On Tuesday, Pope Francis convened a group of scientists, policymakers and religious figures at the Vatican to discuss the issues of climate change and global warming.
Scientific American reports that attendees will include Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen, climatologist James Hansen, Italian President Sergio Mattarella and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. At least 20 representatives of the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths will also be in attendance. All of the Pope’s guests will be asked to sign a statement “on the moral and religious imperative of sustainable development.”
The summit comes ahead of a major paper the Pope will issue to his bishops later this summer on the issue of climate change. The papal encylical, a rare but weighty letter written by the Pope himself, will be delivered to the 5,000 bishops and 400,000 priests of the Catholic church, who will share it with the faith’s 1.2 billion followers.
For the last two years, Pope Francis has been particularly outspoken on the topic of climate change. In May, he warned his followers that, “If we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!” Some months later, he called for an end to environmental exploitation, and dubbed it “one of the greatest challenges of our time: to convert ourselves to a type of development that knows how to respect creation.” He spoke regretfully of the state of both America and his native Argentina, lamenting the land “that can no longer give life.”
For Francis, the need for responsible environmental stewardship is closely tied to a social component. The Pope has bemoaned the state of inequality across the world, and that state is set to worsen due to climate change. Roughly half of the world’s population is responsible for only five percent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions, yet this population – simultaneously the world’s poorest – is estimated to suffer disproportionately from climate change and the extreme weather it produces.
Meanwhile, the majority of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (approximately 63 percent) comes from just 90 companies, all of which are tied to the fossil fuel industry.
By highlighting the ethical aspect of reducing emissions and steering towards sustainable development, the Pope hopes to change hearts and minds around the world. Climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan has suggested that Francis’ social capital might be enough to pull it off, and likened him to the late President Kennedy.
“Pope Francis has become a Kennedy-like figure who goes beyond Catholicism and appeals to the whole world,” he told Scientific American.
That leaves just one question: Is it easier to send men to the moon or to reduce pollution on Earth?