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Why Care About Climate Change? (with reading list) (Issue 27)

By Dick Tripp. 

Creation care. Climate change. There’s two reasons I believe this is the most important issue the human race has ever faced, particularly at this present time.

It’s about justice.

It may come as a surprise, but I see climate change as an issue of human justice. Millions of people worldwide have suffered and are suffering as the direct result of climate change. Hundreds of thousands have already lost their lives. Yet the topic of climate change has sometimes been controversial, particularly within Christian circles. While some groups have no problem accepting it as scientifically certain, for one reason or another some others have denied that human-caused climate change is a reality. Yes, there are a few scientists who deny climate change… but it's equally important to recognise that the overwhelming majority of experts – Christian or not – affirm its reality. What's more, this is also the growing consensus among biblical scholars, theologians and missiologists. It’s no longer valid to hide behind beliefs that are unable to reconcile with the clear reality we now face!

James Lovelock, one of the world’s most influential scientists, has spelled out clearly how all earth’s ecosystems are interconnected. If you affect one, you affect all the rest. Today we are seeing this everywhere. We’re putting 110 million tons of heat trapping global warming pollution into the lower atmosphere every twenty-four hours. That is the equivalent of 400 000 Hiroshima atomic bombs! One consequence is that extreme warmer days are 150 times more common than 30 years ago. 14 of the hottest recorded years have been in the first fifteen of this century. The world is now hotter than it has been for many, many millennia and it is warming 10 times faster than ever in the earth’s history.

The obvious consequence of this is extreme weather conditions. 93% of heat is absorbed by the oceans, resulting in more water vapour being sent into the atmosphere which is then dumped back on the earth. As an example of this, the equivalent of two days water from Niagara Falls down poured in central Houston in two days last July shutting down everything. Then on December 29, the storm that caused massive flooding in Mid-West US raised the temperature of the North Pole 30˚C, causing thawing of the North Pole in the middle of its long, dark winter night.

And warming draws water from the soil. The three-year record breaking drought in the Middle East that began in 2006 destroyed 60% of farms and 80% of livestock in Syria and sent one-and-a-half million people into the cities where they collided with a similar number of refugees from the Iraq war. This was likely one contributing factor to the turmoil that exists today. Even in New Zealand extreme weather is causing significant trouble, with around 200 farmers have had to pay about $100 000 each for flood damage. Others are paying $5000 a week for extra stock food which is unsustainable.

We’re likely to see half our plant and animal species gone this century. For example, coral, which has been called the building architect of the marine ecosystem, will probably be gone this century. 1000 species of fish spend at least part of their life-cycle on coral, so if coral goes these fish will go too. This will be devastating for many places such as the Pacific islands where people depend on fish to survive. On top of that, rising sea levels results in salt getting into groundwater, which in turn prevents the growing of traditional crops. At present there are two million people in an area of Papua New Guinea that are facing hunger, disease and poverty. Their crops have been destroyed and they have only polluted water. Most are living on one meal a day.

Many positive steps are being taken worldwide at an ever-increasing rate. More countries are now getting half their energy supplies from renewable sources. But is it fast enough? The warming pollutants we put in the atmosphere will all be there for 1700 to 3000 years. The International Energy Agency has said we will have put enough carbon into the atmosphere by next year to raise the temperature two degrees. If other countries follow our government’s example, it will likely be four degrees or more. In fact, reputable organisations such as the World Bank and PriceWaterhouseCooper have warned that we’re heading for a change of six degrees.

But are we acting fast enough? That’s today’s pressing question – not just for the planet but for its people, particularly the poor and vulnerable.

God cares for his creation.

