Throughout history societies have had an impact on their local...
Climate change has been in the news a lot lately. The Extinction Rebellion protest in central London grabbed the headlines. Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish girl who led a school strike about climate change, met and lectured our politicians. So it was no surprise that Mayday found MPs debating the issue. It was an excellent debate on a Labour motion that declared a climate emergency, and no MP of any party opposed it. The challenge they now face is persuading the public that there really is a crisis, and that we all have to contribute to preventing its worst consequences.
Sceptics will say that the climate has changed over time and most of the changes have been caused by variations in the Earth’s orbit that changed the amount of solar energy the Earth has received. But what is causing the current climate change is thought to be human activity, and the rate of change is faster and more threatening to human life and civilisation than past changes.
The evidence for this rapid climate change is plentiful. The increasing global temperature has occurred in our generation’s lifetime. The five warmest years on record have been since 2010. This is been reflected in rising sea temperatures, shrinking ice sheets in the Arctic, Antarctic and Greenland, and in glacial retreat in all the world’s highest mountains. Sea levels have risen about eight inches and acidity in the world’s oceans has increased by 30%. The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is said to be the highest for 3 million years.
Rising sea levels threaten coastal areas, including some major cities. New York City and New Orleans could experience serious flooding. The 12 million population of Mumbai and the 14 million citizens of Guangzhou could be flooded out. Parts of Bangladesh that are less than 1.5 metres above sea level and could be inundated, as could Osaka in Japan. The many low level islands in the Pacific could also disappear under the sea. Rising temperatures could also make farming impossible in parts of tropical Africa. The fear is that significant parts of the world could become uninhabitable, causing hordes of people moving to safer areas with all the problems of absorbing unwelcome migrants already experienced in Europe.
Those are the reasons why MPs declared a climate emergency on May 1st. So what can be done to prevent this before it is too late? Part of the answer is to tap natural solutions. Tropical forests capture and store carbon, so stopping their destruction is an obvious objective. Vast areas of forest in the Amazon region and South East Asia have been cleared for farming, to supply wood for construction, for grazing cattle and other purposes. If this is to be stopped, those dependent on these activities for their survival will need to be compensated.
The UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change, chaired by Lord Deben, advocates a fifth of our agricultural land should be turned into forest and three billion trees should be planted. The Committee also advocates that we all consume 20% less beef, lamb and dairy foods, freeing the land for these forests and reducing the methane these animals produce.
More radical responses are the phasing out of petrol and diesel cars, wood burning stoves and gas fired boilers for heating. Better insulated housing and the installation of solar panels are other aims. Less air travel is another objective. All these proposals add up to major changes in our lifestyles. So how are sceptics to be persuaded that they are necessary?
So far as Christians are concerned the answer is biblical. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24) God created the planet and everything in it (Genesis 1; Colossians1:16-17), but the human race has messed it up. Persuading the non-Christian majority will need to focus on the potential impact of climate change on our children and grandchildren and those likely to be flooded out by rising sea levels. At least our MPs, who have been at loggerheads over Brexit, came together on this issue and agreed there is a climate crisis.