I. Pollution and climate change [20-26]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora and will add my comments over time. Papa Francisco's 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

Pollution, waste and the throwaway culture [20-22]

20. Some forms of pollution are part of people’s
daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric
pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health
hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions
of premature deaths. People take sick, for
example, from breathing high levels of smoke
from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is
also pollution that affects everyone, caused by
transport, industrial fumes, substances which
contribute to the acidification of soil and water,
fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and
agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked
to business interests, is presented as the only way
of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable
of seeing the mysterious network of relations
between things and so sometimes solves
one problem only to create others.

21. Account must also be taken of the pollution
produced by residue, including dangerous waste
present in different areas. Each year hundreds of
millions of tons of waste are generated, much of
it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive,
from homes and businesses, from construction
and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and
industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning
to look more and more like an immense pile
of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly
lament that once beautiful landscapes are now
covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical
products utilized in cities and agricultural areas
can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of
the local population, even when levels of toxins in
those places are low. Frequently no measures are
taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly
affected.

22. These problems are closely linked to a
throwaway culture which affects the excluded
just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To
cite one example, most of the paper we produce
is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us
to accept that the way natural ecosystems work
is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which
feed herbivores; these in turn become food for
carnivores, which produce significant quantities
of organic waste which give rise to new generations
of plants. But our industrial system, at the
end of its cycle of production and consumption,
has not developed the capacity to absorb and
reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet
managed to adopt a circular model of production
capable of preserving resources for present
and future generations, while limiting as much
as possible the use of non-renewable resources,
moderating their consumption, maximizing their
efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious
consideration of this issue would be one way
of counteracting the throwaway culture which
affects the entire planet, but it must be said that
only limited progress has been made in this regard.

Climate as a common good [23-26]

23. The climate is a common good, belonging
to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a
complex system linked to many of the essential
conditions for human life. A very solid scientific
consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing
a disturbing warming of the climatic system.
In recent decades this warming has been accompanied
by a constant rise in the sea level and, it
would appear, by an increase of extreme weather
events, even if a scientifically determinable cause
cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.
Humanity is called to recognize the need
for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption,
in order to combat this warming or at
least the human causes which produce or aggravate
it. It is true that there are other factors (such
as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit
and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific
studies indicate that most global warming in
recent decades is due to the great concentration
of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane,
nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a
result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere,
these gases do not allow the warmth
of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed
in space. The problem is aggravated by
a model of development based on the intensive
use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the
worldwide energy system. Another determining
factor has been an increase in changed uses of
the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural
purposes.

24. Warming has effects on the carbon cycle.
It creates a vicious circle which aggravates the
situation even more, affecting the availability of
essential resources like drinking water, energy
and agricultural production in warmer regions,
and leading to the extinction of part of the planet’s
biodiversity. The melting in the polar ice caps
and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous
release of methane gas, while the decomposition
of frozen organic material can further
increase the emission of carbon dioxide. Things
are made worse by the loss of tropical forests
which would otherwise help to mitigate climate
change. Carbon dioxide pollution increases the
acidification of the oceans and compromises the
marine food chain. If present trends continue,
this century may well witness extraordinary climate
change and an unprecedented destruction
of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all
of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create
extremely serious situations, if we consider
that a quarter of the world’s population lives on
the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our
megacities are situated in coastal areas.

25. Climate change is a global problem with
grave implications: environmental, social, economic,
political and for the distribution of
goods. It represents one of the principal challenges
facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact
will probably be felt by developing countries
in coming decades. Many of the poor live in
areas particularly affected by phenomena related
to warming, and their means of subsistence are
largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic
services such as agriculture, fishing and
forestry. They have no other financial activities
or resources which can enable them to adapt to
climate change or to face natural disasters, and
their access to social services and protection is
very limited. For example, changes in climate,
to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead
them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood
of the poor, who are then forced to leave
their homes, with great uncertainty for their future
and that of their children. There has been a
tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to
flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental
degradation. They are not recognized
by international conventions as refugees; they
bear the loss of the lives they have left behind,
without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever.
Sadly, there is widespread indifference to
such suffering, which is even now taking place
throughout our world. Our lack of response to
these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters
points to the loss of that sense of responsibility
for our fellow men and women upon which all
civil society is founded.

26. Many of those who possess more resources
and economic or political power seem mostly to
be concerned with masking the problems or concealing
their symptoms, simply making efforts to
reduce some of the negative impacts of climate
change. However, many of these symptoms indicate
that such effects will continue to worsen if
we continue with current models of production
and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop
policies so that, in the next few years, the
emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting
gases can be drastically reduced, for example,
substituting for fossil fuels and developing
sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there
is minimal access to clean and renewable energy.
There is still a need to develop adequate storage
technologies. Some countries have made
considerable progress, although it is far from constituting
a significant proportion. Investments have
also been made in means of production and
transportation which consume less energy and
require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods
of construction and renovating buildings which
improve their energy efficiency. But these good
practices are still far from widespread.

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