by Ron Benenati
A report commissioned by the Vatican's Scientific Panel, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences doesn't mince words: it urges the world to act quickly and strongly to address climate change.
It says: "humans must act decisively now to avert a coming crisis."
"We have entered a new geologic epoch that began when the impacts of mankind on the planet became a major factor in environmental and climate changes."
"We call on all people and nations to recognize the serious and potentially reversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants," it says. "If we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us."
The report says climate change is already underway and that action is necessary as a matter of social justice, especially for the poor. It ties action to the biblical idea of "stewardship" for the Earth, described here as "a planet blessed with the gift of life." It asks "all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink."
It concludes: "The believers among us ask God to grant us this wish."
The Vatican commissioned the report to address the "causes and consequences" of the retreat of mountain glaciers. Researchers initially focused on glacier retreat, but ended up looking deeper into its causes.
The Working Group was co-chaired by Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Scripps Climate and Atmospheric Scientist, and Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen. It includes glaciologists, climate scientists, meteorologists, hydrologists, physicists, chemists, mountaineers, and lawyers.
Excerpts from the report, which was released yesterday:
We call on all people and nations to recognise the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses.
We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home.
By acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life.
We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us. The believers among us ask God to grant us this wish.
The Scientists acknowledge the toxic damage to air, water and land resources caused by the aggressive exploitation of fossil fuels and other natural resources including the estimated "1000 billion tons of carbon dioxide and other climatically important "greenhouse" gases [that] have been pumped into the atmosphere." They state that this "human interference" has resulted in the highest concentration of carbon dioxide in the air over the last 800,000 years.
Results of Human Activity
According to the papel scientific panel, climatic and ecological impacts of this "human interference" has resulted in worldwide Glacial retreat, "changes in the composition of the air and air quality that result in more than 2 million premature deaths worldwide every year and threaten water and food security."
"The widespread loss of glaciers, ice, and snow on the mountains of tropical, temperate, and polar regions is some of the clearest evidence we have for a change in the climate system which is taking place on a global scale at a rapid rate." This is contributing to a rise in sea level and threatens water resources of communities worldwide.
The report states that the pace of glacial retreat has been increasing since the 1980s. "The Alpine glaciers have already lost more than 50% of their mass."
"The recent changes observed in glacial behaviour are due to a complex mix of causal factors that include greenhouse gas forcing together with large scale emissions of dark soot particles and dust in "brown clouds", and the associated changes in regional atmospheric energy and moisture content, all of which result in significant warming at higher altitudes..."
... In contrast to natural climate and glacial changes the Earth has experienced throughout history, the papal scientists state."
"The primary triggers for ice ages and inter-glacials are well understood to be changes in the astronomical parameters related to the motion of our planet within the solar system and natural feedback processes in the climate system.
The time scales between these triggers are in the range of 10,000 years or longer. By contrast, the observed human-induced changes in carbon dioxide, other greenhouse gases, and soot concentrations are taking place on 10-100 year timescales - at least 100 times as fast.
It is particularly worrying that this release of global warming agents is occurring during an interglacial period when the Earth was already at a natural temperature maximum."
Vatican Scientists Recommend Three Measures
"Reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions without delay, using all means possible to meet ambitious international global warming targets and ensure the long-term stability of the climate system. All nations must focus on a rapid transition to renewable energy sources and other strategies to reduce CO2 emissions.
• Should also avoid removal of carbon sinks by stopping deforestation, and should strengthen carbon sinks by reforestation of degraded lands. They also need to develop and deploy technologies that draw down excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These actions must be accomplished within a few decades. "
• Reduce concentrations of warming air pollutants (dark soot, methane, lower atmosphere ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons) by as much as 50%, to slow down climate change during this century while preventing millions of premature deaths from respiratory disease and millions of tons of crop damages every year.
• Prepare to adapt to the climatic changes, both chronic and abrupt, that society will be unable to mitigate. In particular, we call for a global capacity-building initiative to assess the natural and social impacts of climate change in mountain systems and related watersheds.
The report says "the cost of the three recommended measures pales in comparison to the price the world will pay if we fail to act now."
Read the report: