Midlands Voices: Let’s build consensus for action to promote climate stability

February 22, 2018
By Daniel R. DiLeo and Richard W. Miller
Omaha World Herald

DiLeo is assistant professor and director of the Justice and Peace Studies Program at Creighton University. He is also a consultant to Catholic Climate Covenant. Miller is associate professor of systematic theology and associate professor of sustainability studies at Creighton.

This week Creighton University hosted a lecture by V. Ramanathan, Ph.D, a world-renowned climate scientist who advised Pope Francis on his ecological encyclical, Laudato Si’. As Catholics, we affirm the Church’s consistent teaching that climate change is an urgent moral issue. As Americans we ask that people of faith and goodwill demand science-based climate change policies from our elected officials, and implore our leaders to preserve the climate upon which civilization depends.

In 1859, Irish physicist John Tyndall showed that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere trap heat in a process called the “greenhouse effect.” Since then, human activities — especially fossil fuel combustion — have radically increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

At the same time, our planet’s surface temperature has increased nearly two degrees Fahrenheit in the past 150 years. This is no coincidence. As the National Aeronautics and Space Administration reports, “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

Human-forced global warming is having profound effects across the planet. For example, the Greenland and Antarctic sheets have lost miles of ice in the past decade, and glaciers around the world are melting rapidly. As a result, global sea level rose eight inches over the past century, and a growing number of distinguished researchers warn that we could already be committed to 10 to 16 feet of sea level rise.

Climate change affects people around the world — especially the poor who contribute least to the problem. Sea level rise displaces coastal communities. Drought causes food and water stresses that lead to resource conflicts, political instability and violence. Increased severe weather events produce malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress that, according to the World Health Organization, already cause 150,000 annual deaths globally and may lead to an additional 250,000 fatalities between 2030 and 2050.

There is a growing danger that we will soon pass tipping points that lead to irreversible global warming and effects beyond human control. This is due to the long lifespan of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (thousands of years), and because of so-called “feedback loops.” For example, permafrost melt releases frozen greenhouse gases that further intensify the greenhouse effect.

Faced with these realities, the Catholic Church, beginning with Saint John Paul II in 1990, has recognized climate change as a moral issue implicating core commitments of the Christian tradition to protect human life and dignity, promote the common good, exercise special concern for the poor and vulnerable, and care for God’s gift of creation. In defense of these commitments, the Church has repeatedly supported action to address climate change.

Since climate change is a global problem that voluntary actions and regional policies have failed to address, the Catholic Church has repeatedly advocated for national and international climate change policies.

Domestically, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops supports the Clean Power Plan. Internationally, the USCCB calls for American contributions to the Green Climate Fund. Additionally, the Vatican under both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis advocates for a global climate change accord — most recently the Paris Agreement.

Many American politicians and corporate leaders — including from Nebraska — have resisted these and other policies for climate stability. Instead, they have largely chosen to ignore the overwhelming scientific consensus about human-forced climate change and support energy plans providing short-term financial benefits for some persons at the long-term expense of climate stability for all humanity — indeed, all creation.

As U.S. Catholics, we ask that people of faith and goodwill demand science-based climate change policies from our elected officials. We also implore our leaders to enact policies preserving the climate upon which human life and dignity, the common good and all creation depend.