Our commitment to the common good

By Fr. Bud Grant

O.K., this is important. At the risk of hyperbole, this is the most important information on earth. On Oct. 6 (two days after the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, Patron of the Environment), the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its sixth report, the first of which was issued in 1990. IPCC, established by the United Nations in 1988, represents the best climate-science minds on the planet: thousands of experts from 195 member countries. Its syn­thesis reports are reviewed by experts, governments, editors, plenary representatives and then the whole panel. The IPCC won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.

In short, the findings of the IPCC are produced, vetted and approved by the most reliable voices the world has summoned. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree with the results. To question their work is more risky than questioning your doctor, airplane pilots, food producers, car manufacturers, police, soldiers, teachers, clergy or anyone upon whose expertise we rely every day, mostly without question. Let me be blunt: there is no reasonable alternative interpretation of the facts on Climate Change than the IPCC. Anyone saying otherwise has an axe to grind.

Having gotten that out of the way, what follows is a summary of the “executive summary” and please read it yourself: https://tinyurl.com/ybb8pt34.

One: Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, global warming has risen 1.0 degree C. It is likely to reach 1.5 degrees C by 2030-2052. This summer, two of my dearest friends became parents. Those children could be in junior high or perhaps new parents themselves by then. Please keep that in mind as you read.

Two: Even if we cut off all human-caused sources of Climate Change, cold turkey, today, we will continue to experience Climate Change for “centuries to millennia.”

Three: 1.5 degrees C is something of a red line; having crossed that threshold, our range of options for adapting to and mitigating (notice the absence of terms such as “heal” or “fix”) are drastically reduced. If we stay below that line we would achieve sustainable development, the eradication of poverty and reduce socio-economic inequalities world wide.

Four: the difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees C has to do with degrees of oceanic and land temperature, with extremes in “most inhabited regions,” heavy precipitation in some and drought in some regions (which could be the same regions in different seasons).

Five: sea level rise affects islands, deltas and low-lying coastal areas, where 53 percent of the U.S. population lives. The slower this happens, the better we can prepare.

Six: At or below 1.5 degrees C, some ecosystems and human systems will be lost, but there are many more options for the rest of us if we stay below 1.5 degrees C. Indeed, there is a 45 percent decline in CO2 emissions.

Let me pause: some readers have already checked out because a.) Climate Change is a politically charged term associated with an antipathetic ideology; b.) It is just too awful to contemplate. But, just as Catholics owe it to the victims to read the excruciating news of child abuse and its cover-up, we all owe it to future generations and to God’s creation to attend to this.

Seven: to keep below 1.5 degrees C we have to transition our energy sources, land use, urban infrastructure and industrial systems to degrees “unprecedented in terms of scale.” The goal is lower and more efficient use of energy. “Such large transitions pose profound challenges for sustainable management of … human settlements, food, livestock feed, fibre, bioenergy, carbon storage, biodiversity and other ecosystem services.” This “would require overcoming socio-economic, institutional, technological, financing and environmental barriers…” (IPCC 2018 C2.5). No small thing, obviously.

Eight: limiting global warming below 1.5 degrees C will work. Because of the “synergies” triggered by adaptation and mitigation, we can draw down our emissions.

Nine: even if we were aligned with the Paris Accord (which we aren’t), we wouldn’t achieve 1.5 degrees C by 2030. We have to do more, now. The responsibility has to be international, involving governments and multinational corporations. Without them, anything that individuals do is absurdly inconsequential, except one: vote.

Ten: that does not mean that we should not change our habits. After all, our lives are not measured by achievement but on our commitment to the good, which must include that of the marginalized, future generations, and God’s Creation.

This article is dedicated to Dennie Johnson and Demetri Whisker, born this past summer of loving parents who are dedicated to the good.

(Father Bud Grant is a professor of theology at St. Ambrose University in Davenport.)

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