this opportunity to call on the pope and Catholics worldwide to take meaningful action on climate change.
A new initiative, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, has formed in response to man-made climate change. The organization is made up of "laity, religious and clergy, theologians, scientists and activists from all over the world" who have "come together to care for God’s creation, for the poor (who are the most vulnerable to extreme weather events), and for our children (who will face the worst impacts)." The group has written a statement that will be given to Pope Francis by Cardinal Tagle, the Archbishop of Manila.
Another climate group, 350.org, is urging the Pope to take action on climate and divest from fossil fuels. “As Pope Francis prepares to visit the impacted communities from Super Typhoon Haiyan, we need him to stand in defense of humankind and the environment and take the lead in actions that will help prevent further climate catastrophes. One such urgent action is full divestment from the fossil fuel industry. We urge the Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church to lead the way,” said Lidy Nacpil, 350.org board member.
Fossil fuel divestment has become increasingly popular among faith communities. According to 350.org, "Just in the last few months we’ve seen, the World Council of Churches decide to phase out its holdings in fossil fuels and encouraged its members to do the same." Anglican churches in Australia, New Zealand and Polynesia, the Quakers in the UK, the United Church of Christ in the USA and many more regional and local churches have also joined the divestment movement.
In 2014, the Pope became an outspoken advocate about the urgent need to address climate change. He wrote a letter to Tony Abbott, who headed the G20 summit in November about the "constant assaults on the natural environment," which he said was the "result of unbridled consumerism." He called learning how to respect creation "one of the greatest challenges of our time" and told university students that the "destruction of South America's rain forests" is a "sin." The pope also convened a five-day summit with scientists and experts on the environment. And he has come out against fracking.
The pope is not making any plans to quiet down in 2015—just the opposite. He is expected to publish an encyclical—the highest form of papal writing, which is sent out to the world's 1.2 billion Catholics—in the next couple months that will be on the "ecology of mankind." According to Dan Misleh, director of the Catholic Climate Convent, he will likely advocate action on climate change based on economics and science rather than morality, and he will warn his followers that "acting on climate change is 'essential to the faith.'"
The pontificate is hoping his encyclical will guide world leaders, who will convene at the end of the year at the U.N. Climate Summit in Paris, to finally take the necessary actions on climate change to avoid the most catastrophic outcomes. And his followers are hoping his divine intervention will work, too. “We look to Pope Francis to break the political impasse preventing real action on climate change. Twenty years of climate negotiations have left the world at the mercy of political and economic circles looking to protect their vested interests at the expense of mankind and the planet,” said Yeb Saño, Philippine Climate Change Commissioner. The pope is also scheduled to speak at the U.N. General Assembly in September when world leaders convene to announce new anti-poverty and environmental goals.
The Global Catholic Climate Movement's message is sure to resonate with the pope as he tours the typhoon-ravaged Philippines. In the organization's statement to Pope Francis, it reads: "The impacts of extreme weather on the vulnerable and marginalized become clear as we join the Holy Father in praying for all the families that were impacted by super Typhoon Haiyan—for the many thousands dead or missing and the countless more who remain homeless."
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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