From the Vatican at Sustainability Conference
Covenant Executive Director, Dan Misleh, attended the conference Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome, from May 2-6, 2014. The link to the meeting at the Vatican is here: http://www.casinapioiv.va/content/accademia/en/events/2014/sustainable.html. According to the agenda, the purpose of the meeting is to not catalog all of the issues with environmental degradation and climate change but: “We propose instead to view Humanity’s interchanges with Nature through a triplet of fundamental, but inter-related Human needs – Food, Health, and Energy – and ask our respective Academies to work together to invite experts from the natural and the social sciences to speak of the various pathways that both serve those needs and reveal constraints on Nature’s ability to meet them.”
For bios of the presenters, please refer to the program at the PAS/PASS webpage for here. If you wish to see the papers, many of them are posted in a dropbox here. Andrew Revkin from the Dot Earth blog of the New York Times is also in attendance. For his view, you can follow him here.
May 12: PAS/PASS Final Statement
Today, the Vatican’s Pontifical Academies of Science and Social Science released the following powerful statement:
Statement of the Joint PAS/PASS Workshop on Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility
Stabilizing the Climate and Giving Energy Access to All with an Inclusive Economy
Humanity has entered a new era. Our technological prowess has brought humanity to a crossroads. We are the inheritors of two centuries of remarkable waves of technological change: steam power, railroads, the telegraph, electrification, automotive transport, aviation, industrial chemistry, modern medicine, computing, and now the digital revolution, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies. These advances have reshaped the world economy into one that is increasingly urban and globally connected, but also more and more unequal.
However, just as humanity confronted “Revolutionary Change” (Rerum Novarum) in the Age of Industrialization in the 19th century, today we have changed our natural environment to such an extent that scientists are redefining the current period as the Age of the Anthropocene, that is to say an age when human action, through the use of fossil fuels, is having a decisive impact on the planet. If current trends continue, this century will witness unprecedented climate changes and ecosystem destruction that will severely impact us all.
Human action which is not respectful of nature becomes a boomerang for human beings that creates inequality and extends what Pope Francis has termed “the globalization of indifference” and the “economy of exclusion” (Evangelii Gaudium), which themselves endanger solidarity with present and future generations.
The advances in measured productivity in all sectors – agriculture, industry and services – enable us to envision the end of poverty, the sharing of prosperity, and the further extensions of life spans. However, unfair social structures (Evangelii Gaudium) have become obstacles to an appropriate and sustainable organization of production and a fair distribution of its fruits, which are both necessary to achieve those goals. Humanity’s relationship with nature is riddled with unaccounted for consequences of the actions each of us take for both present and future generations. Socio-environmental processes are not self-correcting. Market forces alone, bereft of ethics and collective action, cannot solve the intertwined crises of poverty, exclusion, and the environment. However, the failure of the market has been accompanied by the failure of institutions, which have not always aimed at the common good.
Problems have been exacerbated by the fact that economic activity is currently measured solely in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and therefore does not record the degradation of Earth that accompanies it nor the abject inequalities between countries and within each country. The growth in GDP has been accompanied by unacceptable gaps between the rich and the poor, who still have no access to most of the advancement of the Era. For example, about fifty-percent of available energy is accessed by just one billion people, yet the negative impacts on the environment are being felt by the three billion who have no access to that energy. Three billion have so little access to modern energy that they are forced to cook, heat and light their homes with methods dangerous to their health.
The massive fossil fuel use at the heart of the global energy system deeply disrupts the Earth’s climate and acidifies the world’s oceans. The warming and associated extreme weather will reach unprecedented levels in our children’s life times and 40% of the world’s poor, who have a minimal role in generating global pollution, are likely to suffer the most. Industrial-scale agricultural practices are transforming landscapes around the world, disrupting ecosystems and threatening the diversity and survival of species on a planetary scale. Yet even with the unprecedented scale and intensity of land use, food insecurity still stalks the planet, with one billion people suffering from chronic hunger and another billion or so suffering from the hidden hunger of micronutrient deficiencies. Tragically, a third of the produced food is wasted, which as Pope Francis said is “like stealing from the table of the poor and the hungry”.
In view of the persistence of poverty, the widening of economic and social inequalities, and the continued destruction of the environment, the world’s governments called for the adoption by 2015 of new universal goals, to be called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to guide planetary-scale actions after 2015. To achieve these goals will require global cooperation, technological innovations that are within reach, and supportive economic and social policies at the national and regional levels, such as the taxation and regulation of environmental abuses, limits to the enormous power of transnational corporations and a fair redistribution of wealth. It has become abundantly clear that Humanity’s relationship with Nature needs to be undertaken by cooperative, collective action at all levels – local, regional, and global.
The technological and operational bases for a true sustainable development are available or within reach. Extreme poverty can be ended through targeted investments in sustainable energy access, education, health, housing, social infrastructure and livelihoods for the poor. Social inequalities can be reduced through the defense of human rights, the rule of law, participatory democracy, universal access to public services, the recognition of personal dignity, a significant improvement in the effectiveness of fiscal and social policies, an ethical finance reform, large scale decent work creation policies, integration of the informal and popular economic sectors, and national and international collaboration to eradicate the new forms of slavery such as forced labor and sexual exploitation. Energy systems can be made much more efficient and much less dependent on coal, petrol and natural gas to avoid climate change, protect the oceans, and clean the air of coal-based pollutants. Food production can be made far more fruitful and less wasteful of land and water, more respectful of peasants and indigenous people and less polluting. Food wastage can be cut significantly, with both social and ecological benefits.
