The Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences recently hosted a joint conference titled “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility“. The importance of this conference was highlighted by the appearance of Pope Francis. I hope to have more information on this conference as it becomes available but in the interim, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times dot earth blog had a good summary of the conference.
Mr. Revkin gave his reflections on the conference and had a great speech. You can find the full text of the speech here but set forth below is an excerpt:
Our predicament in an age some have named for us — the Anthropocene — was nicely captured by Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga on the first day here when he said, “Nowadays man finds himself to be a technical giant and an ethical child.”
Humanity, in essence, is in a race between potency and awareness. The outcome will determine the quality of our species’ journey and will leave an indelible mark, for better or worse, on the planet we inhabit.
A few years ago, I proposed that we are experiencing “puberty on the scale of a planet.” Global trends echo that awkward, sometimes damaging, transition from teenage-style ebullience to the more measured norms of adulthood.
And just as a teenager resists calls from elders to grow up, societies – only naturally – have been initially resistant to scientists’ warnings of irreversible damage to the planet’s biological patrimony, risks attending unabated climate change and long-distance impacts of consumptive resource appetites.
In many ways, science has done its job.
The physical and biological sciences, along with revolutionary advances in technology – from satellites to supercomputers – have provided a clarifying picture of human-driven environmental changes.
Psychological and sociological studies have revealed deeply ingrained human traits, many shaped by our evolutionary history as a “here and now” species, that prevent us from acting rationally in the face of threats with long time scales, dispersed impacts and inherent complexity.
Possible paths have been delineated in recent decades using ever more sophisticated models.
But that is where science’s task ends. It is up to individuals and societies to choose which paths to pursue.
Scientific knowledge reveals options. Values determine choices.
That is why the Roman Catholic Church — with its global reach, the ethical framework in its social justice teachings and, as with all great religions, the ability to reach hearts as well as minds — can play a valuable role in this consequential century.
This is particularly true for planet-scale problems like human-driven climate change, in which governments tend to put national interests ahead of planet-scale interests.