In U.N. Speech, Pope Francis Blasts “Selfish and Boundless Thirst for Power and Material Prosperity”
Speaking at the United Nations in New York City (NYC) today Friday, Pope Francis said: “Any harm done to the environment is harm done to humanity.” Moreover, he said: “Every creature has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures.”
[Moreover] “We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator… he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it.”
[Furthermore] “In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good”, the pope said, adding that: [A] “selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged” and that “the poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: They are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment.”
“They [the poor] are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing ‘culture of waste.'”, said Pope Francis, speaking in front of UN delegates present for his speech in NYC September 25, 2015.
Following is a transcript of the pope’s speech to the UN, compliments of Democracy NOW!:
Mr President, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you for your kind words. Once again, following a tradition by which I feel honored, the Secretary General of the United Nations has invited the Pope to address this distinguished assembly of nations. In my own name, and that of the entire Catholic community, I wish to express to you, Mr Ban Ki-moon, my heartfelt gratitude. I greet the Heads of State and Heads of Government present, as well as the ambassadors, diplomats and political and technical officials accompanying them, the personnel of the United Nations engaged in this 70th Session of the General Assembly, the personnel of the various programs and agencies of the United Nations family, and all those who, in one way or another, take part in this meeting. Through you, I also greet the citizens of all the nations represented in this hall. I thank you, each and all, for your efforts in the service of mankind.
This is the fifth time that a Pope has visited the United Nations. I follow in the footsteps of my predecessors Paul VI, in1965, John Paul II, in 1979 and 1995, and my most recent predecessor, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in 2008. All of them expressed their great esteem for the Organization, which they considered the appropriate juridical and political response to this present moment of history, marked by our technical ability to overcome distances and frontiers and, apparently, to overcome all natural limits to the exercise of power. An essential response, inasmuch as technological power, in the hands of nationalistic or falsely universalist ideologies, is capable of perpetrating tremendous atrocities. I can only reiterate the appreciation expressed by my predecessors, in reaffirming the importance which the Catholic Church attaches to this Institution and the hope which she places in its activities.
The United Nations is presently celebrating its seventieth anniversary. The history of this organized community of states is one of important common achievements over a period of unusually fast-paced changes. Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can mention the codification and development of international law, the establishment of international norms regarding human rights, advances in humanitarian law, the resolution of numerous conflicts, operations of peace-keeping and reconciliation, and any number of other accomplishments in every area of international activity and endeavour. All these achievements are lights which help to dispel the darkness of the disorder caused by unrestrained ambitions and collective forms of selfishness. Certainly, many grave problems remain to be resolved, yet it is clear that, without all those interventions on the international level, mankind would not have been able to survive the unchecked use of its own possibilities. Every one of these political, juridical and technical advances is a path towards attaining the ideal of human fraternity and a means for its greater realization.
For this reason I pay homage to all those men and women whose loyalty and self-sacrifice have benefited humanity as a whole in these past seventy years. In particular, I would recall today those who gave their lives for peace and reconciliation among peoples, from Dag Hammarskjöld to the many United Nations officials at every level who have been killed in the course of humanitarian missions, and missions of peace and reconciliation.
Beyond these achievements, the experience of the past seventy years has made it clear that reform and adaptation to the times is always necessary in the pursuit of the ultimate goal of granting all countries, without exception, a share in, and a genuine and equitable influence on, decision-making processes. The need for greater equity is especially true in the case of those bodies with effective executive capability, such as the Security Council, the Financial Agencies and the groups or mechanisms specifically created to deal with economic crises. This will help limit every kind of abuse or usury, especially where developing countries are concerned. The International Financial Agencies are should care for the sustainable development of countries and should ensure that they are not subjected to oppressive lending systems which, far from promoting progress, subject people to mechanisms which generate greater poverty, exclusion and dependence.
The work of the United Nations, according to the principles set forth in the Preamble and the first Articles of its founding Charter, can be seen as the development and promotion of the rule of law, based on the realization that justice is an essential condition for achieving the ideal of universal fraternity. In this context, it is helpful to recall that the limitation of power is an idea implicit in the concept of law itself. To give to each his own, to cite the classic definition of justice, means that no human individual or group can consider itself absolute, permitted to bypass the dignity and the rights of other individuals or their social groupings. The effective distribution of power (political, economic, defense-related, technological, etc.) among a plurality of subjects, and the creation of a juridical system for regulating claims and interests, are one concrete way of limiting power. Yet today’s world presents us with many false rights and – at the same time – broad sectors which are vulnerable, victims of power badly exercised: for example, the natural environment and the vast ranks of the excluded. These sectors are closely interconnected and made increasingly fragile by dominant political and economic relationships. That is why their rights must be forcefully affirmed, by working to protect the environment and by putting an end to exclusion.
First, it must be stated that a true “right of the environment” does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which “are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology” (Laudato Si’, 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favorable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).
The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion. In effect, a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action. Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment. The poorest are those who suffer most from such offenses, for three serious reasons: they are cast off by society, forced to live off what is discarded and suffer unjustly from the abuse of the environment. They are part of today’s widespread and quietly growing “culture of waste”.
The dramatic reality this whole situation of exclusion and inequality, with its evident effects, has led me, in union with the entire Christian people and many others, to take stock of my grave responsibility in this regard and to speak out, together with all those who are seeking urgently-needed and effective solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at the World Summit, which opens today, is an important sign of hope. I am similarly confident that the Paris Conference on Climatic Change will secure fundamental and effective agreements.
Solemn commitments, however, are not enough, even though they are a necessary step toward solutions. The classic definition of justice which I mentioned earlier contains as one of its essential elements a constant and perpetual will: Iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius sum cuique tribuendi. Our world demands of all government leaders a will which is effective, practical and constant, concrete steps and immediate measures for preserving and improving the natural environment and thus putting an end as quickly as possible to the phenomenon of social and economic exclusion, with its baneful consequences: human trafficking, the marketing of human organs and tissues, the sexual exploitation of boys and girls, slave labor, including prostitution, the drug and weapons trade, terrorism and international organized crime. Such is the magnitude of these situations and their toll in innocent lives, that we must avoid every temptation to fall into a declarationist nominalism which would assuage our consciences. We need to ensure that our institutions are truly effective in the struggle against all these scourges.
The number and complexity of the problems require that we possess technical instruments of verification. But this involves two risks. We can rest content with the bureaucratic exercise of drawing up long lists of good proposals – goals, objectives and statistical indicators – or we can think that a single theoretical and aprioristic solution will provide an answer to all the challenges. It must never be forgotten that political and economic activity is only effective when it is understood as a prudential activity, guided by a perennial concept of justice and constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights.
To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual, for every family, in communion with others, and in a right relationship with all those areas in which human social life develops – friends, communities, towns and cities, schools, businesses and unions, provinces, nations, etc. This presupposes and requires the right to education – also for girls (excluded in certain places) – which is ensured first and foremost by respecting and reinforcing the primary right of the family to educate its children, as well as the right of churches and social groups to support and assist families in the education of their children. Education conceived in this way is the basis for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and for reclaiming the environment.
At the same time, government leaders must do everything possible to ensure that all can have the minimum spiritual and material means needed to live in dignity and to create and support a family, which is the primary cell of any social development. In practical terms, this absolute minimum has three names: lodging, labor, and land; and one spiritual name: spiritual freedom, which includes religious freedom, the right to education and other civil rights.
For all this, the simplest and best measure and indicator of the implementation of the new Agenda for development will be effective, practical and immediate access, on the part of all, to essential material and spiritual goods: housing, dignified and properly remunerated employment, adequate food and drinking water; religious freedom and, more generally, spiritual freedom and education. These pillars of integral human development have a common foundation, which is the right to life and, more generally, what we could call the right to existence of human nature itself.
The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species. The baneful consequences of an irresponsible mismanagement of the global economy, guided only by ambition for wealth and power, must serve as a summons to a forthright reflection on man: “man is not only a freedom which he creates for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature” (BENEDICT XVI, Address to the Bundestag, 22 September 2011, cited in Laudato Si’, 6). Creation is compromised “where we ourselves have the final word… The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any instance above ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves” (ID. Address to the Clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone, 6 August 2008, cited ibid.). Consequently, the defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself, one which includes the natural difference between man and woman (cf. Laudato Si’, 155), and absolute respect for life in all its stages and dimensions (cf. ibid., 123, 136).
Without the recognition of certain incontestable natural ethical limits and without the immediate implementation of those pillars of integral human development, the ideal of “saving succeeding generations from the scourge of war” (Charter of the United Nations, Preamble), and “promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” (ibid.), risks becoming an unattainable illusion, or, even worse, idle chatter which serves as a cover for all kinds of abuse and corruption, or for carrying out an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.
War is the negation of all rights and a dramatic assault on the environment. If we want true integral human development for all, we must work tirelessly to avoid war between nations and between peoples.
To this end, there is a need to ensure the uncontested rule of law and tireless recourse to negotiation, mediation and arbitration, as proposed by the Charter of the United Nations, which constitutes truly a fundamental juridical norm. The experience of these seventy years since the founding of the United Nations in general, and in particular the experience of these first fifteen years of the third millennium, reveal both the effectiveness of the full application of international norms and the ineffectiveness of their lack of enforcement. When the Charter of the United Nations is respected and applied with transparency and sincerity, and without ulterior motives, as an obligatory reference point of justice and not as a means of masking spurious intentions, peaceful results will be obtained. When, on the other hand, the norm is considered simply as an instrument to be used whenever it proves favorable, and to be avoided when it is not, a true Pandora’s box is opened, releasing uncontrollable forces which gravely harm defenseless populations, the cultural milieu and even the biological environment.
The Preamble and the first Article of the Charter of the United Nations set forth the foundations of the international juridical framework: peace, the pacific solution of disputes and the development of friendly relations between the nations. Strongly opposed to such statements, and in practice denying them, is the constant tendency to the proliferation of arms, especially weapons of mass distraction, such as nuclear weapons. An ethics and a law based on the threat of mutual destruction – and possibly the destruction of all mankind – are self-contradictory and an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations, which would end up as “nations united by fear and distrust”. There is urgent need to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, in full application of the non-proliferation Treaty, in letter and spirit, with the goal of a complete prohibition of these weapons.
The recent agreement reached on the nuclear question in a sensitive region of Asia and the Middle East is proof of the potential of political good will and of law, exercised with sincerity, patience and constancy. I express my hope that this agreement will be lasting and efficacious, and bring forth the desired fruits with the cooperation of all the parties involved.