Perhaps the greatest challenge lies in the sphere of human values. The main obstacles to achieving sustainability and human inclusion are inequality, unfairness, corruption and human trafficking. Our economies, our democracies, our societies and our cultures pay a high price for the growing gap between the rich and the poor within and between nations. And perhaps the most deleterious aspect of the widening income and wealth gap in so many countries is that it is deepening inequality of opportunity. Most importantly, inequality, global injustice, and corruption are undermining our ethical values, personal dignity and human rights. We need, above all, to change our convictions and attitudes, and combat the globalization of indifference with its culture of waste and idolatry of money. We should insist upon the preferential option for the poor; strengthen the family and community; and honor and protect Creation as humanity’s imperative responsibility to future generations. We have the innovative and technological capability to be good stewards of Creation. Humanity needs urgently to redirect our relationship with nature by adopting the Sustainable Development Goals so as to promote a sustainable pattern of economic development and social inclusion. A human ecology that is healthy in terms of ethical virtues contributes to the achievement of sustainable nature and a balanced environment. Today we need a relationship of mutual benefit: true values should permeate the economy and respect for Creation should promote human dignity and wellbeing.
These are matters on which all religions and individuals of goodwill can agree. These are matters that today’s young people around the world will embrace, as a way to shape a better world. Our message is one of urgent warning, for the dangers of the Anthropocene are real and the injustice of globalization of indifference is serious. Yet our message is also one of hope and joy. A healthier, safer, more just, more prosperous, and sustainable world is within reach. The believers among us ask the Lord to give us all our daily bread, which is food for the body and the spirit.
What a privilege to be part of this amazing meeting. I hope you find my reflections and accounts of the meeting helpful. You may be interested in Andrew Revkin’s blog which includes the summary he gave at the conclusion of the meeting late yesterday evening.
My reflections the day after the closing session:
In short, I’ll say this: the final day was much like the three that preceded it in the sense that there was unanimous agreement among the presenters that humanity is entering a new epochal phase caused entirely by ourselves and particularly by those of us in over-developed nations. But now we KNOW! We know that the continued consumption of limited resources–including and especially fossil fuels–at this pace is unsustainable and this business-as-usual model will create ecological havoc.
The need for global, coordinated, and interdisciplinary cooperation is more necessary than ever. The best minds from the physical and social sciences, from economics to practitioners and everyone in between must work together to steer the global ship away from the shoals of self-destruction.
Included and perhaps most essential will be the participation of people of faith who are perfectly capable of grasping the science of climate change and environmental degradation but must contribute new ways of seeing (not just looking) at a world under pressure. We must quickly find new symbols and repurpose old ones as well as generate new ways of applying lessons from our traditional stories to help make sense of this moment in time. We must look beyond ourselves and integrate deeply within our bones the fact that our behaviors today condemn–and even eliminate–future generations.
This challenge to people of faith must include hope–a hope that for Christians is the realization that we are God’s instruments for good–so that we can rise each day full of purpose to do what must be done, to appreciate ever more deeply the goodness of creation, to feel the pain of our brothers and sisters and do all we can, with joy, to alleviate their suffering.
May 6: A billions of year old planet needs action by humans this century.
To the left of His Holiness is the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo.
Before reading more about the day’s presentations, John Allen of the Boston Globe says this about the meeting:
Francis on ecology
The first pope to name himself after St. Francis of Assisi, who famously preached to birds and sang to “Brother Sun and Sister Moon,” is obviously going to have a special concern for the environment.
Pope Francis has repeatedly voiced this concern, including this passage from his apostolic exhortation Evangelium Gaudium: “We human beings are not the beneficiaries but the stewards of other creatures. Thanks to our bodies, God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement.”…
…In late January, a Vatican spokesman said that Francis had begun work on a major document on ecology which could eventually become an encyclical letter, usually considered the most developed form of papal teaching. If so, it would be the first-ever encyclical entirely devoted to environmental themes.
Another sign of this papacy’s commitment to moving the ball on environmental protection is unfolding right now in Rome with a major conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences called “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility.”…
…The five-day workshop features an A-list of heavyweights, including Cardinal Oscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, coordinator of the pope’s “G8” council of cardinal advisers, and Archbishop Roland Minnerath of Dijon, France, long seen as one of the most impressive intellectuals among the current crop of European prelates.
It’s also drawing on secular experts such as Partha Sarathi Dasgupta, a Cambridge University economist, and Veerabhadran Ramanathan, an atmospheric scientist at the University of California, San Diego, focused on reducing sooty pollution and climate change.
“No sin is more heartless than our blindness to the value of all that surrounds us and our persistence in using it at the wrong time and abusing it at all times,” Rodriguez Maradiaga told the meeting.
It remains to be seen what concrete ideas or initiatives may flow out of the May 2-6 Vatican summit, but the mere fact that it’s happening, and with such a striking cast of characters, is additional proof that Francis and his team intend to make ecology a cornerstone of their social agenda.
In this final day of this amazing conference, Juan Llach began with a world-view of economic progress. He noted the arch of global GDP going back to year one (C.E) to today and noted that while the there had been a wide divergence of in GDP among nations, especially in the last century, that divergence is now narrowing. However, most of the developed countries will are spending ever-increasing sums on elderly populations while developing countries are generally much younger and with different challenges.
He noted that extreme poverty is coming down in most developed countries with the exception of sub-Saharan Africa. There is also progress in reducing unemployment rates and in encouraging more young students to stay in school. And while incomes among the poorest 10% are rising the process is slow and marginal. But as noted by others, income within the top 10% is growing rapidly in all countries but especially in the United States.
Professor Llach highlighted Pope Francis’ Evangelium Vitae paragraphs 53, 204, and 206, which are highly critical of current economic structures. However, Llach believes that economic globalization is better than unknown alternatives. And while poverty is dropping in most countries there are three serious challenges that demand urgent attention: environmental sustainability, social inclusion in wealth and income distribution.
