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Climate leadership: Finding the ‘insight and courage’ to move forward

September 17, 2015
Marie Venner
Global Catholic Climate Movement

Nearly every state around the country has activities underway related to Pope Francis’ ecology encyclical “Laudato Si’”. California’s are some of the most interesting, as the state has tended to be the test bed for policies and new technologies that are later considered for implementation by other states.

California has made notable progress in the past 15 years. For example, California spurred the advent of electric vehicles in the U.S., which sold 58 percent more units in the U.S. in 2014 than in 2013. Half of those are in California. Now most car manufacturers market them and 90 percent of owners of partially or fully electric cars said they would never go back to a gas-only car, as EVs are cheaper to operate and maintain, are quieter and faster, and always have a full tank in the morning. States from the Southeast (Georgia) to the Northwest later copied California’s incentives.

California also has shown other interested states how to create a framework to grow GDP (now more than 30 percent higher than in 2006) while lowering greenhouse gas emissions. The economy is now 28 percent less carbon-intensive per dollar of economic activity than in 1990. 

Although California is the seventh-largest economy in the world and the 20th-largest emitter of greenhouse gasses, California ranks fifth-lowest emitter per capita among U.S. states.

California Sen. President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) has been championing SB 350, the “Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015.” The bill would create or expand three related clean-energy goals to be achieved by 2030: A 50 percent reduction in petroleum used in motor vehicles; generating 50 percent of total retail sales of electricity from renewable resources; and a doubling of the energy efficiency of existing buildings.

Sen. de Leon said he heard the pope’s call “with urgency” for policymakers to “develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced.”

At a recent Capitol Forum discussing the encyclical, he added that for him the most important part of the encyclical “might be that man is not separate from nature but a part of it … Ancient cultures understood what modern man has forgotten or chooses to ignore.”

The California Catholic Conference says SB 350 is an important step in implementation of “Laudato Si’”, which “reminds us of urgent moral imperatives and valuable policy implications that must be considered to address environmental issues impacting the health of our communities, especially for our most vulnerable Californians and developing countries worldwide.”

Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto, president of the California Catholic Conference, and Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire expressed their support for the bill in the Capitol Forum on climate leadership – an effort by the bishops and legislators and their staff to implement the pope’s call for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.”

Bishop Soto said the session was to help provide policymakers with “the insight and the courage to move forward legislation that serves the common good.”

“We feel we have a right, like any other organization, to support values for the common good,” Bishop Blaire said. “The role of the church in public policy is to lift up values. I believe it is appropriate for the church to be a voice that calls for truly addressing these issues that affect the Earth so much.”

“The encyclical states that there is an urgent need to develop policies so that in the next few years the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced,” Bishop Blaire said at a press conference.”

The Ventura County Star reported that a news conference preceding the dialogue was covered heavily by Spanish-language media and conducted in Spanish, as Latinos make up the great majority of California’s Catholic population. In addition, the two bishops leading the dialogue were both from the Central Valley, and spoke of how the drought, wildfires and other climate-related effects have degraded the quality of life in the Valley.

Bishop Soto noted that “Pope Francis places the poor and the marginalized at the center of renewing the face of the Earth. Pope Francis also reminds us of our moral responsibility to be stewards of the common good of creation, as well as brothers and sisters of one human family with room at the table for everyone,” he said. “What has long been our tradition on the culture of life, he’s really now proposing what we would call the ecology of life.”

Visit http://catholicclimatemovement.globa for a wealth of resources on advocacy; awareness, education and discussion; diocesan and parish initiatives; climate change impact; liturgy, prayer and spirituality; how to reduce environmental harm

Venner is a National Academies researcher and the chair of the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board Subcommittee on Climate Change Impacts, Energy, and Sustainability on Transportation Infrastructure. She also serves as the Movement Sharing and Resource Development Coordinator for the Global Catholic Climate Movement.

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