Climate summit considers ‘the new norm’

Lisa Johnston |

St. Louis had two 500-year floods — December of 2015 and April of 2017 — within 16 months. "These are no longer 500-year floods. These are the new norm," said Jack Fishman, the organizer of the St. Louis Climate Summit at St. Louis University later this month.

Fishman is a professor in St. Louis University's Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and director of the Center for Environmental Sciences. The native St. Louisan worked at the NASA Langley Research Center for 31 years. During his career at NASA, Fishman pioneered the use of satellite observations to provide a perspective of the extent of global pollution.

St. Louis already has been affected by climate change, according to Fishman, an organizer of an international climate summit at St. Louis University April 22-24.

Excessive hurricanes also are a direct result of changes in the climate, Fishman said. "We don't need any more data to be convinced that global warming is happening. Now you can speculate all you want about what the impact of that will be."

But the increased hurricanes, the record rainfall in Texas from Hurricane Harvey and extreme fire dangers in California and subsequent floods are all manifestations of the changes, he said.

Each could be predicted from climate models, Fishman said, because of warming temperatures.

Global warming slowed in the early 2000s, but was followed by three years of record-breaking temperatures. The scientific consensus is that global warming has been occurring and much of it has been and is caused by greenhouse gas emissions, Fishman said. He added that Pope Francis' encyclical "Laudato Si'" "is calling all of us to embrace a much greater moral responsibility to care for God's creation."

Fishman said "the skeptics, or deniers, will say it's all part of the natural process. That's false."

Among the researchers he cites is National Academy of Sciences president Ralph J. Cicerone, who issued an early warning about the grave potential risks of climate change. Cicerone headed an academy panel, commissioned by President George W. Bush, which concluded unequivocally that "greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise."

Paul J. Crutzen wrote about the anthropocene, a term for the Earth's most recent geologic time period as being human-influenced, based on overwhelming global evidence that atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth system processes are now altered by humans.

The models suggest extreme weather phenomenons will happen more frequently, Fishman said. Accompanying the general trend of warmer weather are extreme heat waves and extreme cold outbreaks. High latitudes, especially in the northern hemisphere, are warming up quicker than low latitudes, the tropics, he explained.

Storms and hurricanes occur primarily as the result of heat exchange, getting the excess heat from the tropics to the high latitudes, he said. With a weaker jet stream, a bigger north-south component and a proclivity for bigger extremes, both heat waves and cold spells result. A cold spell in February 2015 on the East Coast, Fishman explained, was among the coldest ever but other places farther north, such as Russia and Alaska, had record warm weather.

According to Fishman, climate is a statistical phenomenon, not a day-to-day weather phenomenon. It shows the average temperature is going up and the variability is increasing. And the models predicted it.

"What used to be extreme is now only moderately extreme. Now you have new extreme areas in the bell-shaped curve that have never been common before. That's what's predicted, and that's what's happening," he said.

Steps need to be taken now because global warming isn't going away, Fishman said. "Even if we stop burning all fossil fuel tomorrow, the impact of the increase in carbon dioxide remains. That's what the Paris climate accords emphasize."

The St. Louis Climate Summit grew from a guest newspaper column written by Trudy Busch Valentine in 2012 stating that "environmental preservation must take priority in citizens' hearts and leaders' minds."

The daughter of former Anheuser-Busch chairman August A. Busch Jr., Valentine stated that climate change issues are neither liberal nor conservative and that they reflect widespread international crises rather than short-term agriculturalist problems.

Fishman read Valentine's remark that climate change shouldn't be a political issue and went to work. The result is the summit bringing together experts in climate science, ecology, sustainable development and related disciplines for three days of discussion on climate change. Included are several people who were resources in the formulation of "Laudato Si'," which stresses the moral obligation to address the issue of climate change.

Among the climate experts speaking at the summit are members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which produced "Climate Change and the Common Good: A Statement of the Problem and the Demand for Transformative Solutions." The academy is an independent entity within the Holy See that provides information and recommendations to the Holy Father. Peter Raven, president emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis, is a member of the academy and is co-chair of the summit. Another member of the academy who helped with the conference planning is Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California-San Diego.

