Pope Francis on the Way to Paris: Revoking King Coal & Big Oil's License to Pollute

argentina   circa 2013  stamps...
argentina circa 2013 stamps...

The coal and oil industry monopoly on power is crumbling before our eyes. The biggest change in 2015 is that these industries' carte blanche license to pollute -- and to disrupt climate solutions -- is looking increasingly precarious. In June alone Pope Francis, the G7, and Norway have all taken major steps to revoke the power of coal and oil as we head towards the UN climate meeting in Paris.

On November 30 representatives of the world's governments will gather in Paris for their annual attempt at a legally binding climate treaty. And despite 21 years of disappointments and near misses, I see reason for great optimism that the world's 193-nations might just agree to meaningful, measurable reductions of carbon pollution.

Inevitability. Last week the G7 revoked the permanence and inevitability card that the coal and oil industries (which includes natural gas) rely on for unquestioned support from the world's governments. On June 8 the Group of Seven, the leaders of the world's leading industrialized nations, agreed to "decarbonization of the global economy over the course of this century." This is a fundamental shift in the role of coal and oil in the world economy. Dirty energy is not inevitable, not even necessary. And while 85 years is far too long to wait to shift to clean energy, the leaders of some of the largest nations now acknowledge that the world will be prosperous and energy secure without coal, oil or gas. The only question is when -- and it will certainly happen a lot sooner than the G7 predict. (The G7 also addressed Responsible Supply Chains - an issue that is dear to the heart of ForestEthics, but is a topic for a different blog.)

Economic Security. In early June, Norway voted to divest its $900 billion pension fund from companies that are invested in coal, tar sands and other polluting industries. Norway (with their rich North Sea oil reserves) joins the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (whose endowment comes from Standard Oil) and many other universities and other institutions that are reevaluating the long-term prospects and moral risk of King Coal and Big Oil, and walking away from investments in carbon polluters. At the same time let's not overlook the Obama Administration's new rules on heavy trucks and aircraft, which build on the 2012 car standards, and will result in very real decreases in U.S. carbon pollution.

Moral Imperative. Today Thursday Pope Francis published a papal encyclical on climate disruption. An encyclical is guidance to Catholic clergy and church members clarifying and interpreting church doctrine on modern issues. The Pope will also issue a letter on climate disruption that he hopes will influence world leaders and citizens far beyond the Holy See. This is not the first time a Pope has weighed in on environmental protection and the climate. In 1990 Saint John Paul II warned of a climate crisis and Pope Benedict is known as the Green Pope for his work on climate disruption and environmental protection. Pope Francis has already highlighted humankind's duty to protect creation and integral ecology, the idea that caring for fellow humans is connected to our treatment of the environment. For Pope Francis, who studied chemistry as a student in Argentina, climate disruption is an urgent scientific issue, but most importantly, a moral one.

Pope Francis joins a long list of faith leaders from all denominations who have taken a public stand on climate disruption and the transformation of our energy economy. Pro-coal and oil lackeys have already unleashed fierce criticism of the Pope, as well as the G7, Norway, and anyone else speaking out for climate solutions. And while the vitriol of that criticism increases, the sting of it wanes.

As they prepare their travel plans for Paris, representatives of the world's governments must understand that the power of the coal and oil industry is slipping away. They will not go away quietly, but it's time to ignore the noisy racket from the coal and oil industry as they grasp for power and influence. It is time to finally draft a binding global treaty that will speed up and complete the inevitable transition to clean energy.

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