Why Climate Change Should Be A Priority During Pope's U.S. Visit | Oceana

Carbon pollution is having several adverse effects on our planet, and Pope Francis plans to address Congress during his first U.S. visit on what needs to be done.

Photo Credit: Oceana / Eduardo Sorensen

People across the globe are really worried about climate change— a recent study found that climate change is a top concern for the global population, even more so among poorer nations.

So it makes sense that the "People's Pope," known for having more than 22 million Twitter followers and admired by many non-Catholic Americans, is arriving in the nation's capital ready to bring the issue to the forefront of our minds.

Pope Francis' first visit to the United States will be marked by notable gatherings and personal appeals to the government, chief among them his moral case to Congress for taking on climate change. Pope Francis has called climate change "one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day," blaming human activity for its adverse effects and declaring that immediate action is a "moral imperative" on people's part.

Pope Francis will address a joint session of Congress on Thursday while in Washington, D.C.. The Pope's U.S. visit also coincides with Climate Week in New York where the Pope, President Barack Obama and other world leaders will speak at the United Nations Summit on international development. These events in New York are building toward the COP21 climate meetings this December in Paris, at which officials from around the world will seek to achieve a new international agreement on climate change.

When you picture climate change, you probably imagine black puffs of smoke and chemicals billowing from industrial plants, releasing billions of tons of carbon pollution into the air we breathe. But our seas feel the effects just as much as the air— as levels of carbon dioxide rise in the atmosphere, levels of ocean carbon uptake are also impacted.

The result is ocean acidification, sea level rise, changing ecosystems and altered marine food webs.

The oceans have been absorbing massive amounts of carbon pollution ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Since then, we've added almost 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and our oceans have absorbed about a third of that.

Ocean acidification, caused mainly by the absorption of carbon dioxide by our oceans, leads to chemical changes in our waters. Acidification of our oceans has a huge impact on vulnerable species that are vital to marine ecosystems, such as shellfish, calcareous plankton, and coral. For example, the effects on pteropods, or “sea butterflies,” could wreak havoc on food webs from miniscule krill to the largest marine mammals, whales. 

On top of that, the health of species that build calcium carbonate shells and skeletons are at risk. For example, corals could erode faster than they can rebuild.

Carbon pollution is also one of the major drivers of global warming. Even the smallest upticks in the Earth's temperature can have devastating effects. For example, scientists believe that the primary threat now to the polar bear's existence is climate change. The bear is intimately tied to Arctic sea ice, but that ice is expected to continue thinning and melting faster due to climate change. An image of a starving polar bear last month spread through social media worldwide for its realistic portrayal of the effects of climate change.

The largest source of carbon pollution is the burning of fossil fuels to provide power and heat for buildings, vehicles, and industrial facilities. The average person worldwide released more than 5 tons of carbon pollution into the atmosphere in 2013, while the U.S. surpassed almost all other countries with 16.5 tons per person

The Pope has garnered a lot of publicity for being outspoken on the environment and placing  responsibility for its current state on human activity. In his encyclical, the Pope asserted that people tend to care more about the immediate gain from certain activities, whereas "little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment." 

Pope Francis' words may prove powerful enough to resonate with both the American public and its leaders. Seventy percent of Americans have a favorable impression of the Pope, even if only 55 percent favor the Catholic Church. Additionally, 59 percent of Americans think it is appropriate for the Pope to urge government action on environmental issues, along with social and economic issues.

As the Pope takes on D.C., many people will be anticipating his actions for bringing climate change in the spotlight.

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