The National Catholic Review
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Amid gloomy prognostications that the climate conference to be held in Copenhagen from Dec. 7 to 18 will fail to result in a legally binding treaty, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has warned that delays in reducing greenhouse gas emissions could lead to devastating global consequences. In an open letter to the U.N. General Assembly, he emphasized that “the moment is now” to conclude a binding treaty. The urgency stems from the fact that the noxious increase in emissions affects virtually every aspect of life on the planet, from poverty and economic growth to food security and clean water.

The primary purpose of the Denmark gathering is to create a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol of 1997, the U.N. endeavor to reduce global warming that expires in 2012. But the nations of the world do not agree on how to proceed. Neither the Clinton nor the Bush administration submitted the Kyoto Protocol to Congress for ratification, and in 1997 the Senate resolved by a vote of 95 to 0 not to ratify the treaty, if presented, unless China and other major developing countries accept binding limits on carbon production first.

Unfortunately, it is clear that the current Congress will not come forth with legislation on greenhouse gas emissions before the Copenhagen meeting. The United States will thus remain the only developed nation with no established target for carbon reduction. Per capita, we are the major producer of greenhouse gases, far exceeding even China.

Major challenges facing the 192 nations represented in Denmark include: How far are the industrialized countries willing to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions; how much are major developing countries, like China and India, willing to cut their own emissions; and how will developing countries receive the financing needed to reduce theirs and to implement low-carbon green technologies? The National Religious Partnership for the Environment and the Catholic Campaign on Climate Change have been vigorous advocates for integrating the world’s poor in a climate covenant with funding for both adapting infrastructure to meet the hardships of changing climate and for transferring green technology.

In some respects, the funding issue is “the key,” as Ban Ki-moon put it. The European Union is willing to give $100 billion a year toward green technology transfer to help poor nations mitigate the impact of global climate change, but development groups have estimated that at least $400 billion is needed. At a meeting in October in Barcelona to prepare for the Copenhagen gathering, a bloc of African countries threatened to boycott sessions if rich countries do not pledge more for climate change mitigation and technology transfers. Without adequate funding African nations and countries in Southeast Asia and Latin America will suffer the most from global warming, though they are far less responsible for the emissions.

Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See to the United Nations, pointed out to the General Assembly in November that delay is all the more worrisome because poor nations are already bearing the brunt of the planet’s warming. As ice caps melt and seas rise, vulnerable low-lying nations like Bangladesh will be seriously affected. Indeed, at the Commonwealth summit on Nov. 27 in Port of Spain, in Trinidad and Tobago, speakers noted that many of those least able to withstand adverse climate changes live in the small states of the Commonwealth.

Rampant deforestation is adding greatly to the increase in emissions. Large swaths of forests have been destroyed in Brazil’s Amazon region to make room for money-yielding crops, and the same is true in Indonesia and Congo. Living trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Once they are cut down, they release carbon dioxide, so deforestation amounts to a double loss.

But environmentalists emphasize that preserving forests must go hand in hand with protecting both indigenous communities and fragile biodiversity. Thus far each country has been free to set its own limits on deforestation. Some developing countries, like Brazil, have begun to make serious commitments in this direction, as well as in development of alternative energy sources.

By next year’s meeting in Mexico City, as evidence mounts of the harm done to regional ecologies, animal habitats and human settlements, especially among the poor, the need for an agreement will grow still more urgent. If the planet is to survive, as Pope Benedict XVI concluded in Caritas in Veritate, all nations must accept binding reductions in carbon emissions and construct an equitable structure for energy consumption and for sharing the development of green technology among rich and poor nations—for the sake of this generation and generations to come. p { margin-bottom: 0.08in; }

Read this article in Spanish. Translation courtesy Mirada Global.

Comments

C Walter Mattingly | 12/18/2009 - 9:36am

Although I am personally as uncertain about the global warming phenomenon being induced by co2 as I was about the scientists in the 70's when they assured us the new Ice Age was coming (which we are supposed to be experiencing currently), I strongly agree we should  attempt to reduce the levels of pollution we contribute to the atmosphere and waters of the earth. We can perhaps begin by examining what we have done the last half century that has contributed to pollution, emphasizing what is most easily correctable.