Antonio Battro addressed the topic of education among children. While there are tens of millions of children around the world, especially in remote areas, without access to any education, it is possible and morally required to try and reach all. Sustainable education for all means sustainable politics. Public policies and political systems must be all-in with educating a given country’s children. Today that includes connectivity to the digital age. And if there is political will, there is no reason why money should be an impediment.
Professor Battro shared his work in Uruguay where the concept of “one-child/one laptop” has been fully put into practice. Based on this model, the cost to connect all the country’s children to the world wide web amounted to about $100/child/year or 0.12% of Uruguay’s GDP. With thousands of books, lesson plans and other teaching tools available online, the age of digital intelligence is a tremendous asset to today’s students.
Margaret Archer on Human Trafficking: While only tangentially connected to the issue of the environment, Pope Francis wrote to PAS Chancellor, Bishop Sorondo, asking him to begin examine human trafficking, modern slavery and organ trafficking. So this topic was brought forth for consideration at this meeting.
Dr. Archer offered a sophisticated analysis of the global and evil network of trafficking that makes the problem particularly difficult to solve. There are complex networks, markets, international criminal organizations and collaboration, and a near complete lack of sanctions. While not directly to blame, the globalized market system where multi-national corporations continually seeking cheap labor have perhaps unwittingly provided an opening to traffickers. On top of this, far too many countries today have lax labor regulations and unionization is practically non-existent.
Responding to these illicit activities is best done through movements and through the UN and international labor organizations not nation-states as they prefer to discuss the problems of migration but not exploitation and trafficking. Nation-states, in many ways, benefit from cheap labor even if trafficking makes them give pause. Globally, traffickers are barely prosecuted and the trafficked are not well-reintegrated into their societies and often find themselves right back into the network.
Juan Grabois: Discussed how within the global economic system unemployment is now a structural condition. Victims of this system span generations and are working outside the formal system. This exclusion has been part of what Pope Francis has critiqued in the modern economy. This exclusive capitalism began in earnest after the Cold War continues today even in the face of a global society that is increasing social and inclusive. Technological developments such as automation, robotics and biotechnology are used almost exclusively for the sole purpose of the enriching a happy minority who are often oblivious to environmental or societal concerns.
In this context, says Graboic, a large majority of the global workforce is now under precarious or informal jobs, especially in poor countries. Regular, stable, full time and well-paid are well beyond the reach of most working people whether they are within developing countries or migrants from some other place. Their emergence points to a civilization in crisis. The emerging “People´s Economy” is beginning to generate large informal networks through individual sacrifice and whatever is left over from other means of production.
The paper described some of the unconventional occupations that have emerged as formal jobs disappeared, some of the alternative schemes as people organize, how popular occupations such as sifting through landfills for recyclable materials and the daily struggle for dignity by individuals and their emerging organizations.
Economist, Stefano Zamagni’s paper is the Influence of Virtuous Human Life in Sustaining Nature. Without a new and measurable way of counting externalities of the resources and means of production, we will continue to live in an world, claustrophobic anthropocentricity deaf to the problems of environmental integrity, environmental ethic. We must, Professor Zamagni insists, break down the barrier we have built up between ourselves and nature. We must establish new criteria to help us better which issues demand our urgent attention.
Why, for example, do we not have a “world environmental organization similar to the World Trade Organization? Why do we have global rules and institutions to help govern monetary investments and other sectors of society but nothing similar for the environment?
Zamagni concludes: Economics is inextricably a part of ethics because humans are not aloof islands of exchange; rather, they live, work and thrive in social settings. Humans must have moral frameworks to help make sense of our interactions with one another. If all humanity knew the environmental crisis we were in and faced it head on and in concert with one anther, then we would seek out new paths of living together. Quoting T.S. Eliot once observed: you can’t build a tree; you can only plant one, tend it and wait for it to sprout in due time. You can, however, speed its development up with proper watering. For, unlike animals, which live in time but have no time, human beings have the ability to alter their times.
In Good Governance, Including Peace, Wilfrido Villacorta focused on the problems in Southeast Asia: He said that while this region has become the fastest growing economic region in the world, it is still home to about two-thirds of the world’s poor. Nearly ¾ of a billion people are living on less than $1 a day, and most of these are in urban areas. And over double this number are living on less than $2 a day. The desperately poor living in rural areas are primarily indigenous people or vulnerable groups with little economic opportunities. As they live in marginal land, with increasing global warming, they are likely to suffer even more.
There are many institutions in Asia trying to respond to the rapid growth and gross inequities by working to increase individual income and community resilience and equal opportunity. This “inclusive growth” approach has three policy pillars: sustained growth to create productive jobs for a wide section of the population; social inclusion to equalize access to opportunity; and social safety nets to mitigate vulnerability and risks and prevent extreme poverty.”
With such an intensive focus on social inclusion in a growing economy, there have been some impressive results including increased education levels and the decrease of extreme poverty (from 45 percent in 2000 to 16 percent in 2010).
Pierpaolo Donati examined declining intergenerational solidarity in the modern world where most people feel detached from and very little loyalty to generations above and below their own. This is particularly pronounced among younger generations. Results include a lack of respect of elders or the value of children. In poor countries generations are boiled down to means of production and in rich nations, they are seen as mere consumers. Society must commit to several things at once to reverse these trends including: better measures of demographic realities; promote better understandings of generational awareness; improve equity between genders; and adapt family policies to current realities.
Naomi Orestes discussed Scientific Consensus and the Role and Character of Scientific Dissent. Her thesis is that at one time scientists were far less reticent to offer moral and policy guidance than they seem to be now in the face of climate change. She challenges scientists to not only communicate the facts of climate change but the meaning as well. There are, she contends, vital moral and spiritual dimensions.
Going back to the existential crisis of the nuclear threat, scientists were aghast at what the bomb could do. So they spoke out strongly about the need for control of these dangerous weapons. In the United States, that led to the government hand-picking scientists for formal scientific bodies for advice.
