Global Warming

How the Vatican Links Human Trafficking, Climate Change, and God

Vladimir Wrangel /

Sunset over the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica in Vatican City. Photo via Vladimir Wrangel /

On July 21 and 22, the Vatican hosts two conferences on human trafficking and climate change, bringing the mayors of major cities — including several in the U.S. — to Rome for the events. What do human trafficking and climate change have to do with each other? And what does Catholicism have to do with them? Let us explain.

Q: Why is the Vatican concerned with human trafficking and climate change?

A: If Pope Francis has two pet issues, they are human trafficking and climate change. Since the first year of his papacy he has spoken against human trafficking, calling it “a crime against humanity” and lamenting it as modern slavery. It’s an even bet that when the pope addresses the United Nations in late September he will hammer it as one of the crucial issues of our time. Ditto on climate change. In June, the pontiff published his encyclical — the highest teaching of the church — on climate change.

“Our home is being ruined and that hurts everyone, especially the poorest among us,” Francis said just before the publication of the encyclical.

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'Living Dangerously:' The Importance of the Pope's Promised Encyclical on Climate Change

Puzzle of the globe with pieces missing. Image courtesy Maxx-Studio/shutterstock

Puzzle of the globe with pieces missing. Image courtesy Maxx-Studio/

There could not be a more important year for climate action. It’s now or never. The future of our planet and the people, places, and things that we love depend on all of us working together to demand a healthy, just, and vibrant planet home. It impacts everything else – immigration and migration due to drought, flooding, sea level rise, and worsening storms; war and conflict over natural resources; access to drinkable water; food insecurity, hunger, and agriculture; disaster relief. It even impacts the sex trade — when women have to walk farther and farther to find water, they’re more vulnerable to rape and kidnapping in many regions.

So here we are, now. Governments, scientists, universities, companies, our military, and thousands of non-profit organizations are all scrambling to save the very integrity of God’s creation, the composition of the atmosphere God so magnificently created to support life on earth. And Christians are barely even at the table. We need to be at the table.

We’re Awestruck About Earth, Unsure About Global Warming

A polar bear walks along ice floes in the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy of Florid

A polar bear walks along ice floes in the Arctic Ocean. Photo courtesy of FloridaStock/

Most Americans say they feel a deep connection to the wider world.

But all that spiritual stargazing makes no difference in views about the facts of climate change and global warming, a new survey finds.

Just 5 percent of Americans thought climate change was the most important issue in the U.S. today. And religion was a major dividing point on how much — or how little — they think it’s a matter of concern, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

“We asked about spiritual measures such as being in awe of the universe, and you might think it would correlate with views about the universe. But, in fact, they have very little relationship,” said Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, which conducted the survey on U.S. adults’ attitudes toward climate change, environmental policy and science.


Faith Communities Are Dumping Their Fossil Fuel Investments

Activists support fossil fuel divestment at Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison on April 5, 2014. Creative Commons image: Light Brigading

Worried about global warming, a growing number of churches and other faith groups are divesting their holdings in fossil fuel companies, which release large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“The warning in Scripture that ‘the wages of sin is death’ could not be more literally true than it is in the case of fossil fuels,” said Serene Jones, president of New York’s Union Theological Seminary, whose board voted in June to divest its $108.4 million endowment from fossil fuel companies.

“While we realize that our endowment alone will hardly cause the fossil fuel giants to miss even half a heartbeat, as a seminary dedicated to social justice we have a critical call to live out our values in the world. Climate change poses a catastrophic threat, and as stewards of God’s creation we simply must act.”

The Fateful Year Ahead

BAN KI MOON has summoned the world's leaders to New York in September to talk about the climate—and in the process he's also summoned all of us who care about the planet's future. We'll be there in record numbers, for the largest demonstrations about global warming yet—and there will be, I think, an unavoidable edge of anger. Because calling these guys "leaders," at least on this issue, is by now a joke.

Take President Barack Obama, for instance. He ran for office promising, in almost biblical terms, that during his administration "the rise of the oceans would begin to slow." Installed in office, he summoned environmentalists to the White House where his staff informed them that he wouldn't be talking about climate change: "Green jobs" tested better in focus groups.

And President Obama was true to his word. He hardly ever talked about climate change: He summoned no political muscle to back attempts at a climate bill in the Senate, and he watched as the Copenhagen climate talks collapsed, the biggest foreign policy failure in many years. 

When Obama run for president in 2012, he made it through the whole campaign—during the hottest year in U.S. history—without even mentioning global warming. And while he delayed half of the Keystone pipeline, he "expedited" approval of the southern section, boasting that his administration had built enough new pipelines to wrap around the equator. He has modest decreases in carbon emissions to herald—and massive increases in oil and gas drilling. On his watch the United States will pass Russia and Saudi Arabia as a hydrocarbon source.

Much the same is true of China's premier and Russia's president and many other world leaders. They're not leading, they're failing.

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Reorienting Ourselves to the Earth

Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Courtesy Odyssey Networks

The accelerated pace of climate change deterioration in recent decades is highlighted in the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that was released in December 2013. This report highlights the alarming rates of carbon emissions in recent years and the massive disruptions to the nature that occur as a result. It warns that the disruptions could affect all areas of life and endanger the world’s food supply itself. The worst is yet to come. All this might sound a bit apocalyptic.

Acts 2:14-32 posits a similar scenario. Luke’s Peter predicts the signs that will occur in the last days (vv. 19-20). The Sun will turn into darkness and the moon into blood. There will be blood and fire and smoky mist. Joel 3, Luke’s source text behind these verses, was intended as a warning about potential disturbances in the natural order. Joel posits such calamities as consequences of human wickedness and calls on the people to alter their ways. Peter warns that such last days are about to arrive. They will be marked by disturbances in the natural order and terrible signs that will precede the day of the Lord. Interestingly, people in Jerusalem have already witnessed such (un)natural phenomena during the death of Jesus (Luke 23:44-45).

Acts 2 parallels the account of disruptions in the nature with the account about the death of Jesus (2:19-24). 

Climate Change and the Church

Expressing her opinion that climate change is no longer about energy efficient behavior but rather about national policy, spiritual leader Marilyn Sewell argues the importance of what it takes to preserve the Earth’s atmosphere. Expressing her concerns about the lack of community and church involvement, Sewell insists policy immersion is crucial toward resolving future matters surrounding climate change. The Huffington Post reports:

So where is the parish church in all of this? Mostly silent, it seems. Churches continue to be concerned with individual sin as opposed to systemic sin, even in regard to climate change. Congregants may be admonished to recycle and change their light bulbs, but not to become politically active. The fact is we're way beyond changing our light bulbs. We need to bring that unhappy, startling truth to the pulpits of our land.

Read more here.

Obama Readying Emissions Limits on Power Plants

With hopes to reduce mass amounts of pollution, President Obama has begun forming a list of ideas to condense the amount of carbon dioxide entering earth’s atmosphere. He plans to act quickly as such a process could take years to accomplish. The New York Times reports:

The administration has already begun steps to restrict climate-altering emissions from any newly built power plants, but imposing carbon standards on the existing utility fleet would be vastly more costly and contentious.

Read more here.