May. 24, 2017 06:55PM EST
Pope Francis defended the rights of indigenous tribes at the Indigenous Peoples Forum in Rome Wednesday. As part of a UN International Fund for Agricultural Development meeting, he spoke in Spanish with 40 representatives of the 300 largest indigenous groups in the world.
The longer we delay addressing environmental problems, the more difficult it will be to resolve them. Although we've known about climate change and its potential impacts for a long time, and we're seeing those impacts worsen daily, our political representatives are still approving and promoting fossil fuel infrastructure as if we had all the time in the world to slow global warming.
We can't say we weren't warned. In 1992, a majority of living Nobel prize-winners and more than 1,700 leading scientists worldwide signed a remarkable document called World Scientists' Warning to Humanity.
It begins, "Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that we will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about."
It then outlines critical areas where the collision was and is still occurring: the atmosphere, water resources, oceans, soil, forests, species extinction and overpopulation. In the 25 years since it was published, the problems have worsened.
The document grows bleak: "No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished. We the undersigned, senior members of the world's scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated."
Now, as monthly and annual records for rising global average temperatures continue to break, as extreme weather events become more frequent and severe, as refugees overwhelm the capacity of nations, and as tipping points for climatic feedback loops and other phenomena are breached, the need to act is more urgent than ever.
The warning suggests five steps needed immediately. That was a generation ago. They can still help prevent the worst impacts:
1. "We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the earth's systems we depend on." It specifically mentions reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air and water pollution. It also highlights the need to address deforestation, degradation and loss of agricultural soils and extinction of plant and animal species.
2. "We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively." This one is obvious. Finite resources must be exploited much more efficiently or we'll run out.
3. "We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all nations recognize that it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption of effective, voluntary family planning."
4. "We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty."
5. "We must ensure sexual equality and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions."
The warning recognizes that we in the developed world are responsible for most global pollution and therefore must greatly reduce overconsumption while providing technical and financial aid to developing countries. This is not altruism but self-interest, because all of us share the same biosphere. Developing nations must realize environmental degradation is the greatest threat to their future, while rich nations must help them follow a different development path. The most urgent suggestion is to develop a new ethic that encompasses our responsibility to ourselves and nature and that recognizes our dependence on Earth and its natural systems for all we need.
The document ends with a call for support from scientists, business and industrial leaders, religious heads and all the world's peoples. Like Pope Francis's groundbreaking 2015 encyclical, Laudato Si, the World Scientists' Warning to Humanity was an attempt to galvanize the world to recognize the dangerous implications of humanity's path and the urgent need for change.
Forewarned is forearmed. We can't let the lure of the almighty buck blind us. We must come together, speak up and act for the good of all humanity.
Without directly mentioning Donald Trump, the pope criticized climate deniers for "the ease with which well-founded scientific opinion about the state of our planet is disregarded." He said, "The 'distraction' or delay in implementing global agreements on the environment shows that politics has become submissive to a technology and economy which seek profit above all else. The pope's comments come two weeks before the one-year anniversary of the Paris agreement and more than a year since he penned an encyclical on the issue.
"We are not custodians of a museum or of its major artifacts to be dusted each day, but rather co-operators in protecting and developing the life and biodiversity of the planet and of human life present there," Pope Francis said. Modern-day humans have "grown up thinking ourselves owners and masters of nature," with the right to destroy it "without any consideration of its hidden potential and laws of development, as if subjecting inanimate matter to our whims."
For a deeper dive:
Destroying the environment is a sin, Pope Francis said in a message from Vatican City.
"Global warming continues," the pontiff said in a message released Thursday. "2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 will likely be warmer still. This is leading to even more severe droughts, floods, fires, and extreme weather events."
Pope Francis has sought to highlight the importance of environmental stewardship in his speeches.© Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk
He would like "caring for the environment" to be added to the traditional Christian works of mercy, which also include visiting the sick and feeding the hungry. The pope last year declared 2016 to be the "Year of Mercy," and urged Catholics to meditate on how they could reflect the love of God in the world.
He tied environmental concerns to the growing global migrant crisis.
"Climate change is also contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis," he said. "The world's poor, though least responsible for climate change, are the most vulnerable and already suffering its impact."
Catholics should use this year to reflect upon sins they may have committed against the environment, and also urged forgiveness for the "selfish" capitalist system which advocates "profit at any price."
"Economics and politics, society and culture cannot be dominated by thinking only of the short-term and immediate financial or electoral gains," the pope said. "Instead, they urgently need to be redirected to the common good, which includes sustainability and care for creation."
Pope Francis also targeted the indifference of many to environmental issues.
"We must not be indifferent or resigned to the loss of biodiversity and destruction of ecosystems, often caused by our irresponsible and selfish behavior," he said. "Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence … We have no such right."
Pope Francis also called Earth "our common home," and said that rich nations have an "ecological debt" to poorer nations in the south.
"Repaying [this debt] would require treating the environments of poorer nations with care and providing the financial resources and technical assistance needed to help them deal with climate change and promote sustainable development," he said in the speech.
Finally, he called on Catholics to consider what kind of world they want to leave for the generations that comes after.
Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Vatican's council for peace and justice, also had commentary in the speech marking the church's World Day of Prayer.
"Pope Francis is asking us to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that this is a sin—sin against creation, against the poor, against those who have not yet been born," Cardinal Turkson said.
"The first step in this process is to humbly acknowledge the harm we are doing to the earth through pollution, the scandalous destruction of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity, and the specter of climate change—which seems nearer and more dangerous with each passing year."
