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How faith, reason and environmental protection go hand in hand

How faith, reason and environmental protection go hand in hand

This spring, glaciologists released new data which suggested that the massive ice sheets in the Antarctic can melt faster than expected with climate change. We learned that the gulf stream and associated large-scale oceanic circulation which influences weather in the east coast and Europe is slowing down. These data were preceded by a report published by 30 leading scientists, which concluded that unchecked climate change poses existential threat.

As a co-chair of this report I can state that it was excruciating to arrive at the existential threat conclusion. But the massive data we reviewed left us with no other option. The very conditions on which human civilization has depended for the last 12,000 years are threatened by human ideologies, actions and systems that perpetuate climate change.

 

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Unchecked climate change can expose 70 percent of the population to lethal heat stress in addition to record-breaking storms, floods, extreme droughts and fires, exacerbating socioeconomic inequalities, and marginalizing the vulnerable from participation in society.

But, the report left out something crucial that here I would like to address.

It is not that nothing can be done to avert such a global catastrophe; far from it. As shown by numerous reports there are many scalable solutions to reduce the warming almost by half within 30 years and stabilize the warming below dangerous levels. We have about 10 years to deploy these solutions.

If such solutions are available, why are they not already being implemented? Because knowing is never enough! Something beyond knowledge must move the will to take actions. What is that something?

Today, untruth competes with truth to muddy the issue of climate change. The faith community can transcend divisions and bring together people of different perspectives to seek the truth and work for a moral revolution urgently needed for a sustainable relationship with nature: One where humankind challenges notions of domination over nature and sees itself as part of nature.

Science uses rational methodology backed by massive amounts of data to pursue physical truth about the world. Faith, on the other hand, uses experience and belief to pursue metaphysical, existential truth about the meaning of life and how humans should act in the world. Both are important, but each needs the other to understand the truth of reality; in the words of Saint John Paul II, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

The world’s major religious traditions, even if they interpret God differently, share a commitment to human life and dignity, the poor, and the protection of creation. I witnessed this personally at a meeting convened by Pope Francis with leaders of major faiths including evangelism, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

The Catholic Church recognizes that human-forced climate change compromises its faith-based commitments to protect human life and dignity, exercise special concern for the poor, and care for creation.

As a result, the Vatican used the Pontifical Academy of Science (PAS) of which I am a member to convene experts from many other fields thus assisting the pope in writing his 2015 encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si’. Laudato Si’ — consistent with previous papal teachings — identified human-made climate change as “one of the principal challenges facing humanity,” recognized the grave implications for human health and global equity.

The PAS continues to convene political and faith leaders and scientists to discuss climate change and human health, and to search for scalable solutions like an energy system based solely on renewables, financial support to the poor for climate adaptation, and the secession of deforestation.

Climate change is an existential threat that will require unprecedented cooperation between divergent sectors and members of society. As a climate scientist, I know that the faith community is critical to the process. I therefore urge persons of all faiths to prophetically help lead the nation towards a world of climate stability that safeguards the common home we all share.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan is a climate scientist at the University of California San Diego and council member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican.