Just back from a Vatican synod on the Amazon, San Diego Catholic Bishop Robert McElroy oversaw a climate-change seminar Wednesday with a top scientist in the field.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan laid out compelling evidence of manmade climate change – and why morality demands global warming be slowed.

But the distinguished professor of atmospheric and climate sciences at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography didn’t address the political elephant in the room.

Later, McElroy did.

Encyclical letter Laudato Si by Pope Francis.
Encyclical letter Laudato Si by Pope Francis.

After the nearly 2-hour session of 160 clergy, religious and lay people at the diocesan Pastoral Center, the San Diego bishop suggested elected officials — apparently Republicans — must reverse their climate-change denial.

Asked which is more important to the church — the anti-abortion movement or the drive to blunt carbon dioxide pollution — McElroy said they’re both part of a single fight: “the defense of life. You can’t separate those two out.”

He acknowledged that America’s “political structures” separate the issues. He called such politics misshapen.

“They’re distorted,” he told Times of San Diego. “They say you can’t be for a holistic view of safeguarding life.”

So given the red-blue split over abortion and climate change, what can be done to unite efforts to stave off “crisis levels” of CO2 the Scripps scientist said could be 10 years away?

“We have to have our elected officials change,” McElroy said. “We have to change that structure so that people don’t have to choose, when they’re voting, between safeguarding the future of the planet and safeguarding the life of unborn children.”

In a conference titled “Bending the Global Warming Curve: A New Alliance between Science, Religion and Policy,” Ramanathan cited a sabbatical to his boyhood home of India — where he saw the vast gulf between rich and poor. It was a snapshot of the 1 billion people on earth with “unlimited” access to fossil fuels and the 3 billion with none at all.

He recounted visits with popes. Both stories drove home the spiritual need to combat climate change.

And he called Pope Francis’ 2015 environmental manifesto Laudato Si (“On Care of Our Common Home”) “without exaggeration … the best document ever published on climate change.”

Ramanathan, a member of the prestigious Pontifical Academy of Science, said that between 1995 and 2015 climate change led to the deaths of 606,000 people worldwide.

And if efforts to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere aren’t successful by 2050, he said, 7 billion people on earth will be exposed to high temperatures over 120 for extended periods. Fatal conditions.

“Most parts of America will be exposed to this,” he said while showing charts and videos in the darkened room. He noted the number of California wildfires has risen 400% between 1978 and 2018 — and said they could triple in the next 10 years.

He said he once told the Dalai Lama — in the briefest pitch — that humanity needs to just clean the air — “don’t put junk in the air.”

To which the Tibetan Buddhist leader replied: “How can you clean the outer environment without cleaning the inner environment?” referring to hearts and minds.

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So Ramanathan and fellow scientists in the University of California system have created digital textbooks for use in preschool through 12th-grade classrooms to “teach kids to be climate warriors.”

Earlier, he showed an image of high school crowds at the recent San Diego school walkout on climate change. He’s taking heart — and hope — in young people moving society to action.

Otherwise, he said, he’d be in a clinically depressed state.

But having felt “divine intervention” at a 2015 Vatican meeting (even though he isn’t Catholic) and hearing solutions of 50 fellow UC faculty members, Ramanathan is staying positive.

“Science knows what to do,” he told the Clairemont audience, including scientists and a few teens. “Science doesn’t know how to do it. We need society’s help.”

Ramanathan shared needed steps, including societal transformation, new markets and regulations, technology fixes and ecosystem management.

Without elaboration, he also mentioned governance.

“We are paying for fossil fuels with our lives,” he said.