Jun 30, 2015 / Johan Rockström
Pope Francis’ recent Encyclical has been widely praised for supporting the science on climate change. As Johan Rockström, who’s been involved in high level discussions between scientists and the Vatican explains, the story of how the Pope has integrated science and religion represents an important shift.
On June 18, Pope Francis issued the encyclical Laudato Si: On care for our common home. The letter has been widely praised for supporting the science on climate change. But it goes much further than many expected in documenting the phenomenal changes that our planet is undergoing, beyond climate. And the story of how the Pope has integrated science and religion (not always the easiest of companions, let’s face it) indicates, to me at least, a profound shift in world view.
The Pontifical Academy of Sciences has been bringing together climate scientists, economists and scholars pretty much since Francis’ papacy began in March 2013. My colleagues, professors Paul Crutzen, Veerabhadran Ramanathan and John Schellnhuber, have been part of a new level of dialogue between Earth system scientists and the Vatican. In April of this year, I attended a one-day scientific workshop on the moral dimensions of climate change and sustainable humanity.
At that workshop, which included economist Jeffrey Sachs and Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University, Cardinal Peter Turkson reminded us that “we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries.”
Turkson was using language referring to research on planetary boundaries led by my group, the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and carried out together with leading global sustainability scientists across the world. First published in 2009 (and updated in a paper for Science in January), our work was initiated by growing alarm at the scale of human influence on Earth. Indeed, humans, predominantly in wealthy nations that consume the most, are now the prime drivers of change in the Earth system. We are altering the carbon, water and nitrogen cycles; we are changing the chemistry of the ocean. Only last week, researchers announced further evidence that we are in the midst of a sixth mass extinction of life on Earth.