Gov. Jerry Brown urges religious leaders to fight climate change at Vatican conference

California Gov. Jerry Brown shows a paper during a workshop organized by Vatican on the climate change, at the Casina Pio IV, at the Vatican, Saturday Nov.4, 2017. California Gov. Jerry Brown shows a paper during a workshop organized by Vatican on the climate change, at the Casina Pio IV, at the Vatican, Saturday Nov.4, 2017. 

Gov. Jerry Brown led a delegation of California politicians and climate change activists to Rome this weekend, where he gave a keynote address during a Vatican-sponsored conference about threats facing the environment. The governor, who once studied to become a Jesuit, urged religious leaders to mobilize their flocks to join the fight to protect the planet—and he attended an 80-minute meeting with the head of the Jesuits.

“Until religious leaders from every part of the globe and from every denomination are engaged, we’re not going to be able to move aside the huge rock of indifference, complacency and inertia,” Mr. Brown, a Democrat who is California’s longest serving governor, said during the conference. “Going forward we’re going to have to find the pathway to awaken the world to get done what needs to be done.”


The governor has been critical of the Trump administration’s views on climate change, but he used his visit to Rome to say that the world is facing bigger challenges in addressing climate change than one president. (Though he did call the president’s rejection of scientific studies showing carbon dioxide is causing the planet’s temperature to increase “a lie within a lie.”) Mr. Brown’s speech was delivered just a couple of days before President Trump’s ambassador to the Vatican, Callista Gingrich, arrived in Rome.

The governor, who was joined at the conference by U.S. Representative Scott Peters, a Democrat from California, and Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs, said that compared to worldwide efforts to end climate change, “The Trump factor is very small, very small indeed.”

But he cautioned that much work remains.

“That’s nothing to cheer about, because if it was only Trump that was a problem, we’d have it solved. But that’s not our only problem,” he said, according to The Sacramento Bee. “The problem…is us. It’s our whole way of life. It’s our comfort…It’s the greed. It’s the indulgence. It’s the pattern. And it’s the inertia.”

The meeting, called “Health of People, Health of Planet and Our Responsibility: Climate Change, Air Pollution and Health,” was sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which has in recent years sought to amplify warnings from Pope Francis found in his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’” about the need to protect the planet from pollution.

According to the academy, the meeting sought to highlight “the interconnections between fossil fuel use, the pollution of the atmosphere and the oceans, climate change, public health, the health of ecosystems and sustainability.”

The Vatican has clashed with the Trump administration over climate change, having lobbied unsuccessfully for the United States to remain part of the 2016 Paris Agreement that set voluntary goals to reduce greenhouse gases. Mr. Trump announced in June that the United States would withdraw, sparking condemnation from U.S. bishops and a Vatican official.

According to a 2016 poll by the Catholic research group CARA, 65 percent of U.S. Catholics agree that the earth is getting warmer because of greenhouse gases, slightly higher than the 63 percent of U.S. adults overall who agree.

This was not Mr. Brown’s first visit to Rome to highlight climate change. He was there in 2015 for another conference on climate change, when he called politicians who oppose measures to combat climate change “troglodytes.”

Mr. Brown, who attended Jesuit schools and who studied to become a Jesuit in the 1950s, also spent more than an hour with the head of the Jesuits, Arturo Sosa, S.J., according to Politico. It has not been reported what the pair discussed.

The governor is in Europe as part of a nearly two-week long trip to attend various climate change events, including a visit to the United Nations Climate Change Conference beginning on Nov. 6 in Bonn, Germany. During his tour, he is also advocating for nuclear disarmament, distributing two articles he wrote, including a 1984 essay entitled “Nuclear Addiction” that was published by a Fordham University journal that is no longer in print.

The governor and the pope, who did not attend the meeting, share a goal in advocating for stronger environmental protections, but they differ on which policies are most effective. Pope Francis is not a fan of cap-and-trade policies that allow rich countries to pollute in exchange for a tax, whereas Mr. Brown has advocated for such policies in California and elsewhere.

Still, Mr. Brown said that religious leaders have the power to contribute a moral dimension to the debate over climate change.

“The power here is prophecy. The power here is faith, and that’s what this organization is supposed to be about. So, let’s be about it and combine with the technical and the scientific and the political,” he said.

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