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Gerard O’ConnellJune 09, 2018
Pope Francis meets with energy executives in Rome. Photo courtesy of Vatican Media.Pope Francis meets with energy executives in Rome. Photo courtesy of Vatican Media.

“Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization,” Pope Francis told top executives of the world’s main petrol, natural gas and energy-linked investment companies when he met them in the Vatican on June 9. He appealed to them to use their “creativeness and professional expertise” in “the service of two great needs in today’s world: the care of the poor and the environment.”

“The energy question has become one of the principle challenges facing the international community,” he told participants when he met them at the end of the June 8-9 conference held behind closed doors at the Casina Pio IV of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

“The way we meet this challenge will determine our overall quality of life and the real possibility either of resolving conflicts in different areas of our world or on account of grave environmental imbalances and lack of access to energy, providing them with new fuel to destroy social stability and human lives,” he said.

His audience included the CEOs of BP ( Bob Dudley), Exxon Mobil (Darren Woods), Eni (Claudio Descalzi), Equinor, Norways’ state-owned energy company ( Eldar Saetre), the chief executive of investment giant BlackRock (Larry Fink) and Ernest Moniz, the U.S. Energy Secretary under President Obama, as well as two facilitators—Carolyn Woo (formerly of CRS) and Professor Leo Burke of Notre Dame university.

“Civilization requires energy, but energy must not destroy civilization.”

The conference was organized by the Vatican’s dicastery for Service of Integral Human Development and the University of Notre Dame Mendoza College of Business.

In his three-page speech, Pope Francis recalled that “today, more than ever before, vast areas of our life depend on energy” but still “more than a billion people lack access to electricity.”

He said the challenge is “to find ways of ensuring the immense supply of energy required to meet the needs of all, while at the same time developing means of using natural resources that avoid creating environmental imbalances resulting in deterioration and pollution gravely harmful to our human family, both now and in the future.”

He emphasized the need “to devise a long-term global strategy able to provide energy security and, by laying down precise commitments to meet the problem of climate change, to encourage economic stability, public health, the protection of the environment and integral human development.”

Pope Francis repeated the call, first made in his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si,’”for an “energy transition” aimed at averting disastrous climate changes that could compromise the well-being and future of the human family and our common home.”

While this “a challenge of epochal proportions,” he said it is also “an immense opportunity to encourage efforts to ensure fuller access to energy by less developed countries, especially in as to diversify energy sources and promote the sustainable development of renewable forms of energy.”

“If we are to eliminate poverty and hunger, the more than one billion people without electricity today need to gain access to it.”

He reminded them that “the challenges facing us are interconnected” and that “if we are to eliminate poverty and hunger, as called for by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the more than one billion people without electricity today need to gain access to it.” He insisted, however, that “that energy should also be clean, by a reduction in the systematic use of fossil fuels.”

Pope Francis recalled that in December 2015, 196 Nations negotiated and adopted the Paris Agreement, “with a firm resolve to limit the growth in global warming to below 2° [celsius], based on preindustrial levels, and, if possible, to below 1.5° [celsius]”

Today, however, he said, “some two-and-a-half years later, carbon dioxide emissions and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases remain very high.” But what is “even more worrying is the continued search for new fossil fuel reserves, whereas the Paris Agreement clearly urged keeping most fossil fuels underground.”

He did not mention, however, another disturbing fact that everyone was aware of: President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement. The pope, the Holy See as well as governments around the world consider that decision as a major blow to combating climate change.

Given the present scenario, Francis said, “we need to talk together—industry, investors, researchers and consumers—about transition and the search for alternatives. Civilization requires energy, but energy use must not destroy civilization!”

“Many of those who can least afford it are already being forced to leave their homes and migrate to other places.”

He said it is essential to come up with “an adequate energy ‘mix’ for combating pollution, eliminating poverty and promoting social equality.”

Francis acknowledged that “progress has been made” in this field thanks to efforts by the oil and gas companies. He commended them for “developing more careful approaches to the assessment of climate risk and adjusting their business practices accordingly” and noted too that “global investors are refining their investment strategies to take into account environmental and sustainability questions” and “new approaches to ‘green finance’ are beginning to emerge.”