In this sense, hard evidence is not lacking of the negative effects of military and political interventions which are not coordinated between members of the international community. For this reason, while regretting to have to do so, I must renew my repeated appeals regarding to the painful situation of the entire Middle East, North Africa and other African countries, where Christians, together with other cultural or ethnic groups, and even members of the majority religion who have no desire to be caught up in hatred and folly, have been forced to witness the destruction of their places of worship, their cultural and religious heritage, their houses and property, and have faced the alternative either of fleeing or of paying for their adhesion to good and to peace by their own lives, or by enslavement.
These realities should serve as a grave summons to an examination of conscience on the part of those charged with the conduct of international affairs. Not only in cases of religious or cultural persecution, but in every situation of conflict, as in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, South Sudan and the Great Lakes region, real human beings take precedence over partisan interests, however legitimate the latter may be. In wars and conflicts there are individual persons, our brothers and sisters, men and women, young and old, boys and girls who weep, suffer and die. Human beings who are easily discarded when our only response is to draw up lists of problems, strategies and disagreements.
As I wrote in my letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 9 August 2014, “the most basic understanding of human dignity compels the international community, particularly through the norms and mechanisms of international law, to do all that it can to stop and to prevent further systematic violence against ethnic and religious minorities” and to protect innocent peoples.
Along the same lines I would mention another kind of conflict which is not always so open, yet is silently killing millions of people. Another kind of war experienced by many of our societies as a result of the narcotics trade. A war which is taken for granted and poorly fought. Drug trafficking is by its very nature accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption. A corruption which has penetrated to different levels of social, political, military, artistic and religious life, and, in many cases, has given rise to a parallel structure which threatens the credibility of our institutions.
I began this speech recalling the visits of my predecessors. I would hope that my words will be taken above all as a continuation of the final words of the address of Pope Paul VI; although spoken almost exactly fifty years ago, they remain ever timely. “The hour has come when a pause, a moment of recollection, reflection, even of prayer, is absolutely needed so that we may think back over our common origin, our history, our common destiny. The appeal to the moral conscience of man has never been as necessary as it is today… For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well, they can help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind (Address to the United Nations Organization, 4 October 1965). Among other things, human genius, well applied, will surely help to meet the grave challenges of ecological deterioration and of exclusion. As Paul VI said: “The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests” (ibid.).
The common home of all men and women must continue to rise on the foundations of a right understanding of universal fraternity and respect for the sacredness of every human life, of every man and every woman, the poor, the elderly, children, the infirm, the unborn, the unemployed, the abandoned, those considered disposable because they are only considered as part of a statistic. This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.
Such understanding and respect call for a higher degree of wisdom, one which accepts transcendence, rejects the creation of an all-powerful elite, and recognizes that the full meaning of individual and collective life is found in selfless service to others and in the sage and respectful use of creation for the common good. To repeat the words of Paul VI, “the edifice of modern civilization has to be built on spiritual principles, for they are the only ones capable not only of supporting it, but of shedding light on it” (ibid.).
El Gaucho Martín Fierro, a classic of literature in my native land, says: “Brothers should stand by each other, because this is the first law; keep a true bond between you always, at every time – because if you fight among yourselves, you’ll be devoured by those outside”.
The contemporary world, so apparently connected, is experiencing a growing and steady social fragmentation, which places at risk “the foundations of social life” and consequently leads to “battles over conflicting interests” (Laudato Si’, 229).
The present time invites us to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society, so as to bear fruit in significant and positive historical events (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 223). We cannot permit ourselves to postpone “certain agendas” for the future. The future demands of us critical and global decisions in the face of world-wide conflicts which increase the number of the excluded and those in need.
The praiseworthy international juridical framework of the United Nations Organization and of all its activities, like any other human endeavor, can be improved, yet it remains necessary; at the same time it can be the pledge of a secure and happy future for future generations. And so it will, if the representatives of the States can set aside partisan and ideological interests, and sincerely strive to serve the common good. I pray to Almighty God that this will be the case, and I assure you of my support and my prayers, and the support and prayers of all the faithful of the Catholic Church, that this Institution, all its member States, and each of its officials, will always render an effective service to mankind, a service respectful of diversity and capable of bringing out, for sake of the common good, the best in each people and in every individual.
Upon all of you, and the peoples you represent, I invoke the blessing of the Most High, and all peace and prosperity. Thank you.
Source: Democracy NOW!
The Pope Speaks to Congress about Climate Change, Refugees, Cuba & “Money that is Drenched in Blood”
Pope Francis Thursday became the first Pope to ever address a joint session of Congress. Below are some key passages from the Pope’s speech, compliments of Democracy NOW!:
On Four Great Americans
A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as [Abraham] Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.
On Dorothy Day
In these times when social concerns are so important, I cannot fail to mention the Servant of God Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement. Her social activism, her passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed, were inspired by the Gospel, her faith, and the example of the saints.
On Refugees & Immigration
Our world is facing a refugee crisis of a magnitude not seen since the Second World War. This presents us with great challenges and many hard decisions. On this continent, too, thousands of persons are led to travel north in search of a better life for themselves and for their loved ones, in search of greater opportunities. Is this not what we want for our own children? We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
On the Arms Trade
Why are deadly weapons being sold to those who plan to inflict untold suffering on individuals and society? Sadly, the answer, as we all know, is simply for money: money that is drenched in blood, often innocent blood. In the face of this shameful and culpable silence, it is our duty to confront the problem and to stop the arms trade.
On Climate Change
In Laudato Si’, I call for a courageous and responsible effort to “redirect our steps” and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity. I am convinced that we can make a difference and I have no doubt that the United States – and this Congress – have an important role to play. Now is the time for courageous actions and strategies, aimed at implementing a “culture of care” and “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”
On Finance Capital
If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is, instead, an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life. I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.
On The Death Penalty
The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development. This conviction has led me, from the beginning of my ministry, to advocate at different levels for the global abolition of the death penalty. I am convinced that this way is the best, since every life is sacred, every human person is endowed with an inalienable dignity, and society can only benefit from the rehabilitation of those convicted of crimes. Recently my brother bishops here in the United States renewed their call for the abolition of the death penalty. Not only do I support them, but I also offer encouragement to all those who are convinced that a just and necessary punishment must never exclude the dimension of hope and the goal of rehabilitation.
I would like to recognize the efforts made in recent months to help overcome historic differences linked to painful episodes of the past. It is my duty to build bridges and to help all men and women, in any way possible, to do the same. When countries which have been at odds resume the path of dialogue – a dialogue which may have been interrupted for the most legitimate of reasons – new opportunities open up for all. This has required, and requires, courage and daring, which is not the same as irresponsibility.
Pope Francis Calls on U.S. to Combat Climate Change & Build a “Truly Tolerant and Inclusive” Society
In his first U.S. speech, Pope Francis urged the United States to help tackle climate change at a “critical moment of history” and called on Americans to build a truly tolerant and inclusive society:
POPE FRANCIS: Mr. President,
I am deeply grateful for your welcome in the name of all Americans. As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families. I look forward to these days of encounter and dialogue, in which I hope to listen to, and share, many of the hopes and dreams of the American people.
During my visit I will have the honor of addressing Congress, where I hope, as a brother of this country, to offer words of encouragement to those called to guide the nation’s political future in fidelity to its founding principles. I will also travel to Philadelphia for the Eighth World Meeting of Families, to celebrate and support the institutions of marriage and the family at this, a critical moment in the history of our civilization.
Mr. President, together with their fellow citizens, American Catholics are committed to building a society which is truly tolerant and inclusive, to safeguarding the rights of individuals and communities, and to rejecting every form of unjust discrimination. With countless other people of good will, they are likewise concerned that efforts to build a just and wisely ordered society respect their deepest concerns and their right to religious liberty. That freedom remains one of America’s most precious possessions. And, as my brothers, the United States Bishops, have reminded us, all are called to be vigilant, precisely as good citizens, to preserve and defend that freedom from everything that would threaten or compromise it.
Mr. President, I find it encouraging that you are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home”, we are living at a critical moment of history. We still have time to make the changes needed to bring about “a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change” (Laudato Si’, 13). Such change demands on our part a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them. Our common home has been part of this group of the excluded which cries out to heaven and which today powerfully strikes our homes, our cities and our societies. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honor it.
We know by faith that “the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home” (Laudato Si’, 13). As Christians inspired by this certainty, we wish to commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home.
The efforts which were recently made to mend broken relationships and to open new doors to cooperation within our human family represent positive steps along the path of reconciliation, justice and freedom. I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children.
Mr. President, once again I thank you for your welcome, and I look forward to these days in your country. God bless America!
Source: Democracy NOW!
The new documentary “Racing Extinction” goes undercover to the edge of mass extinction in the world’s darkest black markets.
“In 2009, audiences around the world were blown away by a documentary by Louie Psihoyos called “The Cove.” It showed the horrifying secret mass slaughter of dolphins in Japan and the sale of mercury-laden dolphin meat to school children. Won an Oscar. Now Psihoyos has taken his cameras global, and the picture is brutal again. Species falling into oblivion under the pressure of manmade climate change. Some hunted and torn to shreds for gills and fins. A “great extinction.” It’s a powerful call to act, and act fast.”
– Tom Ashbrook, National Public Radio’s “On Point”, aired 9-21-2015, 11:00 am – 12:00 noon, (Eastern).
New York Times: ‘Racing Extinction’ Charts the Slaughter of Vital Species – “Noting that our planet’s five major extinctions had in common a spike in carbon dioxide, Mr. Psihoyos worries that the emissions of our own age, aptly dubbed the Anthropocene, are damaging our oceans in ways that are mostly invisible. And that the devastating consequences of more direct human behaviors — like the mass slaughter of exotic marine life for food and folk medicines — are also largely overlooked.”
Peter O’Neill, chair of the Rockefeller Family committee (C) sits with Neva Rockefeller Goodwin, economist, and great-granddaughter of John D Rockefeller and Stephen B Heintz, president, Rockefeller Brothers Fund during a news conference in which Rockefeller family members voiced concern about the direction of the oil company ExxonMobil in April 2008 in New York. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
By Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent for The Guardian, 7-8-2015
After the Garden [is gone] and other songs from Neil Young’s “Living with War” CD
A newly unearthed missive from Lenny Bernstein, a climate expert with the oil firm for 30 years, shows concerns over high presence of carbon dioxide in enormous gas field in south-east Asia factored into Exxon’s decision not to tap it.
ExxonMobil, the world’s biggest oil company, knew as early as 1981 of climate change – seven years before it became a public issue, according to a newly discovered email from one of the firm’s own scientists. Despite this the firm spent millions over the next 27 years to promote climate denial.
The email from Exxon’s in-house climate expert provides evidence the company was aware of the connection between fossil fuels and climate change, and the potential for carbon-cutting regulations that could hurt its bottom line, over a generation ago – factoring that knowledge into its decision about an enormous gas field in south-east Asia. The field, off the coast of Indonesia, would have been the single largest source of global warming pollution at the time.
“Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia,” Lenny Bernstein, a 30-year industry veteran and Exxon’s former in-house climate expert, wrote in the email. “This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70% CO2,” or carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change.
However, Exxon’s public position was marked by continued refusal to acknowledge the dangers of climate change, even in response to appeals from the Rockefellers, its founding family, and its continued financial support for climate denial. Over the years, Exxon spent more than $30m on thinktanks and researchers that promoted climate denial, according to Greenpeace.
Exxon said on Wednesday that it now acknowledges the risk of climate change and does not fund climate change denial groups.
Some climate campaigners have likened the industry to the conduct of the tobacco industry which for decades resisted the evidence that smoking causes cancer.
In the email Bernstein, a chemical engineer and climate expert who spent 30 years at Exxon and Mobil and was a lead author on two of the United Nations’ blockbuster IPCC climate science reports, said climate change first emerged on the company’s radar in 1981, when the company was considering the development of south-east Asia’s biggest gas field, off Indonesia.
That was seven years ahead of other oil companies and the public, according to Bernstein’s account.
Climate change was largely confined to the realm of science until 1988, when the climate scientist James Hansen told Congress that global warming was caused by the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due to the burning of fossil fuels.
By that time, it was clear that developing the Natuna site would set off a huge amount of climate change pollution – effectively a “carbon bomb”, according to Bernstein.
“When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that if Natuna were developed and its CO2 vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about 1% of projected global CO2 emissions. I’m sure that it would still be the largest point source of CO2, but since CO2 emissions have grown faster than projected in 1989, it would probably account for a smaller fraction of global CO2 emissions,” Bernstein wrote.
The email was written in response to an inquiry on business ethics from the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University.
“What it shows is that Exxon knew years earlier than James Hansen’s testimony to Congress that climate change was a reality; that it accepted the reality, instead of denying the reality as they have done publicly, and to such an extent that it took it into account in their decision making, in making their economic calculation,” the director of the institute, Alyssa Bernstein (no relation), told the Guardian.
“One thing that occurs to me is the behavior of the tobacco companies denying the connection between smoking and lung cancer for the sake of profits, but this is an order of magnitude greater moral offence, in my opinion, because what is at stake is the fate of the planet, humanity, and the future of civilisation, not to be melodramatic.”
Bernstein’s response, first posted on the institute’s website last October, was released by the Union of Concerned Scientists on Wednesday as part of a report on climate disinformation promoted by companies such as ExxonMobil, BP, Shell and Peabody Energy, called the Climate Deception Dossiers.
Asked about Bernstein’s comments, Exxon said climate science in the early 1980s was at a preliminary stage, but the company now saw climate change as a risk.
“The science in 1981 on this subject was in the very, very early days and there was considerable division of opinion,” Richard Keil, an Exxon spokesman, said. “There was nobody you could have gone to in 1981 or 1984 who would have said whether it was real or not. Nobody could provide a definitive answer.”
He rejected the idea that Exxon had funded groups promoting climate denial. “I am here to talk to you about the present,” he said. “We have been factoring the likelihood of some kind of carbon tax into our business planning since 2007. We do not fund or support those who deny the reality of climate change.”
Exxon, unlike other companies and the public at large in the early 1980s, was already aware of climate change – and the prospect of regulations to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, according to Bernstein’s account.
“In the 1980s, Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue,” he wrote.
“Natural resource companies – oil, coal, minerals – have to make investments that have lifetimes of 50-100 years. Whatever their public stance, internally they make very careful assessments of the potential for regulation, including the scientific basis for those regulations,” Bernstein wrote in the email.
Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard University professor who researches the history of climate science, said it was unsurprising Exxon would have factored climate change in its plans in the early 1980s – but she disputed Bernstein’s suggestion that other companies were not. She also took issue with Exxon’s assertion of uncertainty about the science in the 1980s, noting the National Academy of Science describing a consensus on climate change from the 1970s.
The White House and the National Academy of Sciences came out with reports on climate change in the 1970s, and government scientific agencies were studying climate change in the 1960s, she said. There were also a number of major scientific meetings on climate change in the 1970s.
“I find it difficult to believe that an industry whose business model depends on fossil fuels could have been completely ignoring major environmental reports, major environmental meetings taken place in which carbon dioxide and climate change were talked about,” she said in an interview with the Guardian.
The East Natuna gas field, about 140 miles north-east of the Natuna islands in the South China Sea and 700 miles north of Jakarta, is the biggest in south-east Asia, with about 46tn cubic ft (1.3tn cubic metres) of recoverable reserves.
However, Exxon did not go into production on the field.
Bernstein, who is now in his mid-70s, spent 20 years as a scientist at Exxon and 10 years at Mobil. During the 1990s he headed the science and technology advisory committee of the Global Climate Coalition, an industry group that lobbied aggressively against the scientific consensus around the causes of climate change.
However, GCC climate experts accepted the impact of human activity on climate change in their internal communications as early as 1995, according to a document filed in a 2009 lawsuit and included in the UCS dossier.
The document, a 17-page primer on climate science produced by Bernstein’s advisory committee, discounts the alternate theories about the causes of climate change promoted by climate contrarian researchers such as Willie Soon, who was partly funded by Exxon.
“The contrarian theories raise interesting questions about our total understanding of climate processes, but they do not offer convincing arguments against the conventional model of greenhouse gas emission-induced climate change,” the advisory committee said.
