A report released by the World Bank ahead of the United Nation's 21st annual global conference on climate change, set to run from November 11 through December 11 in Le Bourget, France, cautions that global changes from unchecked carbon emissions could drive more than 100 million people into extreme poverty and leave half a billion homeless world-wide. This past June, the Papal Encyclical Laudato Si’ called us to action on the global challenges of climate change, pollution, and the plight of the poor. It is against this backdrop that on November 3-4, Santa Clara University hosted "Our Future on a Shared Planet: Silicon Valley in Conversation with the Environmental Teachings of Pope Francis,” a conference that brought together members of different faith, scientific, governmental, and citizen communities.
Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, widely believed to be one of the most influential Vatican thinkers on climate change and its impact on the poor and a key contributor to the encyclical, opened the conference with a reflection on the social and environmental justice teachings of Pope Francis in light of the innovative spirit of Silicon Valley. And while the first day of the conference focused on a multi-faith conversation and reflection, the second day included presentations and dialogue that addressed the scientific, business, civic, and public policy dimensions of this issue. Keynote speakers included Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a world-renowned climate scientist from Scripps institution of Oceanography and member of the Council for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences; Sam Liccardo, mayor of San Jose and recent guest to the Vatican on climate change; Gretchen Daily, distinguished professor of Conservation Biology and forefront thinker on the Natural Capital Project; and John Denniston, former investment partner and Green Growth Fund co-manager. Keynote speakers were complemented by respondents from the Santa Clara community.
In his presentation “Fighting Climate Change: A New Alliance Between Science, Religion & Policy,” Dr. Ramanathan spoke about the run-away production of green-house gases and environmental degradation that occurs when the world, as a whole, “is obsessed with GDP as a measure of progress as if the earth’s natural capital were of infinite size.” Polluting at the current rate, humans will have put three trillion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2030, raising the global temperate by about 2.25°F, a range not seen for about two million years, he emphasized. The end result is that the poorest 3 billion people will suffer the worst consequences, bringing to the foreground huge moral and ethical implications for all humanity.
In response to this keynote, Iris Stewart-Frey, associate professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences and Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, called the encyclical “a game changer” at a time when “continued exploitation, injustice, gridlock and indifference prevent us from reconnecting with mother earth” and from “truly hearing, understanding, and relieving the suffering of the poor.” She highlighted the many efforts and initiatives launched at Santa Clara—a climate-neutrality action plan, residential labs on sustainable living, the Sustainable Energy Initiative from the School of Engineering, the Miller Center’s work with marginalized communities world-wide through the creation of climate-friendly technologies and social entrepreneurship, green buildings that takes into consideration water conservation and use, and research into the effects of climate change on the water cycle and water resources—as examples of the “scientific and moral” leadership that is needed to bring down the climate change curve. “When we put our multi-disciplinary heads together, powerful synergies emerge. And to achieve these synergies, we must use rigor, empathy and imagination,” she emphasized.