He emphasized that “political decisions, social responsibility on the part of the business community and criteria governing investments—all these must be guided by the pursuit of the long-term common good and concrete solidarity between generations.” He warned that “there should be no room for opportunistic and cynical efforts to gain small partial results in the short run, while shifting equally significant costs and damages to future generations.”

The pope emphasized that “there are also ethical reasons for moving towards global energy transition with a sense of urgency.” While “everyone is affected by the climate crisis,” he said, “the effects of climate change are not evenly distributed.”

He reminded them that “it is the poor who suffer most from the ravages of global warming, with increasing disruption in the agricultural sector, water insecurity, and exposure to severe weather events.”

“Many of those who can least afford it are already being forced to leave their homes and migrate to other places that may or may not prove welcoming,” Pope Francis said. “Many more will need to do so in the future.”

He told the oil and gas executives that “the transition to accessible and clean energy is a duty that we owe towards millions of our brothers and sisters around the world, poorer countries and generations yet to come.” But said “decisive progress on this path cannot be made without an increased awareness that all of us are part of one human family, united by bonds of fraternity and solidarity.” He told them that our interdependent world “is calling us to devise and implement a long-term common project that invests today in order to build for tomorrow.”

He noted that “unlimited faith in markets and technology has led many people to believe that shifts in economic or technological systems will be sufficient to remedy the current ecological and social imbalances,” but, he made clear, the facts contradict this because “the demand for continuous economic growth has led to severe ecological and social consequences, since our current economic system thrives on ever-increasing extraction, consumption and waste.”

As he has stated clearly in “Laudato Si,’” so too today Francis asserted that “the problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths in meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations.”

He emphasized that “renewal calls for a new form of leadership, and such leaders must have a clear and profound realization that the earth is a single system and that humanity, likewise, is a single whole” and then went onto suggest that the oil, gas and investment executives could provide some of that greatly needed leadership.

He invited them to be “the core of a group of leaders who envision the global energy transition in a way that will take into account all the peoples of the earth, as well as future generations and all species and ecosystems.”

He encouraged them to take up this challenge saying they should see this “as the greatest leadership opportunity of all, one that can make a lasting difference for the human family, and one that can appeal to your boldest dreams and ideas.”

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JR Cosgrove
6 years ago

A lot of disconnects. The world has more food than it ever did. There is less poor than there ever was despite 7 billion people. The US under Trump is the world leader in reducing carbon emissions. Germany and much of Europe uses coal. The Paris accords was not about reducing carbon emissions. What ravages of poor countries by climate changes? If one wants to see ravages from climate change study Northern Europe in the early 1300's.

Why can't the Vatican deal in facts?

Dr.Cajetan Coelho
6 years ago

Our acts of commission and omission that inflict poverty on fellow human beings and on our dear Planet cannot be our ways of proceeding.

Phillip Stone
6 years ago

Think, what state is a human being in when first born?
Naked, almost totally powerless and devoid of all possessions.
Thus were all our ancestors and ourselves right up to the present day.

By the sweat of their brows, the strain of their muscles, the sharpness of their wits and their exchange of knowledge and understanding, humans painfully accumulated the capability of providing themselves and their unproductive extended kin with food for tomorrow and then for a while and then for a season and then as a community for a lifetime. On the way they increased their provision using animal muscle power as well as their own and fire power as well as their human warmth and began to work at specialisation, division of labour and exchange.

There was NO wealth before it was generated as above.
No-one had any right to the fruits of the labour of anyone else, just their own.
Sharing was a gift, from the men and the women in their different ways, to those they loved and valued.

Wealth earned and generated is NOT stolen from anybody - it is generated by the labour and ingenuity of some.

"Property is theft" comes from the lying lips of Satan through the Marxist creed.
The planet is in the same capable hands as it has been in since it was accumulated from stardust billions of years ago as the Holy God tells Job and his comforters in a very, very old book.
As has been happening since the moon was put in place, the climate of earth rather than being stable has been periodically changing in a complex cyclical pattern under the control of the sun and the various complex changes in the orbit of the earth and other planets and cosmic rays.
We are just emerging from an ice age which is giving mild and slow warming and that in its turn is increasing the level of C02 in the atmosphere and that is bringing about a greening of the planet with increased tree and plant growth and crop yields. Cold kills the poor and vulnerable and exposed much more than warmth and the crops feed their hunger better every year.
Our duty is to "clean our rooms": sanitation, clean water, clear air, less plastic, less industrial and chemical pollutants; a big enough job within human capability.

Stanley Kopacz
6 years ago

We're not coming out of an ice age. That was 12,000 years ago. We should be going back into one but quite the opposite is happening, rapidly and not on the order of the Milankowic cycles which are on the scale of tens of thousands of years. What you posted is nonsense to climate scientists.

JR Cosgrove
6 years ago

If one wants to examine climate change, the first part of the 14th century was dramatic. From four hundred years of the Medieval Warming period (temperatures higher than today) to the Baltic freezing over three time in the early 1300's. It was the beginning of major climate change. A new cold age in which harvests for several years were destroyed and millions starved to death. Thirty years later the Black Death hit. It was not a good time. It was the time of Hansel and Gretel (Grimm's tale had it origin in stories from the Great Famine of 1315-21), William Tell, the Avignon papacy and anti Popes.

Stanley Kopacz
6 years ago

Putting aside that Europe is only a small region of the globe, I know of no reputable scientific reconstructions of temperature that support your statement that medieval temperatures were higher than today's. Graphs seem to indicate around +0.8°C.

JR Cosgrove
6 years ago

That was the time when there was a cathedral and two monasteries in Greenland.

Stanley Kopacz
6 years ago

Which proves what without reconstruction from proxy data?Anecdotal, not analytic. Regional, not global. It got colder in Europe. It wasn't warmer before that than now in Europe, not by any scientific study.

JR Cosgrove
6 years ago

You should read more about the medieval warming. We are moving and I was going through a box of course work from one of the science methodology courses I took in a Ph.D program. In it I found a cartoon. It was a scientist sitting at his desk with an in box that said theories and was piled high to the ceiling. There was an out box that said proofs and it was empty. Pretty much science as I understand it. You might get a valid study where 97% of scientists agree with the proposition in this illustration.

Stanley Kopacz
6 years ago

The climatology of global warming is based on measurement and well established scientific theory, PROVEN theory. Of course, some people prefer cutesy cartoons to science as a way of dismissing science when they find the conclusions unpalatable.

JR Cosgrove
6 years ago

What is the sensitivity of temperature to CO2 levels? Answer they do not know. Which makes all climate models suspect?

Oh, but it is settled and based on well established theory. From your comments, you have no idea what I believe. The cartoon represents correct scientific thinking. But there should also be a trash can that says rejected theories. That would be bigger than the whole room.

Stanley Kopacz
6 years ago

The sensitivity is not known exactly to ten decimal places but is determined with enough accuracy. Even without computers, Svante Arrhenius calculated it to be 2°C per doubling of CO2 from 275ppm to 550ppm. We are around 400ppm. Global warming is at 0.8°C. The climatic effects are starting to become apparent. Your post and your cartoon don't represent science as much as a lawyer trick to generate a free floating doubt. Oh, how can we know anything. More postmodern than scientific. We're not talking proving parallel universe theory. We're talking work carefully applying well established physics.

JR Cosgrove
6 years ago

Which proves what

That the weather was warmer than today for a long period of time in order to build a cathedral and two monasteries. Better than any tree rings I know.

Stanley Kopacz
6 years ago

Correlation between tree rings and temperature is demonstrable. There are a lot of trees to sample. What is the correlation between monastery building and temperature? Has there been a graph done with a linear regression. Since monasteries existed from the Holy Land up to Germany, I'd say correlation with temperature is rather weak. The other problem with your example us that it's regional and not global. A slowdown in the Gulf Stream could have been the culprit. How does that disprove that increased CO2 increases global surface temperature? Anecdotal evidence makes for the best data cherry picking.

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