By Alessandro Gisotti
You are one the strongest voices in the world calling for environmental protection. Why are you so passionately involved in this “green battle” for our planet?
I believe that the purpose of life is to glorify God — and if we heap contempt and destruction on God’s creation, that is grotesquely inconsistent with the way we are supposed to be living our lives. Moreover, the climate crisis is now the biggest existential challenge humanity has ever faced. And it is not only humanity that is at risk; according to the world’s biologists, up to half of all the living species with which we share this Earth are in danger of extinction during this century. When Noah was instructed to gather two of every species in his ark in order to “keep them alive with thee,” I believe that instruction is also meant for us.
At present, we are using the thin shell of atmosphere surrounding our planet as an open sewer for 110 million tons of heat-trapping manmade global warming pollution every day. The accumulated total is now trapping as much extra heat energy as would be released by 400,000 Hiroshima-class uncle bombs exploding every 24 hours. The consequences of that extra heat energy are clear: Stronger storms, bigger downpours, more destructive floods and mudslides, deeper and longer droughts, crop failures, water scarcity in many regions, strengthening wildfires, spreading disease, melting ice, and sea level rise — along with the acidification of the world ocean, and more.
So, there is really no choice here. We have to solve the climate crisis. As Pope Francis has said, “if we destroy creation, creation will destroy us.”
I have been fortunate to be able to pour every ounce of energy I have into efforts to contribute to the solution to his crisis. And I am so inspired by the millions of activists and leaders around the world who are driving clean energy development in the Sustainability Revolution. The real passion and energy are coming from these activists and leaders.
In a recent interview you said that climate change is not a political issue, “it is a moral and spiritual issue”. How do you see the importance of a spiritual leader like Pope Francis in sharing this commitment to safeguard the environment?
Pope Francis’s leadership has been an inspiration to all of us across the world, particularly when it comes to his strong and repeated emphasis on solving the climate crisis. I am grateful for and in awe of the clarity of the moral force he embodies. He also speaks in the most powerful way about the most vulnerable among us — the poor — and helps all who listen to understand how they are uniquely affected by the climate crisis. In particular, his papal encyclical, Laudato si’, marked a crucial step for the Catholic church in leading the world to commit to addressing the climate crisis ahead of the Paris Agreement.
In these and many other ways, the Pope has been at the forefront in leading the world toward constructive climate action. Virtually all of my Catholic colleagues and friends are thrilled to the marrow of their bones that he is providing this kind of spiritual leadership. As am I.
More generally, spiritual teaching obviously plays a crucial role in communities around the world. The Pope is a model for leaders of other faith traditions to communicate the dangers posed by the climate crisis and our duty as stewards of God’s creation to solve it.
In his Encyclical letter Laudato si, on care for our common home, Pope Francis affirms that climate change and poverty are deeply interrelated in many regions of the world. How do you see that issue?
As Pope Francis has emphasized, those living in poverty are disproportionally affected by the climate crisis, which is detrimentally impacting access to necessary resources and threatening human health. For example, Puerto Rico, where more than 40 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, is still trying to recover from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which decimated the country’s electrical grid and mobile phone networks, and flooded entire neighborhoods.
Moreover, the co-pollution (along with CO2) from spewing carbon emissions into the atmosphere is making people sick. It is well known that allowing more air pollution into our cities and smaller communities is making even more people sick. According to the principles of Environmental Justice, we know that the plumes of this pollution are more likely to go into communities that have been deprived of the political and economic power necessary to defend themselves. So, that is where the first damage is done.
And it isn’t just those living in poverty who are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. The list includes the mentally ill, those with pre-existing medical conditions, the elderly, infants and children, the homeless and minority communities. For example, in the United States, African American children are three-times more likely than the overall population to suffer from diseases related to air pollution, are twice as likely to have asthma and ten times more likely to die from asthma than are children from the majority community.
Recently Pope Francis urged top oil executives to commit to efforts for producing clean fuel. What is needed to achieve this “dream”?
I was very happy to see Pope Francis convene top energy and investment executives to agree upon the importance of a price on carbon emissions. To achieve this, there first needs to be a viable alternative to burning and putting pollutants into the air. Fortunately, there is. Renewable energy and other solutions to the climate crisis are now competing economically with fossil fuels. As a result, the big fossil fuel companies are being forced to re-examine their business models. Once the economic question is taken out of the equation then I am hopeful that the moral choice will become starkly clear to many more people and will prevail.
We are in the beginning stages of a global “Sustainability Revolution,” that has the scale and impact of the Industrial Revolution, but the speed of the Digital Revolution. Facilitated by the emergence of new technologies and increasingly informed consumers, sustainable business practices have spread rapidly in the past few years.
As a result of growing social and political pressure — and the rising cost of carbon pollution — governments all around the world are passing legislation to reduce their emissions. At the end of 2017, China established a carbon market, joining the European Union and other countries such as Chile and Colombia who have also now put a price on carbon.
Pope Francis’ conference at the Vatican with oil company executives is an extremely encouraging sign that this transition to a sustainable future may quickly becoming a reality rather than a dream. But, we need to move even faster to ensure this transition occurs in time to prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis.
Your Climate Reality Project held its 38th activist training seminar in Berlin from June 26-28. What do you hope will come out of this meeting?
In Berlin, 700 trainees from 50 countries and from all walks of life joined together for three days of intensive training with renowned climate scientists and communicators to learn how they can inspire and lead their communities in taking action to solve the climate crisis. The training included a wide range of open sessions (and many breakout sessions on particular aspects of the crisis and its solutions) all exploring how to raise public awareness of the climate crisis, build support for the practical solutions available to us today, and pressure our representatives to act.
We conducted this training in Berlin at a time when Germany and the EU are particularly experiencing the effects of the climate crisis. Without concerted action by government leaders, such effects are predicted to worsen significantly in coming years. Germany, for example, is in the process of effectively implementing an energy transition away from coal and in doing so, will hopefully serve as a beacon for other nations in the EU to reexamine their own climate action policies.
Climate Reality has trained more than 15,000 activists working in 141 countries. Our previous training was held in Mexico City this past March, and in August we will be hosting another in Los Angeles, CA.