"The Sky's Limit" supports faith with reason

A new report by Oil Change International justifies ways forward to reduce fossil fuel reliance

A new report by the US-based group Oil Change International is fueling discussion not just within technical audiences, but in faith-based ones, too—especially those seeking a cleaner future for those of us alive and those not yet born.

The study, issued in partnership with fourteen organizations from around the world, grounds in science the growing movement to keep carbon “in the ground” by halting all new fossil fuel development and industry expansion.

The Sky’s Limit” report sifts through and researches the impacts of current and planned usage of fossil fuels and compares this to stated international goals to hold back global temperature rises from carbon dioxide emissions. The generally accepted safe average temperature increase is 1.5°C, although some (like me) would like to see it closer to zero. (After all, why should we accept that human activity has any global ecological effects at all? We're smarter than that. And we're called to such virtuous lifestyles.)


The report found that the potential carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal from the world’s currently operating fields and mines would take us beyond 2°C of warming.

Even if you didn't account for coal (which has seen a decline in use of late), the reserves in currently operating oil and gas fields alone would take the world beyond 1.5°C.

The report’s good news is that “with the necessary decline in production over the coming decades to meet climate goals, clean energy can be scaled up at a corresponding pace, expanding the total number of energy jobs.”


Numerous and varied organizations signed on to the report, including the Global Catholic Climate Movement, or "GCCM." This makes sense, given how the research presented explains the damaging impacts of current fossil fuel usage, which the current pontiff and his immediate predecessors have warned against.

“The Oil Change International report helps all of us in the faith community by demonstrating the technical foundations of our moral concerns over climate and energy production,” Tomás Insua, the Global Coordinator of the GCCM told Catholic Ecology. “Better yet, it shows us the way to a cleaner, healthier future for all people and all of God’s creation.”

The GCCM seeks a three-pronged approach to current eco-issues, especially climate change: a personal spiritual transformation; individual and communal "ecological conversions," as stated by Saint John Paul II; and mobilization to carry the Church's concerns in the public square, as encouraged by Benedict XVI.

“What the research in 'The Sky's Limit' is showing us is that moving to renewables is simply the right and just thing to do,” Insua said.

In other words, the report is at home in the ancient Catholic tradition that blends faith and reason—and it does so to build up the common good.

Ways forward

“The Sky’s Limit” justifies the call for no new fossil fuel extraction or transportation infrastructure (like the Dakota pipeline)—and thus a freeze on government approvals that could make such infrastructure possible.

To further protections from keeping fossil fuels and its carbon safely underground, the report asks that existing fields and mines be closed before fully exploiting their resources, and that "financial support should be provided for non-carbon development in poorer countries.”

Happily, a final recommendation grounds the report in reality—which can be something of a lost art in the eco-advocacy world.

“This does not mean stopping using all fossil fuels overnight,” Oil Change International summarizes. “Governments and companies should conduct a managed decline of the fossil fuel industry and ensure a just transition for the workers and communities that depend on it.”


It is nuance like this that makes “The Sky’s Limit” such a valuable addition to the ramp up to the COP 22 international climate talks in a few months. The path forward to our desired tomorrow will be through the brambles and fallen, rocky terrain of complicated transitions—especially for many who rely on feeding their children from fossil fuel economies.

But this right and just path must be embarked on and charitably maintained so that those very children can raise their children in a world that does not suffer from the ills of fossil fuel reliance.

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About the Blog

Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.