I understand that France leads the industrial world with the cleanest air. What have they done that is fundamentally different than what we in the US have done? Clearly, the greatest variance is that their power is now almost 80% derived from nuclear fuel, which emits virtually zero greenhouse gas, whereas we have used huge quantities of coal, the dirtiest by far of all the carbon based fuels. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have already died or suffered pulmonary problems from pollution caused by coal-fired utility plants.  Now we are talking about pumping these dirty gases and the polluted water deep into the ground in an effort to burn "clean" coal, never mind the water table.  Natural gas is far cleaner than either coal or oil.  We should stop this insanity by switching coal to natural gas in the short term and nuclear fuel for the intermediate term.  Solar and wind power have a much smaller potential in the near term, and they have their problems-wind power, for example, may have a devastating effect upon the raptors that soar the same wind currents employed to turn the windmills.  Longer term, hydrogen power (among other technologies) holds great promise, and we should continue supporting such development.


We have no time to waste. Tragically, Jane Fonda and the China Syndrome may have done more to pollute the air of America by thwarting nuclear power than any other avoidable single factor of our time.  We should begin converting coal plants to gas immediately and, like China, follow the lead of France and move to nuclear with all the speed that safe practices will afford us. 

C Walter Mattingly | 12/18/2009 - 9:33am

Although I am personally as uncertain about the global warming phenomenon being induced by co2 as I was about the scientists in the 70's when they assured us the new Ice Age was coming (which we are supposed to be experiencing currently), I strongly agree we should  attempt to reduce the levels of pollution we contribute to the atmosphere and waters of the earth. We can perhaps begin by examining what we have done the last half century that has contributed to pollution, emphasizing what is most easily correctable.


I understand that France leads the industrial world with the cleanest air. What have they done that is fundamentally different than what we in the US have done? Clearly, the greatest variance is that their power is now almost 80% derived from nuclear fuel, which emits virtually zero greenhouse gas, whereas we have used huge quantities of coal, the dirtiest by far of all the carbon based fuels. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have already died or suffered pulmonary problems from pollution caused by coal-fired utility plants.  Now we are talking about pumping these dirty gases and the polluted water deep into the ground in an effort to burn "clean" coal, never mind the water table.  Natural gas is far cleaner than either coal or oil.  We should stop this insanity by switching coal to natural gas in the short term and nuclear fuel for the intermediate term.  Solar and wind power have a much smaller potential in the near term, and they have their problems-wind power, for example, may have a devastating effect upon the raptors that soar the same wind currents employed to turn the windmills.  Longer term, hydrogen power (among other technologies) holds great promise, and we should continue supporting such development.


We have no time to waste. Tragically, Jane Fonda and the China Syndrome may have done more to pollute the air of America by thwarting nuclear power than any other avoidable single factor of our time.  We should begin converting coal plants to gas immediately and, like China, follow the lead of France and move to nuclear with all the speed that safe practices will afford us. 

Paul Louisell | 12/15/2009 - 6:08pm

I guess carbon dioxide is a bad thing.  A world government??? What in God's name are you thinking?


Show me where the man made greenhouse gases came from to cause the melting of the glaciers that used to cover Michigan.  Where is the science to support any of this?  Can you see the economic forces driving the green movement?  Can you see the political pressure by the under developed countries to redistribute wealth on a global scale.  Is this what Christianity is all about - The creation of a world wide government? 


I'm sorry, your politics has overtaken your theology.  I can't read this magazine anymore.

TM Lutas | 12/5/2009 - 9:36pm

Once again the editors of America don't let mere facts get in their way. The US is the #2 emitter overall of CO2 and the #9 emitter per capita. Per capita, China is #96 (source, Energy Information Administration). Truthiness and "fake but accurate" should have no place in a distinguished Catholic publication. 

Whatever contribution man has added to the normal sea level and temperature rises of natural processes,it is clear that present global climate models do not understand it. These GCMs have missed the story of flat temps for the last decade with trends showing very slight negatives. Nobody knows why.