The 1995 primer was never released for publication. A subsequent version, which was publicly distributed in 1998, removed the reference to “contrarian theories”, and continued to dispute the science underlying climate change.
Kenneth Kimmel, the president of the Union of Concerned Scientists, said ExxonMobil and the other companies profiled in its report had failed to take responsibility about the danger to the public of producing fossil fuels.
“Instead of taking responsibility, they have either directly – or indirectly through trade and industry groups – sown doubt about the science of climate change and fought efforts to cut emissions,” he wrote in a blogpost. “I believe that the conduct outlined in the UCS report puts the fossil fuel companies’ social license at risk. And once that social license is gone, it is very hard to get it back. Just look at what happened to tobacco companies after litigation finally pried open the documents that exposed decades of misinformation and deception.”
Keil, the ExxonMobil spokesman, confirmed that the company had decided not to develop Natuna, but would not comment on the reasons. “There could be a huge range of reasons why we don’t develop projects,” he said.
Below is the text of an email from Lenny Bernstein to the director of the Institute for Applied and Professional Ethics at Ohio University, Alyssa Bernstein (no relation), who had asked for ideas to stimulate students for an ethics day announced by the Carnegie Council.
Alyssa’s right. Feel free to share this e-mail with her. Corporations are interested in environmental impacts only to the extent that they affect profits, either current or future. They may take what appears to be altruistic positions to improve their public image, but the assumption underlying those actions is that they will increase future profits. ExxonMobil is an interesting case in point.
Exxon first got interested in climate change in 1981 because it was seeking to develop the Natuna gas field off Indonesia. This is an immense reserve of natural gas, but it is 70% CO2. That CO2 would have to be separated to make the natural gas usable. Natural gas often contains CO2 and the technology for removing CO2 is well known. In 1981 (and now) the usual practice was to vent the CO2 to the atmosphere. When I first learned about the project in 1989, the projections were that if Natuna were developed and its CO2 vented to the atmosphere, it would be the largest point source of CO2 in the world and account for about 1% of projected global CO2 emissions. I’m sure that it would still be the largest point source of CO2, but since CO2 emissions have grown faster than projected in 1989, it would probably account for a smaller fraction of global CO2 emissions.
The alternative to venting CO2 to the atmosphere is to inject it into ground. This technology was also well known, since the oil industry had been injecting limited quantities of CO2 to enhance oil recovery. There were many questions about whether the CO2 would remain in the ground, some of which have been answered by Statoil’s now almost 20 years of experience injecting CO2 in the North Sea. Statoil did this because the Norwegian government placed a tax on vented CO2. It was cheaper for Statoil to inject CO2 than pay the tax. Of course, Statoil has touted how much CO2 it has prevented from being emitted.
In the 1980s, Exxon needed to understand the potential for concerns about climate change to lead to regulation that would affect Natuna and other potential projects. They were well ahead of the rest of industry in this awareness. Other companies, such as Mobil, only became aware of the issue in 1988, when it first became a political issue. Natural resource companies – oil, coal, minerals – have to make investments that have lifetimes of 50-100 years. Whatever their public stance, internally they make very careful assessments of the potential for regulation, including the scientific basis for those regulations. Exxon NEVER denied the potential for humans to impact the climate system. It did question – legitimately, in my opinion – the validity of some of the science.
Political battles need to personify the enemy. This is why liberals spend so much time vilifying the Koch brothers – who are hardly the only big money supporters of conservative ideas. In climate change, the first villain was a man named Donald Pearlman, who was a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. (In another life, he was instrumental in getting the US Holocaust Museum funded and built.) Pearlman’s usefulness as a villain ended when he died of lung cancer – he was a heavy smoker to the end.
Then the villain was the Global Climate Coalition (GCC), a trade organization of energy producers and large energy users. I was involved in GCC for a while, unsuccessfully trying to get them to recognize scientific reality. (That effort got me on to the front page of the New York Times, but that’s another story.) Environmental group pressure was successful in putting GCC out of business, but they also lost their villain. They needed one which wouldn’t die and wouldn’t go out of business. Exxon, and after its merger with Mobil ExxonMobil, fit the bill, especially under its former CEO, Lee Raymond, who was vocally opposed to climate change regulation. ExxonMobil’s current CEO, Rex Tillerson, has taken a much softer line, but ExxonMobil has not lost its position as the personification of corporate, and especially climate change, evil. It is the only company mentioned in Alyssa’s e-mail, even though, in my opinion, it is far more ethical that many other large corporations.
Having spent twenty years working for Exxon and ten working for Mobil, I know that much of that ethical behavior comes from a business calculation that it is cheaper in the long run to be ethical than unethical. Safety is the clearest example of this. ExxonMobil knows all too well the cost of poor safety practices. The Exxon Valdez is the most public, but far from the only, example of the high cost of unsafe operations. The value of good environmental practices are more subtle, but a facility that does a good job of controlling emission and waste is a well run facility, that is probably maximizing profit. All major companies will tell you that they are trying to minimize their internal CO2 emissions. Mostly, they are doing this by improving energy efficiency and reducing cost. The same is true for internal recycling, again a practice most companies follow. Its [sic] just good engineering.
I could go on, but this e-mail is long enough.
Hear Beatle George Harrison perform song “Bangladesh” at the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh at Madison Square Garden, NYC, New York.
By Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, 9-19-2015:
In just a few weeks, the world will adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. For my country, Bangladesh, the goal of combating climate change and its impacts is crucial, as we are on the frontline of this global threat.
Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world (1,218 people per sq km), with the lowest quantity of per-capita arable land (0.05 hectares). Although we made considerable progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), climate change in the form of extreme-weather events, tidal surges, and erratic rainfall has negatively impacted agricultural production, industrial development and social structures.
This can create millions of environmental refugees, even though Bangladesh’s contribution to climate change in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions is negligible. And the situation will worsen without urgent action. Studies estimate that a meter rise in sea level would submerge one fifth of the country, displacing over 30 million people. Mass migration to cities is inevitable, impacting livelihoods, biodiversity, food, water, sanitation and basic infrastructure.
That is why we are keen to see the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the upcoming climate agreement in Paris, adopted and moving into implementation. But Bangladesh has not been sitting around waiting for the world to save us. We are fighting for our own future, albeit with limited resources and technologies.
In 2011, we amended the constitution to protect and improve the environment and preserve and safeguard natural resources, biodiversity, wetlands, forests and wildlife for present and future citizens. In line with this policy, at least eight new laws were enacted or amended since 2009 to preserve forest lands in the country. Forest coverage rose to 17.08 percent in 2014-15 from a mere seven to eight percent in 2005-06, thanks to the introduction of initiatives such as the Social Afforestation Program, which ensures people’s participation in planting and raising trees in every available space, both urban and rural. Currently, more than 120 million saplings are raised and distributed every year among the people, compared to 40 million in 2001-2006.
Bangladesh was the first developing nation to create a Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan. From 2009-2010 to 2014-15, the government allocated Tk 30.30 billion (US$ 385 million) to our climate-change trust fund. All of our activities have been targeted toward adaptation to environmental changes with a view to protecting human lives from floods and hurricanes, and protecting the environment from pollution caused by rapid urbanization and unsustainable industrialization.
There are so many examples of specific actions we undertook as part of our policy framework. We have built about four million solar-home systems in off-grid areas and 1.5 million improved cook stoves to decrease indoor air pollution.
We created the Coastal Greenbelt Project to protect the southern part of Bangladesh, which is surrounded by the Bay of Bengal, from cyclones. Dense forest covers along the coastline, particularly mangroves, form an effective buffer. By boosting this cover, we helped reduce the death toll to about 200 from the hurricanes Aila in 2009 and Mahasen in 2013 combined, compared to 140,000 in a single cyclone in 1991.
We have also made remarkable progress in food production. Bangladesh has become a food-exporting country from a food-importing country over the last six years. Our scientists have developed almost 200 varieties of crops that are resilient to changing climactic conditions and techniques to grow crops in less fertile soil. Rice production was 33.30 million metric tons in 2008-09. It was 38.34 million metric tons in 2013-14.
Despite these efforts, climate change continues to affect the lives and livelihoods of millions in our unique and active delta. This year, we experienced 50 percent more rainfall than average, inundating vast areas of the country and damaging crops. Climate change may threaten our wheat and major rice-crop (Boro) production. Studies suggest that two to three percent of our Gross Domestic Product may be wiped out because of climate change.
We cannot do it alone, which is why we need the international community to stand up for nations such as ours through the SDGs and the climate-change process. In order to address climate change, a critical balance between adaptation (adjusting to the impacts of climate change) and mitigation (reducing the scale of climate change) will have to be maintained. The pledges on reducing emissions submitted for the Paris climate meeting must be measurable and verifiable. The world should pay attention to carbon budgeting and de-carbonization pathways. For adaptation planning, adequate and predictable financing is essential.
Bangladesh has been leading by example, and we are ready to share our experiences on climate resilience with rest of the world. I hope that the United Nations Environment Program honoring me with the Champions of the Earth award this year will draw attention to Bangladesh’s efforts, which show that we can make a difference, and encourage developed nations to bring their resources to bear on the greatest challenge of our time.
One-year Anniversary of “Planet Earth: It Needs Our Help Now More Than Ever”, Broadcast on WORT-FM’s Public Access Hour on Labor Day 2014
Last year on Labor Day WORT-FM in Madison, Wisconsin I had the privilege of recording an hour of music and commentary on a subject I have researched for going on 16 years now: the likely effects of rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, in the oceans, on the landscape; in other words, our planet earth. Since other than president Obama, Pope Francis, the environmental community and the state of California are about the only ones talking seriously about starting to do something to head off what is certain to be catastrophic effects upon our planet and all its livings things in decades and centuries to come, it only seem appropriate to remind folks who would like to listen to the show again. Here it is. Planet Earth – It Needs Our Help More than Ever!
Touring Alaska last month to shine a spotlight on global warming, President Obama warned that “climate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here; it is happening now. Climate change is already disrupting our agriculture and ecosystems, our water and food supplies, our energy, our infrastructure, human health, human safety. Now. Today.”
This wasn’t supposed to happen. In 2009, 114 countries signed the Copenhagen Accord, agreeing “to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system;” “recognizing the scientific view” that the increase in global temperature should be held to no more than 2 degrees Celsius” (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above the pre-industrial level; and promising greater “long-term cooperative action to combat climate change.”
Paradoxically, an accord that should have spurred the world to immediate action instead seemed to offer some breathing room. Two degrees was meant to be a ceiling, but repeated references to an internationally agreed-upon “threshold” led many people to believe that nothing really bad could happen below 2 degrees—or worse yet, that the number itself was negotiable. Perhaps the biggest failure of the Copenhagen Accord was its pact for “long-term” action. Forty years ago, climate change was a “long-term” problem. Today it’s an emergency.