The second reason caring for the planet matters is because God cares for his creation, not just us. This is spelled out in Scripture. One of his purposes in putting us here was to “care for” or “serve” his creation (Genesis 2:15). His covenant with Noah included “all living creatures of every kind” (Genesis 9). The laws of Moses include numerous passages about how the land was to be cared for and the produce from it was to be available for all to share, even if circumstances had driven them to poverty. The Psalms contain passages stressing God’s ownership of his creation, his delight in it and the way in which it brings glory and praise to him. Isaiah has some has some magnificent passages regarding God’s future plans for his creation. Paul tells us that creation reveals God’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20) and it will share in the blessings that he has prepared for us (Romans 8). Creation is God’s gift to his Son. All things were created “for” him (Colossians 1:16). These passages and more are spelled out in some detail in my book The Biblical Mandate for Caring for Creation, which can be read and downloaded as a pdf file on www.exploringchristianity.co.nz.

So why should we care about creation? Because God does!

 

Further reading.

 

For those who are serious about exploring these issues further, I would suggest the following books. I also highly recommend watching a recent video from Al Gore at youtu.be/u7E1v24Dllk

 

The End Game: Tipping Point for Planet Earth by Anthony D. Barnosky and Elisabeth A. Hardy. The best I know on how climate change, food shortages, decreasing water availability, pollution, population growth, sea rise and acidification, and dwindling resources all interact with one another and result in increasing violence and cross-boundary migration etc., on a world-wide scale. It highlights the need for immediate action to mitigate future disastrous effects. They know their stuff, offering considerable, hand-on global research.

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein. Award winning journalist. Great research over 5 years. She has attended the significant conferences and interviewed the significant leaders on climate change and also significant sceptics and fossil fuel CEOs, who she often quotes. She deals with all significant issues. Devastating critique of fossil fuel industry and climate sceptics. Naomi was co-leader of Pope Francis’ Climate Change Conference when multi-church leaders, leading scientists, activists, economists and climate change experts were brought together for the first time.

The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore. New York Times Best Seller. Significant information on virtually every page concerning what is happening in the real world in areas such as monetary transactions (making the rich richer and increasing inequality), power (shifting from West to East and governments to corporations), politics (why USA is no longer a democracy), business (globalisation and robotics and how these increase unemployment), communication, climate change, etc., and how all these are related. They affect how governments respond to climate change.

The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert. Winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize. Very good on-the-ground global research. I expect this is the best read on the subject.

Atmospheric: The Burning Story of Climate Change. Written specifically for older teens but a good starter for adults. Well researched, very clear including useful charts, and deals with all the main issues. Great for youth and grandchildren who will have to live through it. I have sent a copy to my three son’s families who all have teenagers.

The Vanishing Face of Gaia and A Rough Ride to the Future by James Lovelock. He is one the world’s most influential scientists. He must be in his 90s now. He is responsible for the Gaia theory, how all the earth’s ecosystems operate as one, which is now an accepted scientific theory. In the latter book, written recently, he envisions a time when all humans will live and grow their food in air-conditioned cities far enough away from the ocean.

Storms of my Grandchildren by James Hansen. An NASA scientist, widely regarded as the world’s leading climate expert and one of the first to warn people fifty years ago of the probable effects of the warming world. Once an advisor to the US Government.

By far the best thing I have read on the justice and moral issues involved in climate change is Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si’, which can be downloaded from the internet. Thoroughly biblical. He has had a great impact in this area and is one of my heroes.

The Biblical Mandate for Caring for Creation by Dick Tripp. After five chapters giving the history of the environmental movements from both secular and Christian perspectives, I trace the relevant passages through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation that relate to God’s attitude to his creation. Printed copies are available but it can be read on www.exploringchristianity.com and downloaded as a pdf file.

Two of the best websites for keeping up with information on climate change are www.350.org and www.theguardian.com/series/keep-it-in-the-ground .

For those interested in the politics of climate change I recommend the blogs put out by Kennedy Graham of the Green Party who has been involved internationally in the climate change issue from the beginning. For a very significant up-to-date article “February breaks temperature records by ’shocking’ amount,” click here.

 

Dick is a ‘retired’ Anglican minister (though failing to find the word in Scripture, he has yet to ‘retire’ from Christian ministry). He takes any opportunity to speak about climate change – we owe it to future generations.

 

For discussion

Christians have sometimes struggled with the concept of climate change. Why do you think that is?

Do you know of other examples of how creation care is actually an issue of justice?