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Stewardship of God’s Creation and the Right to Economic Initiative and Private Property

Our enfolding blanket of air, our atmosphere, is both the physical condition for human community and its most compelling symbol. We all breathe the same air. Guarding the integrity of the atmosphere—without which complex life could not have evolved on this planet—seems like common sense. Yet a broad consensus of modern science is that human activity is beginning to alter the earth’s atmospheric characteristics in serious, perhaps profound ways. For the past century, researchers have been gathering and verifying data that reveal an increase in the global average temperature. Until recently, scientists could not say with great confidence whether or not this phenomenon was in any way the result of human activity or entirely the result of natural changes over time.

To deal with the difficulty of making precise measurements and arriving at definite conclusions, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to seek a clear explanation of the causes and possible impacts of this global climate change. 14Because of the large number of scientists involved in the IPCC and its process of consultation, its reports are considered widely as offering the most authoritative scientific perspectives on the issue. IPCC’s findings have met with general—but because of remaining uncertainties, not complete—agreement within the wider scientific community.

In 1996, the IPCC issued its Second Assessment Reports, which summarized the current state of knowledge. The first of these reports concluded that ” the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate.” 15 The Third Assessment Reports, approved in early 2001, found even stronger evidence and concluded, ” most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the [human-induced] increase in greenhouse gas concentrations” (italics added). 16