Pope Francis took the climate crisis to those who can fix it: oil and gas execs

Pope Francis took the climate crisis to those who can fix it: oil and gas execs
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Pope Francis recently convened oil and gas corporation executives and investors to share some hard truths about fossil fuels and catastrophic climate change. In doing so, the Holy Father extended the Christian tradition of witnessing challenging truths to the public and influential members of society.

Despite the difficulty of his message, the pope knows that these leaders can help — or obstruct — the world’s collective efforts to shape a new energy future and hopes they will serve the common good.

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Four days after the meeting, an international scientific team announced west Antarctica is melting three times as fast now compared to 15 years ago and has lost 2.7 trillion tons of ice during that period. Together, we echo Pope Francis’s urgent plea that these leaders, as well as their colleagues and elected officials, rapidly embrace the changes that science indicates are necessary to avoid climate catastrophe.

 

Climate scientists agree climate change is mostly due to human activities and warn that humanity has a rapidly-closing window to avoid runaway and potentially irreversible climate impacts with dire humanitarian consequences. These include rising sea levels that are already displacing communities, as well as prolonged droughts, intense floods and extreme heat causing food and water stresses. With unchecked consumption of fossil fuels, such climate changes can worsen significantly within a few decades, exposing our children and grandchildren to unpredictable outcomes and an uncertain future. 

Under such impending stresses, it is not hard to imagine violent conflict over scarce resources, especially food and water. However, the good news is we still have time to do something about climate change; but not much time to waste. 

In response to climate change, Pope Francis — building on the teachings of Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that climate change is a moral issue — has encouraged and lived his commitment to personal encounter as a means of social transformation. Academic researchers identify social transformation as the second most important solution cluster for solving climate change.

Yet, while Pope Francis has met with physical and social scientists, theologians, and policy makers from city mayors to the United Nations Secretary-General, the June 8 – 9 Vatican climate conference was distinct because it facilitated an encounter with those uniquely able to support or prevent science-based solutions to climate change: fossil fuel corporation executives and financial investors.

During his remarks, the Holy Father emphasized — quite sensibly — that “energy use must not destroy civilization!” He also repeated the theme from Laudato Si’ that social, political, environmental and poverty-related challenges are all “interconnected” and will require integrated, holistic solutions.

In the face of climate change, the poor need greater access to energy — but as Pope Francis emphasized, “That energy should also be clean…Our desire to ensure energy for all must not lead to the undesired effect of a spiral of extreme climate changes due to a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, harsher environments and increased levels of poverty.”

The Holy Father lamented “the continued search for new fossil fuel reserves, whereas the Paris Agreement clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels underground.” 

Pope Francis noted that “unlimited faith in markets and technology…will be [in]sufficient to remedy the current ecological and social imbalances.” Instead, Pope Francis stressed the need for wise “political decisions, social responsibility on the part of the business community and criteria governing investments” all informed by commitments to “the long-term common good and concrete solidarity between generations.”

In the United States, many faith traditions — like countless secular groups — are taking advantage of extraordinary opportunities to reduce energy costs through efficiencies and renewables. For example, many Catholic institutions are using Catholic Energies from Catholic Climate Covenant. These local efforts send important signals to energy providers and investors, and complement advocacy for crucial public policies like the Paris Agreement. 

Without appropriate responses from fossil fuel corporation executives, financial investors and elected officials, however, these efforts will not adequately transform society in line with climate science. 

For the sake of our common home, we urge the oil and gas executives and financial investors whom Pope Francis recently addressed — as well as their colleagues and elected officials — to use their economic power and political influence to help shape a sustainable, truly clean energy future. Climate change is indeed “a challenge of epochal proportions,” as the Holy Father observed.

At this critical time in history, oil and gas executives and financial investors, along with elected officials, will help determine whether humanity avoids or careens into climate catastrophe that will unimaginably injure human life and dignity, especially of the poor and vulnerable, and wound all creation for which Christians are called to care.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Ph.D. is a distinguished professor of climate sciences at the University of California San Diego and council member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican.

Daniel J. Misleh is executive director of Catholic Climate Covenant.

Daniel R. DiLeo, Ph.D. is assistant professor and director of the Justice and Peace Studies Program at Creighton University.