As we’re coming ever so close to the dreaded 2-degree mark, which will have devastating effects especially on people and families less economically fortunate, everywhere, Pope Francis last week called upon the members of the U.S. Congress to find solutions to the problems of growing poverty, everywhere, and climate change, including warming and acidification of the oceans. As civilization’s industrial machinery marches on, we’re already at 400 ppm of carbon dioxide, and likely to go much higher and faster under current “business as usual” practices continue.
Such numbers may mean little to the general public, but they matter a lot to negotiators who will be at Paris climate change talks in December. Unfortunately, the numbers that these negotiators plan to propose will only be part of non-legally-binding pledges—and they represent only what is achievable without too much difficulty, rather than the drastic austerity measures needed to stabilize emissions. In fact, 2 degrees is not an upper limit that the nations of the world recognize and respect, only a target that negotiators know they will overshoot with their expected pledges. The very idea that the Paris conference is a negotiation is ridiculous. You can’t negotiate with the atmosphere.
What were they thinking? As Naomi Klein points out in her book This Changes Everything, the 2 degree goal “has always been a highly political choice that has more to do with minimizing economic disruption than with protecting the greatest number of people.” In theory, the Copenhagen Accord relied on the best available science of the time—an international scientific symposium held in 2005 and assessment reports published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 and earlier, which in turn were based on even older scientific studies. You can trace the 2 degrees notion all the way back to a 1977 paper by Yale economist William D. Nordhaus.
In hindsight, though, the idea that even 2 degrees of warming would be tolerable is baffling. Homo sapiens have never lived in a world that hot. In an excellent series of special reports for CNN on what 2 degrees of global warming would mean, John D. Sutter lists some of the expected impacts: a melting Arctic, enormous wildfires, more intense hurricanes, water shortages, reduced crop yields, and animals and plants at risk of extinction. Even if warming can be held to 2 degrees, scientists predict that global sea level will rise by at least 20 feet as a result.
The Climate Vulnerable Forum, a coalition of 20 nations that expect severe global-warming effects, has called the 2-degree goal “inadequate” to protect fundamental human rights. “How can we possibly subscribe to more than double the current warming?” asked Mary Ann Lucille L. Sering, secretary of the Philippines Climate Change Commission.
Although the 2-degree target was endorsed in Copenhagen in 2009, and again in Cancún the following year, the parties also agreed to periodically review the adequacy of the target and to consider strengthening it. The majority of countries that have signed and ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change now support a lower target of 1.5 degrees, and a review process reported that the lower limit would be “preferable” but that the science supporting it is “less robust.”
What is feasible? The World Bank has warned that a 1.5-degree rise is “locked in,” and that we’re headed toward a warming of 4 degrees by the end of the century. “Scientists, policy-makers and the public already accept that progress will not be enough to keep global average temperature rise within the 2°C limit,” wrote Oliver Geden, head of the EU Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, in a recent Nature commentary. “The negotiations’ goal has become what is politically possible, not what is environmentally desirable.”
If you add up the pledges that have been made so far, and nations keep their promises, the world is in for about 3 degrees of warming by 2100. Limiting the warming to 2 degrees would require rapid emissions reductions over the next few decades, declining to zero net emissions shortly after 2050.
It is still possible to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees by 2100 (after a temporary overshoot), according to a paper published in Nature Climate Change a few months ago. But it would mean becoming carbon neutral even earlier than required for a 2-degree scenario.
A national security approach. President Obama made headlines in Alaska—and before that, New Orleans—with fervent talk about the urgency of the climate problem, the need to make communities more resilient, and the “failure of government to look out for its own citizens.” Can this be the same president who, a few months earlier, gave Royal Dutch Shell permission to begin drilling for oil off the coast of Alaska? Developing fossil fuel resources in the Arctic is “incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2°C,” according to a study by scientists at University College London.
There is an alternative to meaningless numbers and endless negotiations: going to war against climate change. If the United States can spend nearly $1.7 trillion on the “war on terror,”surely we can spend at least that much to keep our planet from overheating.
The 2-degree goal was chosen based on what was considered to be a scientific consensus about the most likely scenario for climate change. That is not how national security risks are evaluated. “When we think about keeping our country safe, we always consider the worst case scenarios,” said British Foreign Office Minister Baroness Joyce Anelay in a statement introducing a new climate risk assessment commissioned by her office. “That is what guides our policies on nuclear non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, and conflict prevention. We have to think about climate change the same way.”
In a foreword to the report, Anelay writes: “We must remember that in one way, climate change differs from any other subject of diplomatic negotiation: It is governed by a physical process. A process where the risk increases over time, and will continue to do so until we have entirely dealt with its cause.”
Increased risk is not an abstraction. It is record-setting heat, year after year. It is coastal erosion washing away villages in Alaska. It is massive wildfires raging in the American West. “We have to attack these at the source, which is carbon pollution,” Washington Gov. Jay Inslee told the Northwest News Network after flying over the worst fires in his state’s history. “It is difficult to comprehend a central fact of these fires,” Inslee said, “which is nature bats last.” Unfortunately, there won’t be any extra innings.
By Dawn Stover, from Bulleten of Atomic Scientists
Stover is a science writer based in the Pacific Northwest and is a contributing editor at the Bulletin. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Conservation, Popular Science, New Scientist, The New York Times, and other publications. One of her articles is included in the 2010 Best American Science and Nature Writing, and another article was awarded a special citation by the Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism.