Clean tech: God bless the Pope

by Bruce Mason

portrait of Pope Francis• A global chorus now has a conductor with impeccable timing and sense of harmony, a man who connects all the dots while just getting warmed up. Of the 300 formal teachings on Catholic doctrine over 275 years, Pope Francis’ Laudato Si: On the Care of Our Common Home is like music; it’s universal.

The Pope’s uncompromising indictment of the global market economy – accusing it of plundering the Earth at the expense of the poor and future generations – will profoundly change, or at least shape, history. It is an explosive, unprecedented analysis that will inform and inspire action on climate change, poverty and inequality for years to come.

In less than 200 pages, Pope Francis makes about 250 points. Anyone who has read this far will get it; our ecological crisis is essentially a spiritual problem.

The manslaughter of our planet is our defining existential challenge. And our collective failure to commit to meaningful reductions is a political and moral travesty and catastrophe, particularly for the poorest and most marginalized.

This, says Pope Francis, is a human crisis. The solution is not simply to eliminate fossil fuels or rethink carbon credits. It is to rediscover what it means to be human, what he calls “integral ecology,” including a rejection of the cults of economic growth, material accumulation and the irrational myth of unlimited progress.

“The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life,” he writes. “The ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.”

His intention is to provoke unprecedented action – to fundamentally convert how humans understand their place and responsibility to our imperilled planet. “Everything is connected” is a constant refrain, and fair and just management of the “global commons,” a common theme.

It is the right message at the right time from the right person making the clearest and loudest moral case ever. This is a leader who makes us want to be better people. Don’t forget he brokered normalization of US-Cuba relations and brought Israel and Palestine leaders together in the same room. He is now pushing hard for climate-conscious polices on a scale that countries and organizations have not yet achieved.

He is admired, respected and even loved by more than 1.2 billion Catholics. And we’re fascinated by him and by his ability to communicate through simple language and behaviour. He also has street creds; he is the world’s most influential tweeter – re-tweeted more than Barack Obama, even Justin Bieber. Unprecedented global interest in his long-awaited encyclical crashed the Vatican website and generated hundreds of headlines and commentaries in dozens of languages. It is accessible, masterful, and in places, beautiful.

His carefully timed intervention is much more than a passing distraction from business as usual. In September, the first pope from the Southern hemisphere will also be the first to address the joint Congress and Senate in Washington – the lion’s den – as well as the UN.

He has already addressed “everyone living on the planet,” amid the ongoing success of fossil fuel divestment, and in concert with the Oslo Principles on Global Climate Change Obligation -which argued that governments are in flagrant breach of legal obligations to the planet. This was a few days before a Dutch court ordered the state to reduce emissions by 25% within five years; it was the first climate liability court case. Norway and Belgium are following suit. In Canada, more than five million people have signed the Blue Dot declaration to recognize their right to a healthy environment.

Counting down to make-or-break talks in Paris in December at the UN Climate Change Conference, leaders are now looking over their shoulders not only at the Pope; they’re also looking for legal challenges to inadequate emissions-cutting pledges.

UN Climate Change Secretariat Christiana Figueres – charged with making an international climate deal – says, “Transformation is on its way, irreversible, picking up speed. The encyclical will have a major impact on the moral imperative of addressing climate change to protect the most vulnerable.”

The climate, the atmosphere, oceans and forests are “global commons,” the Pope insists, belonging to all – not a “no man’s land” of raw material, governed only by the law of the jungle and survival of the greediest.

Short-term-minded governments and enterprises won’t save us, he warns, switching global attention away from macro solutions by policy summits to personal ethics of environmental stewardship. The infuriating impasse of more than two decades of squandered international negotiations has created an appearance of inevitability. Our life-and-death crisis is exacerbated by an obsession with GDP, which doesn’t record the degradation of Earth or the abject inequities between and within countries. Truly comprehensive cost-benefit analysis must give planetary wellbeing as much standing as it gives the bottom line and place global common good above national interests, Pope Francis advises.

The global market for clean tech – $1 trillion in 2010 – is projected to grow to $3 trillion by 2020, behind only energy (oil and gas) and arms sales. But the IMF estimates that when impacts of climate change are factored in, fossil fuel companies receive $14.5 billion in subsidies every day ($5.3 trillion in 2015). Without this obscene handout, they can no longer compete with clean energy technology.

“Revolutionary” and “radical” is the Pope’s clarion call for extraordinary change in human vision and behaviour and for sacrifice, especially from the rich and powerful who owe an “ecological debt.” “Remarkable” is his emphasis on the force of love – not fear – to motivate us.

Linking poverty, economics and ecological destruction, the Pope calls on the world to deliver common good. Poverty and ecological crises don’t just exist, they are caused, he says, casting blame on transnational corporations, criticizing the foreign debt system as control of the poor.

Without public pressure, there will be no progress in a transition to clean energy, the Pope warns. To “protect our common home,” we must actively confront fossil fuels economics and take bold action to scale solutions to climate change.

Here at home, Analytica Advisors’ just released 2015 Canadian Clean Technology Industry Report notes that, despite impressive growth in revenue and employment – four times the rate of the overall national economy – our fastest growing industry lost 41% of its global share of clean technology in a decade, the biggest loser of market share among the top 24 exporting countries.

We are wasting opportunity and we have no government policy, strategy, integrated approach, government ministry or even a debate.

Céline Bak, president of Analytica Advisors, told Common Ground: “This encyclical makes our overdue debate more likely, grounded in both evidence and humanity, democratic, science-based, informed by values which Canadians hold dear. And it affirms the need to consider our part in contributing solutions and helping others face climate change.”

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. brucemason@shaw.ca

photo wiki commons

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