From the 1970s to today, the world has convened a variety of “assessment committees” such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But these committees got some serious pushback by well-funded organizations. Dr. Orestes outlines these in her book, Merchants of Doubt. Scientists must certainly speak from their expertise. What is also needed is their power of persuasion.
Capping the day, astronomer Martin Rees offered a reflection on whether or not climate change poses an existential risk. In a few years, we’ll know better whether temperature will rise quickly or more gradually. If quickly, then there will be more panic and a quickly-implemented “Plan B” may be called for such as extreme goengineering. Even with the current uncertainty, it would be wise to begin studying the possibility that things could unfold quickly.
Dr. Rees also suggested that perhaps a bigger threat is what a rogue state or person might do, particularly if they attack our globalized networks: attacks on the financial markets, for example, or how modern social media can spend panic and rumor, or air traffic control is overrun or a pandemic from a disease carried by people on planes. There could be biotech attacks as well. Technology brings great hope but also great fears. More needs to be done to assess these risks and minimize them.
He concludes that we can achieve a sustainable world but the politics are in the way right now. How can scientists help: demonstrate clearly the certainty of what we face. “A billions of year old planet needs action by humans this century.” And it needs the best sciencists, social scientists and religious leaders.
After a break on Sunday, Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility conference at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Science begins again. Today the tone took a turn toward the hopeful—although the broad agreement by everyone is that climate change and environmental degradation is a serious business in need of a global and immediate solution. Presenters took on a variety of topics from how to break the logjam of climate negotiations and to the inadequate economic models we have in a world threatened by environmental disaster and extreme poverty. Here is the summary (and again, please refer to the program for presenter’s biographies. I will also beg the reader’s indulgence for inadequate grammar or spelling in the following summary!):
Scott Barrett began the day asking why climate negotiations have so far not succeeded. Using game theory, he suggests that, optimally, the world needs a model of negotiating similar to what was used for the Montreal protocol that dialed back the CFC’s blamed for punching holes in the ozone layer. If nations felt a greater certainty about climate science (as was the case with CFCs) and looming catastrophe, they would be much more willing to cooperate to and act in their collective best interest. But the only non-binding goal so far emanated from the Copenhagen round of negotiations: to avoid dangerous climate change generally defined as keeping temperatures to no more than 2 degrees Celsius. But when you add up all the commitments by all the nations, we overshoot that goal.
So there has to be a way to ensure that all nations see it in their self interest to participate negotiations and commit to the outcomes. A game of coordination is what is called for vs. the current game which is known as a “prisoner’s dilemma”. Barrett says, “The reason collective action has eluded us so far is that reducing emissions is a prisoner’s dilemma game. Each country is better off when all countries reduce their emissions substantially. But each country has only a small incentive to reduce its own emissions.”
Achim Steiner from the United Nations’ Environmental Program discussed Transitions towards and Inclusive “Green Economy”: Achieving Food and Energy Security in a World of Growing Demand.
He notes the dilemma of the Anthropocene: that if we have the power to destroy the planet, don’t we also have the power to save it? The problem is that what we know scientifically must penetrate the political world.
Current economics has entrapped societies and eroding fundamentally ethical principles. Today, instead of economics based on competition, we need an economic system based more on cooperation. A world that is reaching planetary limits in so many areas (biodiversity, climate, oceans, water resources) will begin to drive what happens next. Climate change will transform the way we do everything but it is more than just reducing CO2. We must see our world as transitioning toward a green economy. We must enable people to do the right thing and this is beyond choices of hybrid cars and solar panels. It is something deeper and more permanent…a lifestyle change and a new way of looking at the world.
Thankfully, there are trends that are moving in the right direction. China, a huge greenhouse gas emitter, to be sure, also has taken enormous advances in addressing their environmental problems. And there are growing signs that the movement is coming from the bottom up with social entrepreneurs tackling problems at the local and regional levels.
Veerabhadran Ramanathan, who I interviewed back in 2011 when he co-lead the Pontifical Academy of Sciences study on glaciers, sliced the world into two parts: the top 4 billion (T4B) and the bottom 3 billion (B3B). The B3B are those desperately poor people around the world who cook with wood or dung, the smoke from which is equivalent to smoking five packs of cigarettes a day. They often light their homes with these same dirty stoves or with kerosene lamps. In his native village in India, women must walk a mile and a half for firewood and water. Many of the B3B are living in slums and using just 10% of the world’s energy.
Turning to the contributions to greenhouse gas pollution, it is true, he says, that CO2 accounts for half of GHGs and it has a long “shelf life”, other GHGs are short lived and relatively easy to curb. This includes Black Carbon, Methane, Ozone. Black Carbon, for example, dissipates in two weeks (vs. 70 or more years for CO2). So while we can’t ignore cuts in CO2, we should also focus on this “low hanging fruit.” Not only that, but CO2 is largely a problem of the richest one billion people while black carbon is an issue for the poorest and has terrible, immediate consequences: an estimated 4.2 million premature deaths each year are due to indoor air pollution, mainly among women and children.
Professor Ramanathan and his daughter have created Project Surya which uses highly efficient cook stoves and cell phone technology to dramatically reduce and accurately measure reductions in black carbon. The pilot project is proving its worth and philanthropists are taking notice.
Gretchen Daily, a Stanford environmental scientist looked at the issue of Mainstreaming the Values of Nature into Decision Making. She notes that while there are accounting systems for a variety of products and processes, there is really no good way to value natural systems. But that is changing with the Natural Capital Project. From the website:
The Natural Capital Project (NatCap) aims to integrate the values of nature into all major decisions affecting the environment and human well-being. Our ultimate objective is to improve the state of biodiversity and human well-being by motivating greater and more cost-effective investments in both.
