Pope Francis Warns on Climate Change


In 2015, Pope Francis offered a sprawling meditation on man’s place on Earth and the spiritual implications of human-caused global warming. Eight years later, he appears to have little patience for such ruminations.

In an updated environmental treatise published this week, the pope names and shames the countries and industries he sees as bad actors and makes an urgent plea for collective action.

“With the passage of time, I have realized that our responses have not been adequate, while the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” he writes in “Laudate Deum,” which was issued at the start of a major gathering of bishops and lay people at the Vatican.

He specifically takes aim at citizens of richer countries and the “irresponsible lifestyle” of the developed world.

“If we consider that emissions per individual in the United States are about two times greater than those of individuals living in China, and about seven times greater than the average of the poorest countries, we can state that a broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model would have a significant long-term impact.”

Although the new work is slender compared to “Laudato Si’,” his encyclical on the environment, it offers a comprehensive overview of climate science, the energy transition and the global political landscape.

In clear, precise language, the pope identifies the burning of fossil fuels as the primary driver of climate change, details the effect on the planet and people, dismisses those who deny the crisis, and accuses wealthy individuals, corporations and countries of selfishly turning a blind eye.

“The United Arab Emirates will host the next Conference of the Parties (COP28). It is a country of the Persian Gulf known as a great exporter of fossil fuels, although it has made significant investments in renewable energy sources,” the pope writes. “Meanwhile, gas and oil companies are planning new projects there, with the aim of further increasing their production.”

Celia Deane-Drummond, a theologian and director of the Laudato Si’ research institute at the University of Oxford, said it was a remarkable document, capturing the pope’s urgent sense of concern in the face of a tepid global response.

“He’s quite exasperated by what hasn’t happened,” she said. “This is kind of one last attempt to shake people up.”

Zeke Hausfather, a prominent climate scientist, called this summer’s worldwide heat wave “absolutely gobsmackingly bananas.” The past year has been marked by extreme weather around the globe, from wildfires in Canada and Europe to deluges in Libya and China.

The pope has clearly been paying attention. He writes that the natural disasters are just “a few palpable expressions of a silent disease that affects everyone,” while lamenting the loss of biodiversity and the rising economic toll of climate change.

The pope also included details that reveal a sophisticated understanding of some of the nuances of climate science.

He talks about the rising concentration of greenhouse gas parts per million in the atmosphere, noting that the data has been confirmed by “the Mauna Loa observatory, which has taken daily measurements of carbon dioxide since 1958.”

He mentions feedback loops such as “the reduction of ice sheets, changes in ocean currents, deforestation in tropical rainforests and the melting of permafrost in Russia.”

And he expressed doubt that technological remedies alone would be enough to combat climate change if the world doesn’t stop burning fossil fuels.

“To suppose that all problems in the future will be able to be solved by new technical interventions is a form of homicidal pragmatism,” he writes, “like pushing a snowball down a hill.”

The new treatise goes beyond simply taking stock of current events. The pope calls out those he says are to blame. As he did earlier this year, Pope Francis calls for the abandonment of fossil fuels. And he acknowledges that major corporations are unlikely to change out of the goodness of their hearts.

“Regrettably, the climate crisis is not exactly a matter that interests the great economic powers, whose concern is with the greatest profit possible at minimal cost and in the shortest amount of time,” he writes.

He gives a withering critique of the failure of the United Nations climate change conferences, and says this year’s summit will only be successful if it results in “binding forms of energy transition that meet three conditions: that they be efficient, obligatory and readily monitored.”

The pope, who has battled with conservative critics within the church, also calls out climate deniers, citing the “dismissive and scarcely reasonable opinions that I encounter, even within the Catholic Church.”

In total, it was an altogether different sort of papal rhetoric — equal parts exasperated, accusatory and prescriptive.

“He’s very practical and he’s very pointed,” Dr. Deane-Drummond said. “I think that he’s gotten tired of speaking in generalities.”

Heavy downpours like the one that turned New York City streets into raging rivers last week are becoming increasingly frequent as the world warms. And it’s not just the changing climate that is making floods deadly: More people are also moving into harm’s way.

New research in the journal Nature shows that humans now occupy more than twice as much land in flood-prone areas as they did four decades ago. The trend is especially dramatic in China and Vietnam, which together account for more than half of the planet’s recent expansion into areas with major flood hazards, and also in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia and Thailand.

“Ideally, what we would like to see is that human settlements are avoiding these flood zones,” said Jun Rentschler, a World Bank economist and lead author of the new study. “What we find is, on average globally, it’s the opposite that’s happening: Rather than gradually reducing exposure to flood hazards, many countries are rapidly increasing it.”

The researchers analyzed decades of satellite data to see how the physical footprints of cities and towns changed worldwide between 1985 and 2015. They then compared this expansion with high-resolution maps of present-day flood exposure. They found that, around the world, humans occupied about 56,000 square miles of flood-prone land in 2015, up from 26,000 three decades earlier.

In some nations, the safest land might already be occupied, forcing new development to occur in hazardous areas that had once been avoided. Governments also want property-tax revenues. People want second homes. And waterfront living has long had a certain appeal — but maybe not for much longer.

Raymond Zhong

Read the full story here.

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After drenching Bermuda, parts of the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico in the middle of the week, Tropical Storm Philippe is forecast to bring heavy rains and high winds to New England this weekend.

The heavy rain is expected to begin late on Friday night, and could also cause flash flooding in northern New York State, northern Pennsylvania and New England, said Bob Oravec, a lead forecaster at the Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Md.

Amanda Holpuch


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