Priest-climatologist: Man has put Earth in peril
The evidence linking human activity to the warming of the planet is irrefutable, making it everyone’s responsibility to lessen this ongoing assault against God’s gift of creation, said Carmelite Father Eduardo Scarel, addressing students at Mount Carmel Academy Jan. 15.
In his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis reminds the faithful that they are not simply the heirs of creation but actors in God’s creative scheme – players charged with being stewards of a place on which all depend for survival.
“The earth is the only home we have – we cannot go somewhere else. We have to monitor it,” said Father Eduardo, an Argentinian-born climatologist who was a sounding board for the science portion of the encyclical at the request of his fellow countryman and friend, Pope Francis.
Responsible for the garden
“When we read the Book of Genesis, we learn that the whole of creation is a gift to human beings. We’ve been placed in a garden called Eden,” Father Eduardo said. “We are responsible for the garden; we are responsible for the geographical place we are placed in; and we have to look after it. The more we do that, the more we are like God.”
God willed that man evolve – to use the earth’s resources to improve their lives over the course of history – “but we have to look after this evolution process that was wanted by God,” Father Eduardo said.
“We must cultivate and care for the earth as God does: with love and wisdom,” he said. “If we use our wisdom in a different way, we are against this process of the evolution of the planet; we are against God’s plan of creation.”
Buenos Aires-based Father Eduardo, who was in New Orleans to attend the American Meteorological Society conference, is on the faculty of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina and the National University of La Plata, and a researcher for his country’s National Scientific and Technical Research Council.
He told the Mount Carmel students that when more than 3,000 scientists gathered in London three years ago to discuss the state of the earth, they unanimously concluded that “the planet is under pressure” due to factors such as a global population of nearly 8 billion in which 25 percent consume 80 percent of the resources; an extinction rate 100 times higher than the natural rate of extinction; and global warming – also known as climate change – resulting from the unprecedented burning of fossil fuels, primarily petroleum, carbon and natural gas, over the last half century.
Like an extra blanket
“Do you know what is the effect of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere?” Father Eduardo asked his young audience, comparing the carbon released by the burning of fossil fuels to a “blanket” that traps heat close to the earth – causing the famous “greenhouse effect.”
He said the thin blanket created by naturally released greenhouse gases is crucial to life. Without it, the earth would be a very cold minus-18 degrees Celsius. It is the magnitude of carbon emissions that is putting the earth off balance, he said. Human activities are “adding more blankets” around the atmosphere.”
“When you put on three blankets, you start to sweat – that’s what is happening with our atmosphere,” Father Eduardo said, noting that 2015 was the hottest year in recorded history. If the warming trend continues, by the end of the century, it could reach “catastrophic” levels, he said.
Facts are black and white
As a graphic rebuttal to armchair “deniers” who believe the warming is simply a natural part of the earth’s evolution, the priest displayed a series of graphs that prove man’s culpability in the terrestrial warming trend.
For example, in the 1960s, 60 percent of the variation in the earth’s mean surface temperature was due to solar variations, and less than 20 percent due to carbon dioxide emissions.
“But after the 1960s the rates changed,” Father Eduardo said. “Seventy percent of the variation of temperature is due to carbon dioxide, and less than 20 percent is due to solar variability and other natural forces.” Moreover, “statistically, after the 1980s, the (upward) trend in temperature is completely driven by carbon dioxide,” he said.
Another graph showed the direct correlation between rises in surface temperature and annual carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere.
“Each of us in one year consumes petroleum that took 400 years to create,” Father Eduardo said. “We need to (either) change the energy matrix or slow down the consumption.”
The speed of change has been so great that ecosystems, such as Pacific coral reefs, are dying, and the planet’s warming has caused sea levels to rise an average of 20 centimeters since the beginning of the 20th century. Father Eduardo said the latter threat has not captured most Americans’ attention because the rises are unevenly distributed across the earth and most noticeable in places like the western equatorial Pacific basin, north of Australia, where populated islands, including the Philippines, have experienced encroaching seawater. It was no coincidence that right before the release of “Laudato Si,” Pope Francis visited the Philippines,” Father Eduardo said.
“The pope says we need to listen to the shout of the poor and the shout of the earth,” he said.
Why the pope?
So why did the Holy Father write “Laudato Si,” the first encyclical in church history concerning the environment? Father Eduardo said in it the pope gives “a very new and important interpretation” of man’s relationship with the natural world.
Rather than saying man is separate from nature, “Pope Francis says we are part of nature; we are part of this process of evolution and we have to take care of that process,” Father Eduardo said. “Things, nature, the creation are not meant for human beings’ use, they are meant for God. We are all going toward meeting God at the end: both human beings and all of creation.”
Father Eduardo concluded by urging the teens to form book groups to read the encyclical. He praised its simple language and division into two parts: a diagnosis of the earth and the throwaway culture, followed by an analysis of the problem through the prism of faith.
“There is no need to wait for a priest to speak with you about the encyclical in his homily,” Father Eduardo told the students. “Share your ideas, because one of the main goals of the encyclical is to promote dialogue. The encyclical is not a diagram on how to fix the problems; it’s not a how-to guide on how to overcome the crisis.”
During his stay in New Orleans, Father Eduardo also spoke to the students and faculty of St. Mary’s Dominican High and at separate gatherings of Catholic school principals, science and religion department chairs, and men and women religious.