The pope is an "unlikely voice for the environment," The Guardian pointed out in an editorial comment. The pope has previously insisted, most notably in his encyclical released in 2015, that overpopulation is not a driver of environmental destruction.
Environmental protection is not taken seriously by a small minority of Catholics, who argue that increasing industrialization provides more jobs and keeps more people out of poverty, Catholic Online reported.
One scientist had criticized the pontiff when he raised ecological concerns last year. Speaking after Pope Francis' speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2015, renowned environmental scientist Paul Ehrlich criticized the Catholic Church for failing to preach the dangers of overpopulation and refusing to allow its congregants to practice family planning.
"The pope is dead wrong," Ehrlich said. "There is no competent scientist who would say that there is not a problem with population growth."
Pope Francis has made environmental consciousness one of his main focuses during his time in office. In 2015, he issued an encyclical—a teaching document—Laudato Si, which was the first ever to be issued that concerned the environment, Catholic.com reported. Also, encyclicals were traditionally addressed to bishops, and this one was the first to be addressed to every individual on the planet.
In it, the pope focused on pollution, climate change, water issues and the loss of biodiversity. He also linked these issues to global inequality.
In the encyclical, he called for human action: "Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it."
Contrary to public belief, Pope Francis is not the first pope with an environmental message. His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, also was concerned about climate change, and listed pollution as a "new sin" in 2008, U.S. News & World Report said.
By Katie Rucke
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are the answer to ending world hunger, at least according to the former leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Benedict XVI.
According to a 2009 WikiLeaks cable from the U.S. embassy in the Vatican, it was discovered that “Vatican officials remain largely supportive of genetically modified crops as a vehicle for protecting the environment while feeding the hungry,” as a result of lobbying efforts by the U.S.
The cables from the U.S. embassy indicated that if the U.S. could convince the church that GMOs were good, the church would be able to convince its members. This would be a boost for the GMO industry since the Catholic Church claims more than 1 billion members.
Given that GMOs have caused controversy around the world recently as questions arise about their impact on human health, it’s uncertain whether the church will be able to convince all its members GMOs are a good thing.
According to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, doctors should recommend non-GMO diets to all persons, since some animal studies have suggested that diets with GMO foods can lead to organ damage, gastrointestinal and immune system disorders, accelerated aging and infertility.
Several countries have banned the use of GMO ingredients or require labeling for products containing them. In the U.S., home to the big agriculture businesses that created GMOs, there is no GMO ban and Americans have just begun to demand GMO products be labeled as such.
Though the 2009 WikiLeaks cable revealed the Catholic Church was in favor of GMOs, Monsignor James Reinert, a member of the Vatican Council of Justice and Peace, noted that the Catholic Church has come to a “consensus on the need for GMOs with one caveat.”
“The Vatican cannot force all bishops to endorse biotechnology,” he said, “particularly if their opposition has to do with concerns over protecting profits of large corporations who hold the patents for the crops, versus feeding the hungry.”
Poor Health Epidemic Brought On By GMOs?
Some observers think GMO products, introduced by biotechnology companies such as Monsanto in 1996 to work toward ending world hunger and malnutrition, could be connected to an increase in the percentage of Americans with chronic illnesses, food allergies and disorders such as autism, reproductive disorders and digestive problems.
Reports from the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development also indicate that GMO crops do not necessarily increase yields.
According to the report, “assessment of the technology lags behind its development, information is anecdotal and contradictory, and uncertainty about possible benefits and damage is unavoidable.” In addition the report states that GMOs “have nothing to offer the goals of reducing hunger and poverty, improving nutrition, health and rural livelihoods, and facilitating social and environmental sustainability.”
The three most common GMO crops grown today include corn, soybeans and cotton. According to the Organic Valley Co-Op, the corn and soybeans are animal feed crops and nations that don’t consume a lot of meat won’t benefit from their use.
Science seems to have also poked holes in the church’s argument that GMOs protect the environment. In order to grow GMO crops, farmers have to use hazardous pesticides to remove weeds and keep insects away from the crops.
However, studies indicate that farmers with GMO crops not only have to use more pesticides when they have GMO crops, but have to use more hazardous pesticides.
These pesticides and herbicides have been found to harm birds, insects, amphibians, marine ecosystems and soil organisms. Studies have also found herbicides reduce biodiversity and pollute water.
Not only are these chemicals unsafe, they are expensive. According to the Organic Valley Co-Op, “the only farmers that can afford the seeds and chemicals are those from first-world countries or the wealthy landowners from developing countries, who grow the crops for export, not to feed the poor.”
New Pope, New Stance?
While the Catholic Church’s initial pro-GMO stance was issued under Pope Benedict XVI, the church’s current leader, Pope Francis, has yet to share his view on GMOs.
According to Al Jazeera, Pope Francis is a trained chemist, which gives him more information on the scientific aspect of consuming GMOs than his predecessor. Another factor that may influence Francis is his Argentinian heritage.
Argentina relies heavily on genetically modified crops. But a new documentary demonstrates the high usage of Monsanto-manufactured GMO seeds in the Latin American nation has caused issues with land ownership in addition to health problems.
Filmmaker Glenn Ellis summarized the documentary by saying that “… [D]octors and scientists claim that babies are being born with crippling birth malformations and that in recent years the incidence of childhood cancer has soared. It is a phenomenon, they say, that has coincided with the introduction of Monsanto’s seed.”
Visit EcoWatch’s GE FOOD page for more related news on this topic.