‘Those who profited least from the exploitation of fossil fuels and contributed least to greenhouse-gas emissions are hit hardest by global warming impacts’
FRISCO — It’s easiest to look at global warming through a purely scientific lens. Simple physics provide a completely logical explanation for the steady upward trend in global temperatures.
It’s much harder to to address the issue when you add politics and ethics to the equation, which is what Pope Francis sought to do with his recent “Laudato Si” encyclical on inequality and the environment.
Crafting the language may have been like walking on a tightrope above a political and religious minefield, but in the end, it will pay off by giving scientists more of a buffer for talking about climate and the environment in moral terms.
Take, for example, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. Long an advocate for reducing greenhouse gas emissions on scientific grounds, Schellnhuber was one of the key science advisors involved in helping the Vatican develop the encyclical, and when he spoke at at the event announcing the document, he was very direct about the connections between the moral and scientific parts of the equation.
“Not the poor but the wealthy are putting our planet, and ultimately humanity, at risk … those who profited least from the exploitation of fossil fuels and contributed least to greenhouse-gas emissions are hit hardest by global warming impacts, unless we strongly reduce emissions,” said Schellnhuber, the only scientist invited to speak, alongside Cardinal Peter Turkson.
In the run-up to the encyclical, Schellnhuber participated in a number of workshops organized by the highly renowned Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The document issued by the leader of more than one billion Catholics around the world is expected to be an important signal on the road to a global agreement on emissions reductions, to be negotiated by governments at the world climate summit in Paris later this year.
Other PIK scientists also connected the dots between economic and political choices and the environmental outcomes.
“The atmosphere, heaven above us all, is a global common – yet it is used as a waste-dump for greenhouse gases by the few,” said Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist of PIK and director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change.
“The Pope is making history in highlighting this. If we want to avoid dangerous climate change, we have to restrict the use of the atmosphere by putting a price on CO2 emissions. This would generate revenues which could be used to improve access to clean water or education, especially for the poor.”