Local doctor becomes climate change ambassador - Catholic Courier

Local doctor becomes climate change ambassador

PITTSFORD — Things that are good for the environment often also save money and are good for people’s health, noted Dr. Gerry Gacioch.

He gave the example of choosing to walk instead of driving. It is good for the environment, good for a person’s health and saves money, he said.

That link helps to connect Gacioch’s passions: He is chief of cardiology at Rochester General Hospital and also is a committed environmentalist who has branded himself a "green doc."

Gacioch has a new "green" title to add to his resume. In December he was one of 25 people nationwide trained by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Catholic Coalition on Climate Change as a Catholic Climate Ambassador. He said his goal is to present climate-change information from the USCCB and Pope Benedict XVI to groups in and out of the diocese.

"This is your leadership telling you what they think you ought to know about climate change based on our tradition and our teachings," Gacioch said.

Gacioch presented information from his training to members of the diocesan justice-and-peace staff and the Diocesan Public Policy Committee March 3 at Church of the Transfiguration, where he heads the Care of God’s Creation ministry at the parish.

He is slated to speak at several parishes in the diocese in the coming weeks, including a Care for God’s Creation and the Poor program from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 21 at St. Monica Parish, 831 Genesee St., Rochester. This event is open to all and will feature prayer, speakers, resources, and displays by environmental and social ministries.

Gacioch said the topic of climate change is important to tackle on a global scale, and the Catholic Church is uniquely positioned to lead efforts to do so.

"Unfortunately, it has become a politicized topic, but what the bishops are hoping is that people let their barriers down a little bit and learn a little bit more," he said.

The U.S. bishops’ conference has made the case to address climate change, he noted, because taking action is a prudent thing to and may prevent additional poverty and promote the common good. In 2006 the bishops supported the launch of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, which is spearheading the Climate Change Covenant to encourage individuals and groups to pledge to change behaviors that may contribute to climate change. The USCCB is a partner in the covenant, along with more than 20 other organizations including Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Relief Services, the National Conference of Catholic Women and the Franciscan Action Network.

Gacioch said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported that the Earth has unprecedented levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

"We are in territory that has not happened in over 685,000 years," he said. "As carbon dioxide goes up, the temperature of the planet goes up."

He noted that it’s a mistake to equate a particular day’s weather with gradual climate change. However, he noted that in general, climate change is expected to cause more extreme fluctuations in temperatures across the globe, and he said it has been linked to an increase in severity of natural disasters ranging from droughts to wildfires.

He noted that climate change could affect people’s health if it leads to an increase in mosquitoes that carry malaria and dengue fever or the parasites that cause schistosomiasis. Climate change also could affect the poor through water scarcity and malnutrition, he said.

By reducing greenhouse gases, people can help mitigate the damage of climate change, Gacioch said. He noted that agreements to tackle climate change have to be global in scope in both developed and developing nations so that all nations are working toward the same goal.

"The efforts have been minuscule so far," Gacioch said. "It’s got to happen on such a grand scale."

He noted that public-awareness efforts about chlorofluorocarbons and the hole in the ozone layer of the Earth’s atmosphere led to positive changes, as did work to help reduce acid rain. He said that Catholics bring hope and a moral perspective to the debate over climate change.

He noted that through Pope Benedict’s leadership, the Vatican has become the first nation to be carbon-neutral. In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict said, "The protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet."

"One thing the Catholic perspective brings to this is hope," Gacioch said.

Gacioch hopes to increase the number of people locally who have taken the St. Francis Pledge, an initiative of the Catholic Climate Covenant. The pledge promises that the person or group will pray and reflect on the duty to care for God’s creation and protect the poor and vulnerable; learn about and educate others on the moral dimensions of climate change; assess how a person can contribute to or help reduce climate change through energy use, consumption and waste; act to reduce a person’s carbon footprint; and advocate for principles of solidarity and stewardship for God’s creation.

"Gerry’s gift is being able to share the message of the care of God’s creation," said Karen Nowlan, coordinator of peace and justice at Transfiguration, which has a range of environmental programs, including a community garden that raises produce for local ministries and a bottle cap recycling program.

She noted that Gacioch’s presentation placed climate change within the context of Catholic social teaching.

"If we live simple lives, people can meet their daily needs," Nowlan said.

Tags: Environment
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