Vatican Hung(a)ry for Carbon Offset

Conservative and traditionalist are the more likely adjectives that readily come to mind in association with the Vatican.

This popular view may become somewhat outdated, though, with the news that the Vatican has just become the world's first state to announce its intention to become carbon-neutral.

Its vital partner in this endeavor is a start-up enterprise from Hungary called KlimaFa and its San Francisco parent company, Planktos International. The company plans to recultivate an area that once was the lush 37-acre Tiszakeszi forest northeast of Hungary's capital, Budapest.

The so-called Vatican Climate Forest may be more than 500 miles away from the Vatican, but according to KlimaFa it will be large enough, at least in theory, to offset the Vatican's entire carbon-dioxide emissions for 2007.

To the more than 1 billion Catholics, the Vatican's environmental concern should not come as a surprise. In his 2001 Blueprint for the New Millennium, Pope John Paul II stressed the importance of protecting the environment. "How can we remain indifferent to the prospect of an ecological crisis, which is making vast areas of our planet uninhabitable and hostile to humanity?"

Now his successor, Pope Benedict XVI, is leading the appeal. The Vatican is progressively becoming "greener" with such projects as plans to source much of its electricity from solar panels.

During a ceremony July 5, the Holy See accepted KlimaFa's offer to plant the new Vatican Climate Forest in Hungary.

Cardinal Paul Poupard, who presided at the event, told those present, "This donation means an entire section of a national park in central Europe will be reforested. In this way, the Vatican will do its small part in contributing to the elimination of polluting emissions from carbon dioxide that is threatening the survival of this planet."

He then referred to The Book of Genesis, "which tells us of a beginning in which God placed man as guardian over the earth to make it fruitful."

The Symbolism of a Green Vatican

Andras Stoltz, a Hungarian journalist who writes on environmental issues, told ABC News, "The symbolism of this event is what matters, not the trees that may be planted. By accepting this offer the Vatican now carries the obligation to spread the 'green' message nearly as much as it's spreading the word of God."

Peter Rohonyi, a Hungarian energy and climate campaigner from Greenpeace, also remains skeptical as to the positive environmental contribution the project may have.

"This is nothing more than a publicity effort by a small, unknown company putting the trendy topic of environment protection to their own good use," he told ABC News. "They haven't even been able to present the Hungarian government with a realistic plan and they don't even have the government's permission for this project. Their partners, Planktos, have told the U.S. Congress that the project is going ahead. That's not true. And how are you going to calculate the Vatican's emissions? How are you going to separate the Vatican from Rome? It's all a stunt."

Nevertheless, KlimaFa (Fa means "tree" in Hungarian) claims that Hungarian scientists are already involved in the project, and besides being beneficial to the environment, its project will provide work for people in an area of high unemployment.

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