St. Louisan Peter Raven offers scientific advice to pope

Peter Raven
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Botanist and leading advocate of conservation and biodiversity Peter Raven views climate changes as unfairly burdening the poor, who will see their farmland decrease and energy costs increase.

"If you're rich, you can move to higher ground, pay more money for food," he said.

Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden, is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. In April, the academy and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences produced "Climate Change and The Common Good: A Statement of the Problem and the Demand for Transformative Solutions." The paper states that the Catholic Church, working with the leadership of other religions, can mobilize public opinion and public funds to meet the energy needs of the poorest 3 billion people, allowing them to prepare for the challenges of unavoidable climate and eco-system changes.

An independent entity within the Holy See, the academy provides information and recommendations to the Holy Father. The papers issued by these academies do not represent official Church teaching but provide guidance and recommendations that a pope might consider in penning encyclicals and other messages.

According to Raven, current practices affecting the environment cause a rift between wealthy and poor nations. The academy's paper recommends finding ways to protect and conserve as large as possible a fraction of the tens of millions of plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms that make up the living fabric of the world. The academy suggests a need to "reorient our attitude toward nature and, thereby, toward ourselves." Such an effort will succeed not only by engaging scientists, political leaders and others, but also "a moral revolution that religious institutions are in a special position to promote."

If people want changes, Raven said, they can be effective by putting enough pressure on political representatives.

Tom Sheahen, director of the Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology in St. Louis who is a physicist and teaches theology and science at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Conn., spoke at a conference in April at the Vatican organized by the Heartland Institute and held at the same time as the Pontifical Academy of Science's workshop, "Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity." The message from the Heartland group was that the science of man-caused global warming isn't settled.

In his talk, Sheahen said that climate data shows the earth is barely warming, and despite the very rapid rise in atmospheric CO2 in recent decades, the average global temperature isn't rising significantly, making the role of CO2 as an agent of global warming "actually very doubtful."

Heartland president Joseph Bast stated in a news release that "the world's poor will suffer horribly if reliable energy -- the engine of prosperity and a better life -- is made more expensive and less reliable by the decree of global planners."

Human Activity

"Climate Change and the Common Good" points out that from the 1880s to the 1990s:

• The urban population has increased by13 times and the world population by a factor of six.

• The world economy has increased by 14 times and industrial output by a factor of 40.

• Energy use has increased by 16 times and coal production by a factor of seven.

• Carbon dioxide emissions are up by 17 times and sulfur dioxide by a factor of 13.

• Lead emissions are up eight times and water use by a factor of nine.

• The fish catch is up 35 times and the blue whale population has decreased 99 percent.

The 11-page climate change statement is available at 

Views on the environment

Yale Project on Climate Change Communication at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies recently released the first report from its national survey, "Climate Change in the American Christian Mind." It found that:

• Many Americans draw, at least in part, upon their religious beliefs to guide their understanding and interpretation of climate change causes, impacts and solutions.

• Nearly seven in 10 Catholics (69 percent) think global warming is happening, which is a slightly higher percentage than Americans as a whole (63 percent).

• Majorities of American Christians support policies that would help reduce global warming, including tax rebates for people who purchase energy efficient vehicles or solar panels (83 percent of Catholics), more research funding for renewable energy (81 percent of Catholics) and requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20 percent of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources, even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year (67 percent of Catholics).

• Majorities of Catholics, Protestants, and evangelicals say it is important to them personally to care for future generations of people (82 percent of Catholics), the natural environment (76 percent of Catholics), and the world's poor (67 percent of Catholics), and that well over half of all Christians think reducing global warming will help future generations of people (67 percent of Catholics). 

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