Even though nobody understands why temps have stopped rising. Even though Hadcrut and GISSTemp are both mired in scandal, the first from the CRUTape letters, the latter from FOI lawsuits, we are to not take a pause to see whether the fix was in.

Rearranging the world economy to prevent global warming will kill many poor people from a lack of capital to solve immediate problems such as lack of clean water. If the models continue to be wrong in the decades ahead, they will have died in vain.

The AGW "act right now" brigade deny the existence of the Medieval Warm period" and the Little Ice Age. Until the AGW "act right now" crowd denied their existence these were well recognized time periods. The MWP/LIA deniers cannot justify their schemes to reorder the world so long as the MWP is recognized so down the memory hole they go. You see the MWP was warmer than today and climate was better, not worse, than today.

MICHAEL COLLINS MR/MRS | 12/5/2009 - 4:14pm
I am not a skeptic when it comes to belief that the climate is warming. One has only to look at the reduction in the size of the ice caps and of many glaciers. But (there is always a but), how much of this is natural and how much is man made is one question. What should we do about it is another. Many of the proponents of CAGW, while they are scientists, are apparently not Climatologists in the strictest sense of that term. And there is some thought that these are the folks to whom the politicians are paying court. I think those who write in favor of the Copenhagen accords, et al. ought to look at the comments of a climatologinst at George Mason university. I offer this link for your collective consideration.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/warming/debate/singer.html

I am not a climatologist, but this gentleman seems to give a fairly balanced view of the issue. I'm not sure how balanced some of the other opinions are.
Charles Lewis | 12/5/2009 - 3:33pm

I am becoming more convinced of two things: (1) the world is warming and (2) we really don't know why. As for the second part, the world is always undergoing climatic cycles. In fact, we are living in an inter-glacial period and one day glaciers will cover much of where we live. It's happened throughout all of geological history and it will happen again. So for all we know we are being subjected the normal course of events.

Wouldn't it be better that we accepted those things we can measure — rising sea levels, melting glaciers, etc. — and deal with the fallout from those events. 

We shouldn't be attempting to retool our entire economy unless we have a much better idea about the causes. Right now, the "evidence" is so full of noise that it can't be taken as gospel truth.

There's a third thing I forgot to mention: we are forgetting how to ask hard questions that go against conventional wisdom.

BRUCE ROBINSON MR | 12/4/2009 - 9:04pm

With regard to your current lead editorial on global warming, I would suggest you read Richard K. Lester's "The High Costs of Copenhagen" in the December 4 issue of The Wall Street Journal. Whether one agrees with the Gore hypothesis that the world is heating up because of man-generated carbon (and I do not), one has to look at the economic costs of the global warming advocates' Draconian measures to meet the carbon reduction targets set by the Obama administration. Lester, who is a professor and head of the department of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, provides what seems to me an intelligent and realistic analysis.

Jon Kraus | 12/4/2009 - 4:38pm
Bravo, Beth. I would go a step further and say that deniers of global climate change ARE in the same vein as the flat earth society. The misbehavior of a few unruly scientists doesn't change the facts, or our need to look at more sustainable ways.

Jason, we all got the memo on "climategate". It was an unfortunate occurrence, not in the sense that it changes anything, but that it gives fuel to those who choose to ignore the reality of global climate change.
LEONARD VILLA | 12/4/2009 - 12:09pm

I am amazed that you published this editorial!  At best the claims of the global warming crowd are controversial at worst they are the products of junk science! Add to this the scandal  re the e-mails of the Climatic Research Unit which show dishonesty from some of the world's leading climate scientists. The UN estimates that the green meeting in Copenhagen will give us 40,584 tons of CO2, equal it was reported to the total carbon footprint of Morocco in 2006. These proposed "green-fixes" will accomplish nothing and they are merely a disguise for greater government intrusion in the lives of citizens in order to war against free enterprise with crippling taxes supposedly to aid the planet. Sen Barbara Boxer has ordered an investigation into the climagate e-mail scandal.  This will be a great opportunit to scuttle junk science.  That moment is now!

Patrick Eicker | 12/4/2009 - 12:02pm
Looks like you folks didn't get the memo on climategate.

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