Monthly Archives: March 2016

It’s March: Why Are We Talking About Global Heat?

Yes, it’s been a warm winter. A couple of weeks of really chilly weather, one or two snows, but that’s about it. Talk to me again in August if it’s abnormally hot, and you’ll have my attention.

That’s the problem with global data, isn’t it? It’s the only thing that can really hurt us is what happens in the long run, but it fails to motivate unless it’s hitting us hard at home right now. Well, if you can be bothered with those far-away markers that impact distant families now and you yourself in the future, please take note of a few developments going on right under our noses.

  • February was the hottest month for our common home, relative to historical averages, by a longshot.
  • It followed January, which was the previous hottest month by a longshot.Picture5
  • January followed 2015, which was the hottest year ever recorded.
  • 2015 followed 2014, which had been the hottest year ever recorded, until 2015 came along.
  • It hasn’t been easy to set heat records since 2000, because 15 of the 16 hottest years ever recorded have occurred since then.
  • The Arctic is melting fast. While Arctic sea ice reached record summer minimums in September 2012, winter ice coverage is at a record low right now, beating the previous record-low in 2015, which beat the previous record-low in 2014.Ice
  • Earth-warming gas concentrations are now at their highest levels in human history. When the climate was relatively stable, they measured 280 parts per million of CO2. Today, they are more than 404 parts per million.kc-monthly-0600
  • With all this scary news, you might think that we’d be doing a lot to stop it, and the growth rate of greenhouse gases would be slowing. In fact, 2015 marked the fastest growth year for earth-warming gases in the atmosphere ever measured.
  • What happens during the next presidential term will likely determine whether the world summons the resolve to take action, or continues to race at breakneck speeds toward tipping points from which our children cannot return. Some US presidential candidates take this seriously. Others prefer not to talk about it. Others still call it a hoax.

Beloved Planet attempts to offer a platform to consider “the gospel’s call to care for an injured world.” Given the set of facts listed above, what does the gospel call us to? Is God really in Christ, “reconciling all things” from the effects of human sin? Is God really “making all things new” in the kingdom of his Son, inaugurated in the resurrection of Jesus? If so, how does he call his people as co-laborers with him in this ministry of reconciliation?

How – do you think – is God calling you?

U. of Texas Poll: Voters Want a President Who Will Act on Climate

We’ve been listening to the opinion surveys about climate change, and they’re mostly useful. We normally think of them as telling us whether Americans have broken free of oil industry doubt mongering (we mostly have). But there’s so much more to be learned. If done well, the surveys can help us frame the opportunities and obstacles we face in mobilizing responsible climate action.

One such survey is the University of Texas Energy Poll, produced twice per year since 2011. With around 200 categories of questions, I can’t recommend it for vacation reading. But for understanding those around us, it’s a treasure trove. Here are a few selected items, among many more that might interest you:

  • First things first: 73% of Americans accept that climate change is happening, and only 16% deny it. You would have thought that it was less lopsided, but that’s just the political blogosphere doing what it does.
  • Of those who acknowledge that climate change is happening, at least 73% agree that human activity contributes to it. That means that a majority of all respondents affirm that human activity contributes to climate change.
  • People rank deforestation, oil and coal as the top three reasons for climate change.
  • About half of respondents are personally concerned about climate change. Of those who acknowledge that the climate is changing, only 8% aren’t concerned. Of the concerned, 94% attribute climate change to human activity.
  • 64% of respondents think we should reduce carbon emissions; only 15% disagree (and most of these say they are motivated by fears of costs, or worry that it won’t do any good).
  • 58% of respondents are concerned about carbon emissions from energy production and consumption, and only 15% aren’t (even though more are concerned about checkbook issues like the cost of electricity).
  • When it comes to personal lifestyle changes, we’re probably susceptible to wishful thinking. For example, 54% of us are willing to buy a high-efficiency vehicle in principle; but in the next five years, only 34% think we will do so; to date, only 3% us have already done so; and the estimated mpg for our household vehicles hasn’t budged since 2011 (24.4 mpg 2011 v. 24.1 mpg 2016). Some work ahead here.
  • Political candidates aren’t the best ones to tell us what “Americans want.” In fact, 57% think the Federal government should do more to prepare us for future energy needs, and only 24% disagree. Specifically, 70% of us think that the Federal government should subsidize renewable technologies and energy efficiency, while only 34% think coal should get the same treatment.
  • As for presidential politics, 61% want a leader who will reduce our carbon emissions and fund research into new energy technology. A majority wants a president who will expand incentives for renewable technologies and require utilities to offer higher levels of electricity from renewable sources. Opposition to these goals are all in the single digits or teens.Picture1

Unfortunately, we don’t see a major change in beliefs or attitudes toward climate change over the 2011-2016 period. Even so, strong majorities recognize what is happening to the climate; most people recognize human responsibility; only small minorities deny these realities; and most want the government to be actively engaged in solutions. But over the last 5 years, opinion on these matters is not changing in significant ways.

