After Pope Issues Call to Combat Climate Change, Rutgers Scientists Explain Why it Matters
Robert Kopp, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences and associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute, a lead author of “Economic Risks of Climate Change: An American Prospectus" (forthcoming this summer from Columbia University Press). This report provided the technical analysis underlying the Risky Business Project organized by former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, and philanthropist Tom Steyer.
We often think about climate change as an economic issue, and it is. But as the pope's encyclical highlights, climate change is also a profoundly ethical challenge. In part, it's a matter of equity. The benefits of fossil fuels have accrued primarily to the world's rich, while the risks have fallen disproportionately on the poor. Moreover, burning fossil fuels imposes an increasing "climate debt" on future generations, who have no direct voice today – an imposition that we shakily justify by assuming that our descendants will be better able to clean up our mess than we are able to avoid making it.
Many of the challenges of dealing with climate change arise from the "short-termism" that dominates our economic and political systems. By contrast, the 2,000-year-old Catholic Church has a longer term view. With its focus on both social justice and the long term, as well as a network of followers that spans all the countries of the world, the Church brings an important perspective to tackling climate change.