By Dr. Carolyn Y. Woo
In the month of May, two notable reports on global warming were released by the White House and the Vatican. Developed by 300 scientists over 4 years through 70 technical workshops, the National Climate Assessment, focused on “actionable science,” provided sobering statistics and projected effects on each state in the union. For example: (1) the 10 warmest years on record all took place after 1988; (2) in 2012, one-third of the U.S. population experienced temperatures over 100°F for more than 10 days; and (3) the damage from drought, wild fires, floods and super-storms in that year cost $110 billion. On my visit to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, I learned that since 2004 there have been six major earthquakes of the magnitudes that created tsunamis like the ones in the Indian Ocean and Japan. There were zero in the 40 years preceding! So it is not only our atmosphere, but also the core of the earth, which is sending us angry messages.
The Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science hosted a 5-day summit titled “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility.” Comprising physical, environmental and social scientists as well as theologians, the summit addressed the limits and pathways that allow both humans (rich and poor alike) and earth to flourish. It calls for infusing what Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga termed “capacity of the “how” with the clarity of “for what.” The focus was not only on the environment, but also—and as important—on the subsequent burdens and injustices imposed on the poorest people. Reflected in the cardinal’s words, “nowadays man finds himself to be a technical giant and an ethical child,” its greatest concerns are not about whether we can address the issues, but whether we have the heart to do so.
Our will is indeed the crux of our collective challenge. Many studies have shown that we can: An analysis in The McKinsey Quarterly demonstrated that to reach the goal of keeping the temperature from rising by more than 2°C by 2030 (maintaining greenhouse gas at 450 parts per million), the cost would amount to 500 billion Euros, or 0.6% of global GDP. Compare this to 3.3%, the percentage we currently spend on global insurance. In addition, many of the approaches would actually generate net profits and 70% would not require new technology.
While we can hold back further deterioration, would we accept our responsibility to do our part? Objections to these reports used to question the evidence and suggest the conspiracy of scientists. Now, skepticism is cast on whether human actions are really the drivers of climate change, and even if so, what is the point of one country acting when others hold out? Thus there is no need for response. To the question “How much do you personally worry about Global Warming?” the April Gallup Poll of Americans yielded 43% of all adults who “worried a little or not at all.” Is this the manifestation of the “globalization of indifference” for which Pope Francis called us to accountability?
At the summit, 96-year-old preeminent oceanographer Walter Munk concluded, “This requires a miracle of love and unselfishness.” For this Pentecost, let us keep in mind our earth, our gratitude for it, our care of it and ultimately our stewardship for future generations as we pray to the Holy Spirit, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”
Dr. Woo is the president & CEO of Catholic Relief Services, the official overseas humanitarian agency of the Catholic community in the United States. This article is part of her ongoing monthly column, Our Global Family, written for Catholic News Service.