NatCap develops simple, use-driven approaches to valuing nature, works closely with decision makers, and provides free, open source ecosystem service software tools to a broad community of users. We are a partnership combining research innovation at Stanford University and the University of Minnesota with the global reach of conservation science and policy at The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. We work with leaders around the world to test and demonstrate how accounting for nature’s benefits can support more sustainable investment and policy decisions.
Dan Kammen, an expert in energy at UC Berkeley addressed Energy for Sustainable and Equitable Development. He looked at both national (California) and global strategies in the drive toward more sustainable and equitable energy use.
In California and after the energy crisis they experience in 2005, policy makers drafted legislation that has dramatically decreased the use of solid and liquid fuels (coal, gas, oil) with the goal of reducing GHG emissions 25% by 2020 and by 80% by mid-century. So by, 2020 1 million of the estimated 7 million solar roofs in the US will be on California homes and buildings. Today, 70% of all solar rooftops are in the state.
Dr. Kammen and his colleagues are taking these programs and others to try and help other countries around the world. They have an open-source platform where ideas from around the globe can readily be shared. For example, LED/solar lighting systems are popping up around the globe and becoming more and more efficient and powerful.
Similarly, countries are working to develop energy “microgrids” and bypassing centralized power such as a coal-fired power plant. What is needed next is to see if these types of projects can be taken to larger scales. For more ideas, see coolclimate.berkeley.edu.
Next up: Dr. Charles Kennel from Scripps in San Diego offered an overview of the Global Knowledge Action Network for Adaptation to Climate Change. The complexity of the climate system and the uncertainty it is creating means humans are entering into an era that is totally new. Needed will be adaptive management systems to help people and nations assess, decide and act on a variety of problems for a thousand years. Such a system has to be practical, reasonable, tolerant of mistakes, timely, vigilant and resolute.
The past will not be much of a guide to the future. Continual assessments as climate change unfolds will be essential to governance and adaptation strategies have to be conceived in global terms, assessed regionally and implemented locally. He notes that those at the margins must be involved in these processes. These knowledge action networks are important: relay local knowledge to regional, national and international levels.
Just to add even more complexity to what will be required, Dr. Kennel notes that critical investments will be needed in:
- Capacity: specialized decision processes in a variety of fields and sectors to serve millions of decision makers
- Complexity: the problem of climate is huge: global to local effects and on ecosystems, humans, geophysical systems.
- Coordination: No central actor can do this and conceive of all the tasks ahead.
- Sustainability: keep knowledge in active use for 1,000 years which will require a meta knowledge base
- Timliness: rate of change is about to double in 15 years and there must be an “always on” management service.
Charles Perrings and Karl-Goran Maler discussed how to better value nature. They reiterated that there are some serious and immediate threats to biodiversity in land and water. This biodiversity must be seen as a public good but is currently not priced as if it is. Economists are working to find ways to price these public goods such as by creating markets for them or providing payments for landholders to increase the supply of ecological and biological diversity. Furthermore, the global community must resist nations and companies from appropriating common pool (global) resources. These ecosystems are assets and their value is important for human well-being and the survival of the human species. One way to understand the value of ecosystems is through an example. In some parts of the world, pollinators (bees, birds, bats) have disappeared so plants now need to be pollinated by hand.
Yuan Tseh Lee focused on Sustainable Transformation of Human Society in Asia.
Professor Lee said that Asia is driving the development train today, but: The train of human development is going in the wrong direction, and is speeding towards a horrific crash… If we wish to avoid a tragic end, we must radically change the train’s course in this coming decade.
Asia represents over 60% of the world’s population so by extension it also will likely take the biggest share of future resource consumption and impact. Developing a different model of development will be critical in deciding global humanity’s future. What needs to happen are several things:
- Overdeveloped countries have to admit that the global community has to develop differently than they did and transform how they, themselves, develop to have credibility when they talk with others
- Overdeveloped countries should stop encouraging Asia to develop in ways that the west thinks is best: consumption, spending.
- Overdeveloped countries must actively work with Asia to find new directions that improve human welfare but consume less with fewer environmental impacts.
Professor Lee’s Future Earth program is one way to make a difference. It produces knowledge and solutions to help societies confront environmental change, increase resilience, reduce vulnerabilities, and identify pathways for transition to a sustainable future. It also tries to integrate all disciplines like never before to address the problems we face and it tries to produce concrete solutions to these big challenges.
Professor Dasgupta from Cambridge offered a helpful intervention during the discussion period. He said that social scientists and especially economists should be seen as welcomed partners with scientists in addressing these issues. But the models that economists use to help make economic decisions—and the subsequent social, cultural and political decisions—are old models. New models are needed. For example, the time that the woman who has to walk two hours to get water or fuel is not factored into the economic data so productivity measurements are not accurate. Getting to a point where economics takes into account human well-being is critical in this discussion. If you are seriously interested in poverty (generally a conversation stopper) you must begin to factor in human well-being.
Dr. Ramanathan highlighted something that the Covenant tries to put into practice within our own Catholic community and that is the convening power of the church. This meeting, with scientists and social scientists from around the globe, must also find a way to influence national and global decision makers.
Tim Wirth from the UN Foundation said that in politics, timing is everything. In this sense, he compared Pope Francis with John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was living at a time when critical choices faced the human community and became enormously popular for confronting these challenges. Pope Francis stands at another global crossroads. His enormous popularity makes him a pivotal figure in providing the world a new and more positive vision, particularly in an age of anthropogenic climate change. Those gathered here, Wirth contends, have an obligation to deliver to Pope Francis a manifesto on climate, biodiversity, and the oceans so that he can provide a way to transmit new ways of thinking to the world which, in turn, could help to change our economic, political and social structures to reflect our new reality.
Two other important interventions during this late-afternoon discussion period: Andrew Revkin suggested that perhaps if there is another meeting like this convened by the Vatican, representatives from the humanities should be invited and their stories and symbols can help point us in the direction of what ought to be and what could be. Another participant suggested that this meeting is too “Euro-centric” and perhaps a follow-up convening could be held in a poor country so participants can see first hand the difficulties faced by so many people.
