Scientist says listen to pope on climate change

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Religion and science comes together in urging action on climate change.

Guest blog post by Dan DiLeo

The Pontifical Academy of Sciences sees climate change as an urgent matter, member Veerabhadran (Ram) Ramanathan, Ph.D., told Dan Misleh, Executive Director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, in an interview on the academy’s report coming out of its meeting at the Vatican April 2-4, 2011.

While written, public reports are not the norm following such meetings, the working group was motivated by a sense of the urgency of the issue and the adverse social, political, economic and ecological impacts of climate change, said Ramanathan, who is the co-chair of the working group that produced the report and has been a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences since 2004. He is also Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences and Director of the National Science Foundation funded Center for Clouds, Chemistry, and Climate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The Vatican’s recent report focuses on the impacts to humans due to global glacier retreat—one of the most obvious indicators of anthropogenic climate change. Ramanathan noted that climate change is already being experienced by many, especially in developing countries, and is likely to continue unless significant global actions to curtail human produced greenhouse gases are not begun soon.

Ramanathan said the working group focused glaciers and not other climate change impacts for three reasons: These impacts have not been sufficiently studied and discussed; shrinking glaciers offer the most visible example of how climate change is adversely affecting the planet; and the disappearance of mountain glaciers—which act as huge freshwater reservoirs for billions of people especially in Central Asia—could have catastrophic impacts.

Throughout his remarks, Ramanathan echoed the church’s call to exercise prudence in confronting climate change, confirming that the grave—and potentially irreversible—nature of climate change impacts obligate action based on what we already know now.  He also emphasized the crucial role which the church must continue to play in the face of climate change: while the science community can present the facts, it is the church which has the moral authority necessary to inspire individuals and institutions to change environmentally—and socially—destructive patterns of behaviors.

Ramanathan also shared his personal inspiration for working on the issue of climate change, and in particular the contribution of black carbon. Growing up in a village in India, he saw how the burning of biomass not only created tremendous air pollution but also severely impacted the health of his family. The experience helped him see the interconnectedness of health, poverty, and environment, and reaffirmed that individual choices can have widespread affects—both positive and negative. 

Ramanathan closed by noting that if the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics chose to heed the Holy Father and address climate change as a matter of faith, their individual actions and choices would go a long way in caring for God’s good gift of Creation and the poor who are most impacted by environmental degradation.


Dan DiLeo is Project Manager for the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.