A 2022 United Nations report stated that climate change, which involves long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns, is “the most pressing issue facing humanity today.” Human activities, especially burning the fossil fuels coal, oil and natural gas, are contributing to the current severity of droughts, wild fires and tropical storms. If unchecked, global warming will “completely alter the ecosystems that support life on the planet.” Today, there is a near unanimous consensus among scientific experts that global warming is primarily anthropogenic, caused by human activity.
Scientists also help us understand the process of global warming that has increased significantly over the last 1,500 years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Burning fossil fuels releases gases especially, carbon dioxide, creating a “greenhouse effect,” forming a shield that keeps the heat reflected off the earth from dispersing into space. The heat trapped in the atmosphere causes temperatures on earth to rise (global warming) that leads to climate change.
In 1988, the United Nations established the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) charged with examining the relevant scientific literature and producing “Assessment Reports” to guide official policy decisions. This process led the U.N. to set the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C. (2.7 degrees F.) above pre-industrial levels – a goal generally accepted by most nations in the 2015 Paris Agreement.
On March 20, 2023 the IPCC issued a nearly 8,000-page comprehensive summary of the research of hundreds of scientists over the last five years on global warming and climate changes. Some of its main findings.
- There is a scientific consensus that human caused global warming, which has already reached 1.1-degree C. above pre-industrial levels, is causing climate extremes such as flooding and wild fires that disproportionally harm developing regions and poor people all over the world.
- The continuing emission of greenhouse gases at the current rate will push us to the 1.5-degree C. ceiling sometime between 2030 and 2035.
- The report estimates how much worse the situation will be if warming passes the 1.5-degree C. the ceiling and rises to 2 degrees C. Three times as many people would be exposed regularly to extreme heat; the rise of sea levels would be 0.06 meters higher by 2100; twice as many plant and animal species would be lost; marine fisheries would see catches decline twice as much as would crop yields, leading to food insecurity in some areas.
- Finally, the U.N. report says that we have the knowledge and resources to limit global warming and avoid the worst of the climate catastrophes. However, the window of opportunity is limited, perhaps a decade, and all nations must act swiftly and decisively to avert catastrophic harm to the earth and its inhabitants.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis recognizes a “very solid scientific consensus” that most global warming in recent decades is due to the “great concentration of greenhouse gases,” “released mainly as a result of human activities” (n23). He stresses the urgency of the crisis: “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” but must propel us into constructive action to save our planet.
According to a 2022 Pew Research poll, only 54% of adult U.S. Catholics agree with the pope’s position on anthropogenic global warming, with 25% saying it is due to natural patterns and 9% denying the earth is warming. Four out of ten Catholics who attend Mass regularly say their homilist never mentions climate change. Clearly, Pope Francis has not yet been able to convince large numbers of U.S. Catholics, clergy and laity, to join him in accepting the scientific consensus. Mindful that more must be done, in 2021, the pope has launched a seven-year new Laudato Si action plan, designed to overcome selfishness and indifference and to promote a lifestyle and a society that is “finally eco-sustainable.”
Inspired by Pope Francis, let us thank God for scientists and their amazing accomplishments that help us better understand, appreciate, respect and care for our earth which speaks of God’s love and is in its diversity a “caress of God.”
Do I accept the “scientific consensus” on global warming and how would I discuss it with a friend or relative who holds an opposing view?
About the Author
Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.