After the open discussion period, world-renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz presented his paper, The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers our Future
He began with a catalog of statistics outlining the growing wealth inequality around the world but particularly in the United States. In the U.S., the gap income gap is larger than anywhere in the world. The top 1% has 20-25% of income and 1/3 of all the wealth. The Walton family has as much wealth as the bottom 1/3 of Americans. Ninety-five percent of income gains since the recession has gone to the top 1%. Median income is at the level it was 25 years ago. Median income of a full-time male worker is lower than it was 40 years ago. Equality of opportunity is lower than any other advanced country and success is dependent on the success of the parents. It is now a question of identity. It is likely to get worse.
Implications: it is not the laws of economics that are making a difference. Outcomes are more tied to policy and politics. For example, in the financial sector, there is no apparent correlation between rewards and contributions of top executives. Years ago, CEO pay was approximately 10 times the average worker’s salary. Now its 300 times. But have they contributed 300 times more to the productivity of the company?
The result of this inequity is greater instability among peoples and there are clear impacts on the environment as well. We know, for example, that climate change is impacting those at the margins the most and don’t have the ability to protect themselves. Inequality also impedes the progress for a climate change agreement. Poor countries don’t want to have to pay a price when rich countries are to blame. Inequality in advanced countries creates middle class stagnation. This necessarily forces jobs and job security to the top of the agenda of the middle class and climate change is way down their list of concerns.
Archbishop Roland Minnerath of Dijon, France provided the first theological perspective of this meeting. His paper provided an overview of Human Natural Law as a Basis for the Safeguarding of Human Life and Nature in a Globalized World.
The Western model relies on an assumption of unlimited capacity of nature. Resources are being exhausted and many systems are in trouble. The West has exported this idea worldwide. But even in other cultures, political and economic systems are not paying careful enough attention to nature.
Archbishop Minnerath outline three ecological schools:
1) environmental ecology which says that humanity must live with nature and possibly with nature taking the lead;
2) utilitarian ecology which denies the distinction between human and animal life. With nature often setting the agenda for the future.
3) Deep ecology: nature has rights and humans have duties. Man has come way late in the development of other species.
Modern connectivity via the internet is promoting a Gaia worship which is imposing its will on humanity and has become a religion unto itself and working to supplant Christianity.
A Christian view of nature must offer a message of hope. Social doctrine of the church puts humanity at the center of creation and the garden must be cultivated with care, not for the use or misuse of a few, but in order to share its fruits with all for a decent life on earth.
In natural law, humanity and nature are not the same. Humanity is the subject and nature is the object which is to be taken care of in a sustainable way for the benefit of all. The world of nature is the creation of God who is not nature. The distinction between Creator and creation is basic.
The common foundation moving forward is the dignity of the human person. So the issue is anthropological. This is what is meant by “human ecology”: humans are a product of evolution, but at the same time are part of nature. With the dawn of the Enlightenment, there was a switch from humanity understanding its place in the universe within natural law to becoming bound by no laws other than what it decides upon. But as the only “thinking” creature, humans must now come to grips with the responsibility it has for the damage it has inflicted on nature and nature cannot survive without a mental conversion of humanity.
The final talk of the day was by Professor Edith Brown-Weiss of Georgetown entitled, Nature and the Law: Ownership of the Global Commons
She looked climate change from the prespective of its clear threat to the global commons, our atmosphere. She focused on an intergenerational lens where all of us—past, present, and future—are part of the commons. We came from the commons, from the evolutionary processes that formed all life. We are at the same time stewards and beneficiaries of the commons. So intergenerational equity becomes a basis for environmental justice. Here, there are three options for moving forward:
- Comparable options: to preserve diversity of our resource base which has implications for water, germ plasm, aquifers, climate, etc.
- Comparable quality: to recognize that the damage we are doing takes very long to reverse and impacts future generations, and
- Comparable non-disciminatory access to future generations meaning the right to the global commons exists regardless of number and type of future generations.
Professor Brown Weiss turned to what she called the “great kaleidoscope of technology and groups” working to create a better world by challenging governments and exploitive businesses, taking on regional conflicts, and tackling environmental degradation. Part of this kaleidoscope also includes bottom-up legal agreements which are generally voluntary but are having an impact in reshaping basic human relationships at the systemic level.
If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito. African proverb
Very little “good news” in today’s presentations. The world’s top experts in atmospheric chemistry, oceanography, the tropics, glaciers, polar regions, as well as sociologists with expertise in urbanization, agriculture, and coastal communities presenting amazing and very sobering papers on what we are facing if we don’t begin to turn climate change around quickly. Here are some of the key lessons from today.
Hans Joachim Schellnuber on Climate Tipping Points
In a fascinating video, posted here, Dr. Schellnuber gave the story of anthropogenic carbon emissions that began in Great Britain with the industrial revolution (calling it our C-story). I’ll post the video tomorrow.
The data he presented leads to one key point: unless we dramatically divert the business as usual path we are currently on, any number of “tipping points” could result. These tipping points include the loss of ice sheets in Greenland, a methane release from thawing tundra, ocean acidification from CO2 absorption.
In the discussion that followed, a participant asked Dr. Schellnuber if he had a prediction about whether or not we are near one of these tipping points. He said that he believes that there is a 20-25% chance that we may reach one of them with business as usual. He provocatively asked: “If you brought your child to the school bus and the driver said that there is a 20% chance that there will be a catastrophic crash, would you put your child on that bus?”