When considering the idea of the summit, Fishman knew that Pope Francis was writing the encyclical and that the bicentennial of St. Louis University was in 2018, so it all fit together. The summit seeks to fulfill Pope Francis' call to unite in defense of our common home. 

Our Common Home

"Our Sacred Earth, Our Common Home: Reflection & Action on Laudato Si'" will be presented from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 21, in the visitors center at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, 442 South De Mazenod Drive in Belleville, Ill.

Keynote speaker is Mary Evelyn Tucker, senior lecturer and research scholar at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale Divinity School. This event is the second in a series devoted to the study and implementation of Pope Francis' landmark encyclical on ecology, "Laudato Si'." The event is intended for individuals and parish groups looking for practical ways to care for our common home, our sacred Earth.

Workshop presenters and topics include:

• Sister Cheryl Kemner, OSF, and Nicole Heerlein of the Franciscans for Earth: "The Challenge of Technology and Simple Lifestyle"

•Sister Maxine Pohlman, SSND, director of the La Vista Ecological Learning Center: "Backyard Revolution"

•Sister Connie Probst, OSF, co-director, St. Anthony's Food Pantry: "Care for the Earth; Care for the Poor"

• Jamie Hasemeier representing Holy Redeemer Parish in Webster Groves: "What Can My Parish and Family Do?"

For registration information and cost, call (618) 394-6270 or visit 

What's happening

Parishes and organizations in the archdiocese continue to respond to Pope Francis' call to protect creation.

In his 2015 encyclical, Pope Francis called people to live responsibly with the planet, remember the needs of others around the world and to reduce consumption and energy usage for the sake of God's creation.

Among the ongoing projects in the archdiocese is the installation of energy-saving LED lighting. At the Cardinal Rigali Center in Shrewsbury, the installation of auto dimmers/motion sensors cut energy usage by 70 percent.

St. Cletus Parish in St. Charles is an example of one of the parishes planning efforts to reduce energy use and waste.

Parishioner Pam Brown said that some suggestions for being better stewards of the planet have been implemented in the past month. New LED lighting, drinking fountains that refill water bottles and the use of silverware instead of plastic utensils at fish fries and other events are among the changes.

A composting effort is expected to begin in August. At one fish fry, 143 pounds of compostable materials were gathered. The use of Styrofoam containers is being discontinued. A more energy-efficient heating and cooling system is another possible consideration. Additional education and signs for recycling are planned.

The Franciscans for Earth, a project of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, continue education efforts in the archdiocese. Efforts focus on simplicity of living and protection of the environment. For a list of events, visit 


Papal encyclical inspires SLU climate summit 

The St. Louis Climate Summit, to be hosted by St. Louis University April 22-24 as a part of its yearlong bicentennial celebration, will bring to the Midwest some of the most authoritative minds in climate science and related disciplines.

The conference will highlight key issues in climate science, celebrate achievements and look to the future. It was inspired by Pope Francis' convocation of leading climate scientists at the Vatican in 2014, and the encyclical that emerged from that gathering, "Laudato Si'."

Speakers will include Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and advisor to Pope Francis in the formulation of "Laudato Si'"; Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the University of California, San Diego, a recent recipient of the United Nations' Champions of the Earth Award; and Peter Raven, director emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Carl Pope, former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club, will give the keynote address at 7 p.m. Monday, April 23, at Chaifetz Arena on the St. Louis University campus. Cardinal Turkson will talk at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at St. Francis Xavier (College) Church at Grand and Lindell Boulevards on the SLU campus. The documentary "Before the Flood" will be presented at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at SLU's Center for Global Citizenship.

The Nine Network of Public Media will serve as media partner and will provide event management for the summit. It will host many of the speakers and panels at its facilities in Grand Center, near the campus of Saint Louis University.

For information or to register, visit 

Numbers to know

• The sea level has risen an average of 3.2 millimeters per year, due in part to the vast amount of ice melt worldwide.

• The 10 warmest years in the 134-year record have all occurred since 2000, with the exception of 1998.

• Antartica has lost 134 billion metric tons of ice per year since 2002.

• 888,000 acres of global forest lost between 2000 and 2012. During that time, 309,000 acres have regrown.

Source: the official NASA global climate change website 

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