The world has been dependent on fossil fuels for energy mostly since the industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Power-driven advances in the steel, electric, and automobile industries defined this era. In 1901, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was 296 parts per million (ppm). In 1800, it was 283 ppm. In contrast and in line with the enormous expansion and use of fossil fuels, the concentration of atmospheric CO2 in the year 2000 was 370 ppm, and the recent May 2020 value recorded at 417 ppm. These measurements show that the burning of fossil fuels, which are rich in carbon, has drastically changed the atmosphere in a relatively short period.
Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases trap heat energy in the atmosphere, and the levels continue to rise. The earth’s climate has been warming due to the elevated concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane gas, among other factors (i.e., depletion of rain forests). Methane is released from melting permafrost, faulty gas pipelines, certain livestock, and other sources. One example of warming is the averaged global land and ocean surface temperature for March 2020 was 2.09°F above the 20th-century average, which is a significant, consequential increase.
The world must find ways to decrease the releases of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases; this requires significant reductions in the use of fossil fuels. In addition to the essential transition to renewable sources of energy (solar, wind, batteries, etc.), organizations and individuals should discontinue financial support of fossil fuels. Recently, forty-two institutions connected with various religious denominations announced their decision to divest from investments in the fossil fuel industry. An organization called Operation Noah encourages church collaboration and action regarding climate change. They stated, “This is the largest-ever joint announcement of divestment from fossil fuels from faith institutions.” Alongside this announcement, Pope Francis recently released a new document called “On the Journey for Care of the Common Home” (so far only printed in Italian). According to the Vatican News, the document speaks on climate change, and its “profound environmental, ethical, economic, political, and social relevance which impacts the poor above all.”
Julie Peller Ph.D. 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.