Walter Munk was up next, discussed sea level rise and gave an excellent overview of how scientists have advanced in measuring sea level rise and the melting of ice, particularly from Greenland. As a result, it is clear that both are occurring: the ocean levels are rising and Greenland ice sheet is melting. Sea level rise will happen unevenly and water from Greenland (and Antarctica) will swell oceans more toward the equator (ocean thermal dynamics) and this is where most of the poorest populations live.
He concludes: We can (and must) move to renewables within a generation if we want to disrupt climate change and catastrophe. International collaboration on an unprecedented scale will be required. The restoration to pre-industrial standards and, thus, the sustainability of our planet, depends on ocean mixing which has a millennial time scale: meaning if we are successful in stopping and decreasing CO2, returning the oceans to balance that they have today will take at least a thousand years.
In the discussion that followed this talk, Professor Sachs (already my favorite participant) cut to the core. UN-sponsored climate negotiations are by diplomats and politicians. Different actors are needed: engineers, sociologists, scientists, etc., to solve the problems.
The same with economists: Their argument that a price on carbon will either be too expensive or not politically palatable is a non-starter. They’re looking at the issue strictly from the numbers and will never convince people that we need to pony up with a price on carbon to solve the problems. First, we need to show what can be done and convince people that there are solutions and these real solutions will encourage a shift in our collective funding priorities.
Professor Nancy Knowlton took another tack on oceans focusing on degradation. But she quickly pivoted to the need to tell the stories of success: in restoration, reducing pollution, saving species, protecting spaces, and harvesting ocean resources wisely.
Stories, Dr. Knowlton said, are what we must lead with before the facts. Stories offer hope and share how we can overcome diversity. In this area (threats to oceans) there are some good stories about how communities are managing their small pieces of ocean better by eliminating pollution, harvesting fish sustainably and using the cleaner, more vibrant coastline for tourism. The whole community wins. She illustrated the point with a great African proverb: If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night with a mosquito.
Jeffrey Vincent from Duke University discussed tropical forests.
Globally, tropical forest account for very little (1% of global GDP) but income on a local scale can be as much as 20%, which could be from their use as biomass energy and payments for carbon sequestration for example.
Worldwide, primary forests have much greater biodiversity than secondary forests but both continue to decline (although there are pockets of conservation activities). One main reason for this loss is converting forests for agriculture. At least 1/3 of world’s forests are degraded.
Policies to protect forests include: creating public lands/conservation; helping local communities manage and own forests; and paying communities for ecosystem preservation.
The stats and charts from Janice Perlman about Mega Cities were quite impressive. Today, 24 cities hold over 10 million people each with Tokyo being the largest. In the near future, only 2 of biggest cities will be in developed countries; most will be in global south. 1.4 million people/day are moving into a mega city where they usually end up in shantytowns in marginal land (swamps, flood zones, steep hills). These off-the-grid communities will include one in three people will by 2050. Biggest challenge ahead is to bridge divide between extremely wealthy and extremely poor in mega cities. These mega cities will take up only 2.7% of land but produce 75% of global GDP.
Anil Kulkarni: Glaciers in Himalaya.
Himalayan glaciers provide the vast amount of water to India and Pakistan and contributes mightily to food production: in Pakistan, nearly all grain production relies on water from the Himalayan glaciers and snowmelt. Two thirds of the Himalaya range lies within India. 81 of the major glaciers in the region are shrinking with only three not showing signs of glacial loss. 13% of this loss has occurred between 1960 to 2000 and in recent years, this retreat is accelerating. (The Covenant’s Feast of St. Francis Program, Melting Ice Mending Creation addressed the visual evidence of this problem as well as the Vatican’s working group on glaciers.)
Besides temperature impacts on glaciers, black carbon also plays a role. The soot from the burning of fields and cookstoves in the plains of India covers the snow in the Himalayan region and accelerates melting because the albedo (reflectivity) affect is reduced.
What does all this mean for the Himalaya? Without quick action on climate change, by the end of the century there will be serious loss of glacial water and the people who rely on this water for life and livelihoods including food production could suffer mightily.
Peter Wadhams offered an astounding presentation on the Arctic ice cap. Having studied the region for decades, he knows what he’s talking about. The primary driver of the disappearance of Arctic sea ice is warming air temperatures, which is far more dramatic in the northern latitudes than elsewhere on Earth. Also contributing is warmer water, warming permafrost in the surrounding land, Greenland ice melt, Atlantic ocean current warming, and less seasonal snow cover on nearby land.
The open water we see today has not been seen in 50,000 years. And the thickness of the ice is less than half of what it was in 2000. When compared to predictions by climate computer modeling, it is dramatically worse.
Conclusion: without albedo effect of the polar icecap, climate change forcing may increase by 25%. Combined with the lack of snow on land around the Arctic—which is also retreating and the forcing could increase to 50% in the not-so-distant future. Wadhams contends that as Arctic water warms, permafrost close to shore melts and methane is released. If just 50 gigatons of the 770 gt that is currently held captive in the polar region is released, we could see a 6 degree rise in temperature by 2040. At that point, perhaps the only solution will be some type of geoengineering. This could be using the fracking process to get to the methane before it is released into the atmosphere.
Marsha McNutt discussed the Stability of Coastal Zones. Focusing on the massive cyclones (Haiyan) and hurricanes (Katrina), she notes that current populations and infrastructures that have amassed around the world and along the coasts are simply not sustainable. Globally, seawalls failure will be 20 times more likely than in the previous century.
The basic problem is that humankind got used to a very stable planet that emerged around 8,000 years ago: oceans levels were incredibly stable. So we began to build around the coasts. One result: Hurricane Katrina produced the largest internal migration in US history since the Civil War.
So we must begin to come to grips with vulnerabilities. In some places, this may mean an orderly retreat from coastal areas; or we may have to triage the most threatened places and structures with new investments to protect or move these communities and assets; or to restore natural processes, allowing river sediment to stay put instead of diverting rivers, for example.
