A doctor, a scientist, and a priest walk into a bar…
Except that physician Howard Frumkin, MD, DrPH, climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan, PhD, and Monsignor Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, PhD aren’t joking when they consider “Health, Faith, and Science on a Warming Planet” in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA):
Global change presents humanity with unprecedented challenges. Climate change, altered natural cycles, and pollution of air, water, and biota threaten the very conditions on which human civilization has depended for the last 12, 000 years. While human health is better now than ever before in human history, climate change is undermining many public health advances of the last century and ultimately may be associated with the unprecedented extinction of species. The increasing gap between the wealthy and poor—already unconscionable, and the cause of profound preventable morbidity and mortality—amplifies the effects of climate change on health and deepens health disparities.
The authors believe that common ground exists among health professionals, climate scientists, and the faith community in humanity’s existential battle to combat the climate crisis:
First, there are certain truths.
The truth about humankind’s relationship with the changing global climate can be summed up in 10 words: “Experts agree, it’s real, it’s us, it’s bad, there’s hope.” The authors argue that what brings the health, science, and faith communities together in this consensus is “disciplined, critical thinking, and an unfailing commitment to distinguish what is verifiable from what is not[…]”
Second, scientific evidence is a primary basis for distinguishing what is verifiable from what is not.
Practically every earth, space, and climate scientist on the planet agrees with the consensus regarding the causes and threats of the climate crisis. Public health experts and medical societies — The Medical Society Consortium on Climate Change and Health includes the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the American College of Physicians (internal medicine — ACP), American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), and many more physician groups (in other words, your doctors) — are also all in agreement. And the beautifully-written 2015 encyclical letter Laudato Si’ (On Care For Our Common Home) revealed that Pope Francis is on the same page.
Third, “with unchecked climate change and air pollution, the very fabric of life on Earth, including that of humans, is at grave risk.”
As growing emissions of greenhouse gases accumulate and warm Earth’s atmosphere, landmasses, and oceans, air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels and nonrenewable biomass has become a huge influence on human disease, resulting in a WHO-estimated 7 million premature deaths around the world, including tens of thousands of Americans.
Spirituality guides those seeking solutions to the climate crisis…
Fourth, there is a role for reverence and awe.
The impulse to address climate change, to protect people, and to seek justice is not only a response to danger. It also reflects profound appreciation for the sanctity of individuals, the beauty of community, the gift of health, and the majesty of the natural world.
… and appeals to something much bigger than those of us alive today — a responsibility to future generations:
Fifth, there is a moral obligation to safeguard the earth for future generations.
Finally, even though the impacts of environmental degradation and destruction, and of climate change, are felt by everyone, those among us who are most vulnerable — women, children, the elderly, people and communities of color, those living in poverty, and people with pre-existing medical conditions — stand to be hurt the most:
Sixth, there is a moral obligation to care for the most vulnerable.
Maybe we can lift a glass and toast six areas of common ground we should all stand on together:
They establish a path to innovative and productive partnerships among health professionals, scientists, and the faith community as they work together safeguarding both the global environment and human health— and leveraging their moral authority, expertise, and influence—to address climate change urgently, effectively, and equitably.
Cheers to that.