This month, Pope Francis declared to the world that we are in the midst of a climate emergency. He stated that if we do not respond quickly and effectively, the inaction would be “a brutal act of injustice toward the poor and future generations.” He continues to plead to adults and leaders, “Future generations stand to inherit a greatly spoiled world. Our children and grandchildren should not have to pay the cost of our generation’s irresponsibility.” The bottom line is that we have lived in an irresponsible, Creation-polluting manner for a long time. Are we willing to make changes and become caring stewards of the earth?
As a scientist, I am dismayed by the facet of the population that has chosen to either ignore or reject the enormous amount of excellent work done by talented climate scientists around the globe. We should be grateful for their work. In my career experiences, I have been very blessed to interact with many brilliant and committed scientists. The motivations of the scientific community are to better understand the world, to improve the world and to help solve problems of all sorts. Another critical component of the world of science is the peer review process. All published science is reviewed and critiqued by others with the expertise.
Pope Francis was trained as a scientist, but is not the first Pope to heed the warning of climate change and environmental degradation. Pope Benedict expressed that Creation is harmed “where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone.” In 1990, Pope John Paul II wrote “Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person extends to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God.”
Numerous predicted effects of climate change are now taking place in the US and around the world. Dr. Philip Duffy, the director of the Woods-Hole Research Center, summarized some of this information. “The last five years are the five hottest on record globally. NOAA reports the winter of 2018–2019 was the wettest on record in the United States, with severe floods from California to Tennessee. Wildfire activity in the western US has increased ten-fold in recent decades, and last year’s fires in California led to the bankruptcy of a major utility company there. Even adjusted for inflation, the world had never seen a year with more than 30 disasters causing at least $1 billion in damage until 2010—but since then we’ve had six such years, according to insurance broker Aon.”
Pope Francis is one of many conscientious leaders who continues to remind us of our responsibility to take action ASAP. Maybe this should start by looking into the eyes of a young child and deciding what type of world you want to leave to the younger and future generations. In addition to praying for Creation, we all need to take action in all possible ways. One of the most crucial components for addressing climate change is the choice of responsible world leaders – those committed to tackling this grave moral issue. It is more important than ever to elect and support leaders who will address this critical problem (earth’s climate emergency) at this critical time.
Julie Peller PhD, is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in: Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work.