On the bright side, you can now come off the defensive. The voices resisting climate action may be loud. They may rule the talk radio waves. And they may control Congress. But a HUGE majority of people around you know what’s happening to the earth, are concerned, and will support your efforts to call for serious action by our government and country.

Should I Be Worried?

The candidates want you to worry. Be very worried – about immigrants, about job security, about terrorists, about China, about billionaires, about healthcare.

Here’s one thing they don’t particularly want you to worry about: The planet has a fever. Its thermostat is broken. Our only home is heating up dangerously.

Take last year, for example. It was the hottest year for the world since measurements began in 1880. Take a look at what that meant all over:Picture2

In pockets here and there, 2015 was a little cooler (see the blue?) than average: If you lived in a boat off the Straits of Magellan, for instance. But almost all of the world was “Much Warmer Than Average” (the deep pink on the map above). And “Record Warmest” (pictured in red) prevailed in Central and South America and the Amazon, Europe, and vast expanses of ocean: the Pacific, the Indian, and the mid-latitudes of the Atlantic.  The Arctic was off the charts, but that doesn’t show up on this map.

Should I be worried?

Well, maybe things just change from time to time. Heat goes up. Heat goes down. Maybe 2016 will be different?

Well, unfortunately, this year is off to another blazing-hot start. Maps for February aren’t out yet, but it was a global sizzler. But January (another record) maps are here. Take a look:Picture1

We can add Southern Africa and the Mediterranean to the “Record Warmest” list. But notice a couple of exceptions. First, the US lower 48 states were about normal in January (and this is a problem, because we tend to ignore things we can’t feel right here at home).

And then, do you see that blue blob in the North Atlantic just below Greenland? (It was there in 2015 too.) The Gulf Stream usually keeps that part of the world warm, carrying warm tropical water northward, warming Europe in the process, and regulating climates all over the globe. But these days, the warm Atlantic waters are getting stuck in the sweltering tropics, and the northern waters are now cooler. Mess with the Gulf Stream, and you’re messing with just about everything on earth. Some have predicted that global heat could slow or stop the Gulf Stream entirely, and that’s the basis for apocalyptic movie scripts.

Should I be worried?

Well, let’s not get carried away by one or two years of funny data. Haven’t I heard politicians saying that the world hasn’t warmed in 20 years, or something?

Yes, in fact you have. Unfortunately, it is entirely wrong, even cynical. Even after the data began screaming just the opposite, many kept saying it. Most are now trying to avoid the topic, or to revert to dog-whistle rants about jobs and government meddling, but Senator Cruz remains undeterred by the facts, doubling down on the “no-warming” message.

But the facts are, well, worrisome. Here’s a look:Picture3

Last year was the hottest year on record, followed by 2014 in the number-two spot. 2010 takes the bronze medal, so to speak; but fourth place goes to 2013. In fact, of the 15 hottest years on record, 14 occurred during the first 15 years of this century. The only exception was 1998 (which, of course, just barely pre-dated our century).

So it’s hot, staying hot, and getting hotter. Should I be worried?

Well, if you’re a Christ-follower, you’re confronted with the challenging command not to worry. “Do not worry about your life … your body … your clothes …. But seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness…” (from Matthew 6:25-34).

But orders from anyone not to worry can be tricky in practice, don’t you think? And then there’s that ubiquitous qualifier: “your.” Your life, your body, your clothes. What if it’s the plight of God’s world that worries me? Or his creatures? Or the children he’s given my wife and me? Or our little grandkids? And what if Jesus’ antidote to worry – “but seek first his kingdom” – means precisely that I should be willing to look unblinkingly at the worrisome facts around me, even if it costs me a bit of sleep?

Should I be worried? Should you?