This week, the Vatican Pontifical Academy of Sciences (basically the Pope’s science advisors) released a (strongly worded) report (pdf) calling on all Christans (and indeed all people) to immediately begin a “rapid transition to renewable energy sources” among other things.
I learned about this report through the excellent news publication ArsTechnica (article), and Forbes (article) has also reported on it. The gist of it is the same refrain we’ve been hearing from all kinds of important bodies…we need to stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The difference is that the Vatican has framed it in terms of our moral obligation. When we use electricity that came from coal, or drive a car that gulps down gasoline, we are hurting and killing others. The effect may not be as immediate as when some of the other problems with the world: violence, abortion, stealing, etc., but it is the same end result. This document is our wake up call that our moral actions aren’t only the ones we can see with our eyes, but some of the effects of our moral actions need to be measured by scientists.
So, how does this affect our life in Bolivia you ask? Well, a big part of this document is looking at the diminishing glaciers, and their affect on water supplies. Here in Bolivia, much of the water outside the brief wet season (Jan-Feb) comes as the glaciers high in the Andes melt throughout the year. For thousands of years the people of Bolivia (Incans, then Spanish, then the modern Bolivians) have depended on these glaciers for plentiful water throughout the year (more importantly in the mountains, but somewhat on the plains as well). However, now as the glaciers have all shrunk, they don’t have enough water to release (water released throughout the year is directly affected by the size of the glacier), especially in the last few months of the cycle. Just this past December when the rainy season was making a timid start, ranchers surrounding Montero were in fear of their cattle dying from dehydration since water stores had run out. Some people have coped with this by getting water from further away, some have just left their livelihoods and moved into cities. Our region, Santa Cruz, has experienced a HUGE amount of urban growth in the last 40 years. Montero practically didn’t exist 40 years ago. And as the glaciers continue to shrink, every year the water situation gets worse. I think it’s fair to say most of the farmers around here are one bad rainy season away from complete ruin.
Impressively, the Bolivian Catholic church as well as the people themselves are taking climate change VERY seriously. With the help from a German organization a series of movies were made interviewing people from all over Bolivia and each had their story of how the rains have become inconsistent or there has been violent flooding or warmer temperatures, basically indicating natural conditions were more unpredictable than previously. These people felt strongly that their government should intervene to mitigate effects on people personally and take an active role in policy creation. In addition, and to me very interesting, at no point did they point the finger at the developed world for ‘creating’ such a problem. The Bolivians in the movie, as well as the speaker doing the presentation (this was at our equivalent of World Youth Day here- so imagine me and a room full of high schoolers as the audience) presented the situation as something that each person in the room was actively causing through their own actions and something that each person could do something about. It was really great. He also talked about trash accumulation since litter is a HUGE problem here and pointed a specific finger at the sugar processing plant in Guabira (10km to the north of us) and the amount of carbon dioxide is spews out daily. These were strong words since all of us in the room either ate the sugar from Guabira or knew people who worked at the plant.
Important quotes from the Vatican’s document:
“We call on all people and nations to recognise the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming”
“We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us. The believers among us ask God to grant us this wish.”
“Human-caused changes in the composition of the air and air quality result in more than 2 million premature deaths worldwide every year and threaten water and food security”
ArsTechnica Article: http://arstechnica.com/science/news/2011/05/anthropocene-vatican-climate-change-group-coins-name-for-our-era.ars
Forbes Article: http://blogs.forbes.com/williampentland/2011/05/06/climate-change-vatican-enters-the-fray/