Climate Change: Crisis, Challenge, and Hope

It's time to recognize that climate change is an EMERGENCY and get serious about addressing it! Our lavish use of fossil fuels is risking runaway climate change, with feedback effects that can lead to mass extinctions (50-70% of species). There have been mass extinctions on this planet before from which bio-diversity recovered -- in some 50 million years.

  • We have already EXCEEDED the upper limit of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere specified by experts, 350 ppm (the pre-industrial level was 280 ppm).
  • The oceans are being ACIDIFIED from excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, yet we depend on them for every other breath of oxygen. Major fish stocks have been radically depleted; coral is dying; and there are now DEAD SPOTS in the oceans.
  • The poorest people in the developing world are the FIRST AND WORST HIT by global warming, and by drought leading to FOOD SHORTAGES (a crisis exacerbated by the use of food crops for bio-fuels).
  • POLAR MELTING is occurring faster than predicted, raising ocean levels and threatening islands and coastal areas. The Tibetan glaciers, which water the great food-growing areas of Asia, are disappearing. Rising temperatures result in EXTREME WEATHER (more floods in cooler climates, more fires in warmer, more storms in the oceans).
  • ENVIRONMENTAL REFUGEES are already on the move, from drought in sub-Saharan Africa and from low-lying coasts and islands elsewhere.
  • We are, in short, UPSETTING THE BALANCE of key bio-systems, ignoring the role God entrusted to us in creation to be stewards (not owners) of God's good earth. We live as if we were oblivious to our interdependence with all life on earth.

Is There Hope?

Some of the world's top experts say there is still time -- although the time is short!

CAN WE SAVE THE PLANET? Science and technology are providing solutions. There is indeed a vast storehouse of under-employed alternatives for safe renewable energy; advances in architecture and engineering can reduce our carbon footprint in all areas of life.

The legal framework is already in place. International treaties that have not yet reduced greenhouse gas emissions have nevertheless resulted in reporting mechanisms and legislative measures in many countries. China, with its fast rising emissions, is moving vigorously on renewable energy.

  • Tim Flannery, in Now or Never: Why We Need to Act Now to Achieve a Sustainable Future (2009) says that we are past the "tipping point" but not yet at the "point of no return," but there is "not a second to waste" (p 43).
  • James Hansen, in Storms of my Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and our Last Chance to Save Humanity (2010) says that the world is in "imminent peril," that greenhouse gas emissions already in the atmosphere threaten the existence of millions of species as well as our own, and that the timetable is "shorter than we thought" (preface).
  • The Prince of Wales in 2009 said that we have "less than 100 months to save the planet."

Leading experts offer radical proposals, with concrete examples. Lester R. Brown's Plan B: 4.0 Mobilizing to Save Civilization (2009) argues for a reduction of 80% in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, to be achieved with poverty eradication, population stability and the restoration of natural systems from soil to water (p 6), to be accomplished at "wartime" speed (p 25).

The abolition of slavery and apartheid are examples of Christian movements for justice and compassion that were effective. We have many allies -- secular environmentalists and people of other faiths -- who are now counting on our solidarity with them in a cause no less formidable.

The "abundant life" Jesus offers us has nothing to do with faster cars, cheap holiday flights, or economic growth as the measure of the common good. He warned us about the illusions of wealth and the foolishness of setting our hearts on such transitory rewards. Much of the imagery he uses to describe God's coming kingdom is biological -- the vine and its branches, the seed buried in the earth. If we fail to love the living world God loves, we will fail to understand Jesus' vision of salvation. We need to be converted all over again!

The Bible's ultimate vision is of a new creation, a world reborn, in which God's will is done on earth as in heaven. The fourth gospel depicts the Easter Victory of Christ as taking place in a garden -- the garden in which "It (the work of new creation) is finished," the garden where the Creating Word rested on the Sabbath in a tomb, the garden where he then reappeared as "the gardener" to bring us new hope.

We are called now to be co-workers with the Creator in the care and restoration of the world God so loved that he gave his only Son. The earth is the Lord's; and the whole earth shall live to praise God's name.

What can we do?


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