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Nature, Man and God

Vatican Seminar Debates Climate Issues

By Father John Flynn

ROME, MAY 7, 2007 (Zenit) - The worlds of science and faith had a chance to meet during a seminar held in the Vatican on the subject of climate change. On April 26-27 the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace hosted a gathering of scientists, politicians, theologians and bishops on the theme "Climate Change and Development."

Cardinal Renato Martino, the council's president, opened the proceedings by reading a telegram from Benedict XVI, signed by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Vatican secretary of state. The Pontiff thanked the participants for coming together to discuss climate change. The short message then went on to mention the importance of the principle of social doctrine of the universal destiny of goods, and the need to adopt a lifestyle and way of producing and consuming that respects creation and sustainable development.

In his opening address Cardinal Martino explained that the purpose of the seminar was above all a listening exercise to gather information in order to help the Church in formulating an ethical and pastoral response to the matter of climate change.

In reference to some of the theological issues involved, Cardinal Martino commented that the first chapters of the Bible demonstrate that the reality created by God exists for the use of mankind. "The dominion of man over creation, nevertheless, does not have to be a despotic dominion and domination; on the contrary, he has to 'cultivate and take care of' the goods created by God," he observed.

The scientific angle

The first day was dedicated to the scientific aspects of climate. Laurent Stefanini, French ambassador for the environment, spoke of the historical background of climate change. He also gave a run-down of some of the meetings held in recent years on the issue.

The British environment minister, David Miliband, stressed the urgency of acting on climate change. He also augured that the Vatican would lend its weight to the campaign on issue, just as it has been active in matters related to economic development for poorer nations.

An overview of the data and projections regarding climate was given by Stefan Rahmstorf, from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. He defended the accuracy of the reports published by the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Some of the other speakers questioned the validity of these reports, or whether climate change will be disastrous. Italian physicist and president of the World Federation of Scientists, Antonino Zichichi, drew attention to problems with the mathematical models used to predict climate change.

"There is a need to do more work, with a lot more rigor, to better the models being used," he argued in a 60-page written paper that accompanied his speech to the seminar.

The consequences of higher carbon dioxide levels was addressed by Craig Idso, head of the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, based in Arizona, United States.

He argued that increased carbon dioxide would stimulate plant life, both increasing agricultural productivity and strengthening plants to resist the adverse consequences of higher temperatures.

The political aspects of the debate were also examined. Among the speakers on this issue was Argentina's ambassador for international environmental issues, Raśl Estada Oyuela. Opening his remarks Estrada was critical of some of the views expressed during the opportunities for discussion in the seminar that had called for limiting economic growth to avoid ecological damage. He also defended the international agreements on climate matters and called on richer nations to take the brunt of the costs in addressing the problem.

Theology and ecology

The second day of the seminar saw a number of addresses on the theological and pastoral aspects of climate and ecology. E. Calvin Beisner, of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance, located in Virginia, United States, offered an interpretation of some Biblical texts. Using a more literal exegetical method, that did not meet with a favorable reaction among many of the seminar's participants, he called for greater confidence in God's providence regarding possible ecological problems.

Auxiliary Bishop Bernd Uhl of Freiburg, Germany, spoke about Catholic social teaching as related to climate issues. One of the points he raised was the need to talk of creation, rather than environment. Creation, he continued, embodies value and reminds us of God. "Without a belief in God's creation, there is a danger that nature or the earth will be made into a god," he warned.

Elias Crisostomo Abramides, head of the climate change program for the World Council of Churches, urged greater responsibility in caring for creation. He ...

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