Local researcher meets with Pope Francis on climate change

SAN DIEGO - A San Diego researcher who recently returned from Rome is sharing his story of an up-close and personal chat with Pope Francis.

"At that moment I met him, I will never forget that smile," said Ram Ramanathan. "It was unbelievable … and I was inspired."

The moment came on the final day of a four-day conclave at the Vatican which was organized by Ramanathan, a leading expert on climate change and a researcher at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

Ramanathan, who is a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Vatican's group of scientific advisers, had recruited dozens of the world's top experts on climate change from scientists and sociologists to economists.

He was not sure he would meet the pope, but two hours before the conference ended, he was a handed a slip of paper and told a meeting with the attendees would happen in moments.

Ramanathan would be allowed to say three sentences. He says he pushed the butterflies aside.

"What took over me is I'm going to have one minute with him and have to deliver the message," said Ramanathan.

He emphasized the importance of the climate change issue and its impact on the poor, before ending with this.

'We need your help to tell the people to be better stewards of the planet," said Ramanathan.

Ramanathan says he was told Pope Francis understands English but only responds immediately if the conversation is in Spanish or Italian. 

The Vatican sent a message to Ramanathan later that day: Pope Francis shared his sentiments.

While past pontiffs have declared the importance of safeguarding God's creation, Ramanathan hopes Pope Francis will take the climate change issue to another level.        

"We need global leaders," he said. "After this meeting concluded, he is that leader."

After the conclave, the Vatican sent a statement out saying the rate of pollution is unsustainable.

Ramanathan says talks have begun to have a private audience with the pope on the issue before the end of the year.

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