Gradual sea level rise is not the issue but the storm surges as a result of higher seas. “Yesterday’s 100 year flood is tomorrow’s high tide,” notes Dr. McNutt.
My conclusion for the end of the day:
What is needed is a bunch mosquitoes pestering those who can help turn this looming catastrophe around. These people will include the conversion of those stuck in the status quo (energy executives, for example), our scientists, engineers, sociologists AND our religious leaders. As Jeffrey Sachs said at one point during the day: All great social movements look impossible until they are inevitable.
What a day! More on Monday when the group reconvenes.
May 2, 2014
For descriptions of the presenters, please refer to the program at the PAS/PASS webpage for this meeting here. If you wish to see the papers, many of them are posted in a dropbox here. Andrew Revkin from the Dot Earth Blog of the New York Times is also here so for his view, you can follow him here. Tweets to follow:@CasinoPioIV @dan_misleh and @revkin
What a powerful first day. Each speaker brought new information to the table and talks went between hard science to economics and the human impacts on the planet. Population and population control surfaced a couple of times and organizers are clearly following Pope Francis’ exhortation to dialogue with everyone so we might learn from one another. Discussions between the talks were equally engaging with one of the professors offering a passionate analysis of how “the poor” are anonymous and faceless but are, in fact, our brothers and sisters. The day began for me with a wonderful presentation by Cardinal Rodriguez who offered a moral framework upon which to evaluate where humanity finds itself in our world that is threatened by unsustainable consumption and patterns. Cardinal Rodriquez, President of Caritas Internationalis, offered a fervent plea that our ethics must catch up to our technology: “Both history and our current existence show that our ‘software’ –i.e., our ideas and values-, has evolved much more slowly than our ‘hardware,’ which has focused for centuries on maximum growth and productivity.” This creates huge divisions, particularly between the northern and southern hemispheres. Put another way, he says that today:
[M]an finds himself to be a technical giant and an ethical child. The power of men over the means to their goals is incontestable, both in terms of technological capabilities and with respect to the potentialities of scientific knowledge.
However, this prowess is displayed in a difficult context where the goals may get fuzzy. The capacity of the “how” collides with the lack of clarity of the “for what”, as not everything that is possible is necessarily convenient for man. (Emphasis in original.)
The Chairman of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Dr. Werner, gave a lesson in the varies ways life has evolved which has led to the variety of organisms we see today and will lead to those that will come in the future. He admits to a sense of awe in nature’s self-organizing processes. These processes can aid in the development of genetically modified foods that, with the limited carrying capacity of the planet, could be a significant development for hunger reduction globally and as the planet approaches 10 billion people by mid-century. A balance has to be reached between more stable human populations while at the same time enhancing the Earth’s natural evolutionary process, which will continue to provide a rich diversity of organisms.
Dr. Coppens shared some thoughts on human evolution from the first hominids to modern people and he outlined how we have evolved from less complexity to more complexity and the tremendous adaptability of our human ancestors, even from past climate changes.
In a far-reaching paper on economics and sustainability, Professor Dasgupta discussed the problem of consumption (competitive, social and conformist varieties), the impact of present levels of consumption on the environment and economics (trade, wealth transfers and the lack of pricing of externalities, i.e., the impacts on the environment and the extraction of non-renewable resources often by distant corporations unwilling to recognize the impacts on low-income people, especially), among other problems. And he offered this sobering tidbit: “The political world is watching this meeting and concerned about climate change but none will take action because no politician wishes to be seen as the one who let GDP growth decline.” He admits that in order for the poor to increase in wealth, the rich must give up some. And the key is “wealth” not just income: one can get rich by denuding a forest but that is temporary and doesn’t generate true wealth.
Next up was Joachim von Braun, discussing food demand. At current patterns of consumption, the world population in 2050 will be at 9 billion people but we will eat like 12 billion. The current consumption patterns are simply unsustainable. To reduce demand, a number of options should be pursued to curb overconsumption keeping in mind a balanced and careful approach. These options include: raising prices and taxes on unhealthy foods such as sugar; educate consumers so they can make healthier choices; curb animal production (but keeping in mind that dramatic cuts over a short timeframe could drive meat prices down quickly and thus impacting the economy overall which, in turn, hurts poor people the most); and reject the false choice of “food first” vs. “environment first” by using appropriate technology and innovation within the food system.
Jeffrey Sachs, clearly had the best lines of the conference. While starting out with the good news of the plummeting numbers of extreme poor over the past few decades, he then pivoted to an emotional look at some of the problems the global community faces: rising inequality in every region; overshooting planetary boundaries for climate, the nitrogen cycle and biodiversity, among others, as well as massive storms and extended droughts that are becoming more prevalent. He is working closely with the United Nations to establish new Sustainable Development Goals that could be adopted by the international community next year but cautioned that without some teeth—consequences for not implementing these goals—they may amount to little.
Here are some of Dr. Sach’s best (paraphrased) lines:
- Most of the world—who are not CEOs or shareholders of major oil corporations—are concerned about climate change and that is MOST of the world!
- At the United Nations, most countries are very, very worried about climate change.
- We must reign in the corporations and eliminate their tax havens which are abetted by governments like the United States, Great Britain and a few others.
- These corporations have no right to impose externalities (especially environmental degradation) on others.
- Extractive industries (oil, mining) have operated with impunity for decades and this must stop. BP paid tens of millions for its spill in the Gulf but Shell Oil in Niger delta has paid not one penny for the environmental havoc they have created.
Paul Crutzen, Food Production in the Anthropocene Dr. Crutzen who coined the term Anthropocene closed out the day. He cataloged the vast growth in the past century in many areas. Here’s a graphic: Bottom line for Dr. Crutzen, the Nobel prize winning atmospheric chemist: there is absolutely no doubt that human activity is dramatically altering the planet and the impacts are already being felt, particularly by the poorest and most vulnerable people around the world.