Tag Archives: IPCC

Climate Denial: Have Christians Become Irrelevant?

I’ve just gotten back from a beautiful spring day in Boston, where I took in a brilliant theatre performance of “The Whale,” Samuel Hunter’s moving story of the perpetual struggle between the sanctity and beauty of people, and the standards and rules by which we make sense of the world. The characters in the play were all deeply flawed. But notable among them was an archetypical religious person – a Mormon teenager on “mission.”

Of course, the teen is the perfect religious foil for people wrestling with profound human concerns: He exudes blind certainty with respect to irrelevant and implausible doctrines, and relentless sincerity in “saving” others from being different from himself. For me, as a public adherent to the Christian faith, I sat in the audience torn between relief that the playwright had plucked the low-hanging fruit of a Mormon door-knocker, and the discomfort of knowing that the role could have been filled almost as easily by many of my co-religionists – or perhaps even by me.

At home again this morning, the news served up a fresh reminder of why our culture sees religion the way it so often does. As we all know, the world’s climate scientists meeting in Yokohama had just released their most dire warnings ever about the impact of manmade climate change. Last September, their science report had finally put to rest any serious scientific debate over the basic facts of global climate change and its principal causes. Today, they’re telling us that the crisis is not one we’re leaving for the grandkids: it’s landed already, and it’s threatening to starve the poorest and most vulnerable humans right now, with worse to come. And while some Christians leapt to the defense of the world’s climate victims, others again dusted off their nearly incomprehensible claims that they know more than the scientists, and that it’s all an alarmist conspiracy.

September’s IPCC science report was the fifth in a three-decade series of global assessments of the state of climate science – each one more certain than its predecessor. The science is now 95% sure that the planet is dangerously warming due to human greenhouse gas emissions and human changes in land use. We’re using way too much coal (for electricity), oil and gas; and we’re destroying way too many forests and wetlands. We’re as sure of this as we are that smoking causes cancer. Never 100% sure, of course. That would be doctrine, not science. But 95%. Denying this is like betting the kids’ college fund on a 20-to-1 hunch.

This week’s impact report tells us more about what the climate science conclusions actually mean to people, other creatures and their habitats. And it’s not pretty. With high or very-high confidence, the world’s climate researchers now agree that during the current century, our disruption of the climate will mean:

  • Lower crop yields, increasing hunger, and higher food costs, all of which will land hardest on the poor and on poor countries.
  • Failure of rural communities due the drying up of fresh water systems on farms.
  • Collapse of fishing communities due to the failure of marine ecosystems in warmer and more acidic oceans.
  • Flooding or inundation of coastal communities as melting ice sheets and thermal expansion accelerate sea-level rise.
  • Increase in human migration as climate-change refugees look for new places to support themselves and their families.
  • Acceleration in the extinction of species of plants and animals, which is already at historic highs.

Among Christians, the Evangelical Environmental Network was first out of the blocks. More hunger? More thirst? More destroyed communities? Harm to the poor? This isn’t all that hard for Christians, as you would assume. EEN released the following statement:

“The current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report provides even more evidence for what we have known for some time: climate impacts have and will continue to hit the poor the hardest, those least able to cope with the consequences, especially children and the elderly.”

Ben Lowe, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action

Ben Lowe, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action

And then came Young Evangelicals for Climate Action: “We can now see the impacts of climate disruption growing in our country and all over the world,” said Ben Lowe, the group’s spokesperson. “This is a moral issue that requires our church and political leaders to wake up and step up. The decisions they make today affect not just the present, but also the rest of my generation’s future.”

Of course. This is what you would expect from people whose Bible sets forth explicit commands for feeding the hungry and thirsty, and caring for the poor and the sojourner. Indeed, the consensus of evangelical Christians declarations calling for urgent moral action on climate change is consistent and overwhelming.

But it wouldn’t be long before a much more sinister voice would speak up. The Cornwall Alliance, a group that claims to be both scientific and evangelical, managed to convince The Christian Post that it had produced a “scientific report” that found key evidence that the world’s scientists had ignored.

“The human impact on global climate is small,” they claimed, “and any warming that may occur as a result of human carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions is likely to have little effect on global temperatures, the cryosphere (ice-covered areas), hydrosphere (oceans, lakes, and rivers), or weather.”

In effect, they say, you can believe the world’s climate scientists, and the broad consensus of research that they have conducted, or you can believe us – us Christians (maybe?) who know better. Never mind that we don’t conduct any of the climate research ourselves. Never mind that we don’t represent a single Christian denomination. Never mind that the world’s actual climate researchers warn of profound injustices perpetrated upon the poor of the earth – starvation, inundation, displacement and the wars and atrocities that generally accompany such traumas – even though they’ve contributed little to the problem.

In 2012, the Christian Reformed Church and its 1,300 congregations in North America specifically analyzed the Cornwall group’s claims and publications. “Considering the limited number of authors and their lack of religious credentials,” they wrote in a 130-page report, “it is somewhat disingenuous to label these as evangelical documents.” They continued: “Because of the absence of biblical references, presence of other ideologies commingled in its theological background, and outright denial of science on the issue of climate change, we do not discuss further the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship or recommend it for study.”

And finally, said the Christian Reformed Church, “The positions expressed in the Cornwall Declaration are in general inconsistent with our perception of biblical stewardship and with our observations of what is occurring in our world today.”

But … somehow, they persuaded The Christian Post to give them equal time, and to buy their flimsy claims to legitimacy – long since debunked by both scientists and churchmen.

And so the secular culture has yet another reason to dismiss and to revile those who cling to faith in the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The global community is struggling with existential threats, among them the collapse of ecosystems under the weight of climate change. Do Christians have something real to offer? Or are we no more relevant than that Mormon teenager on Mission?


Climate Change and the 21st Century Famine

… I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat …

In recent months, a group in my church has been seriously asking the question: What if Jesus really meant the things he said?

We’re not particularly new at this. Christians in all ages have struggled with the hard sayings of Jesus, especially when we measure our conduct against his standards. But one teaching comes back to me again and again like a persistent nightmare: “The King will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat …’” Matthew 25:41-42.

If you’re like me, this warning of divine justice gnaws at you most when you’ve looked away from a homeless person on the sidewalk, or ignored one of those TV appeals from a children’s aid agency. But let’s assume that Jesus was not just trying to make us feel guilty; maybe he was revealing to us the heart of God when it comes to cosmic justice. Here were his priorities: thirsty people receive clean water; strangers and immigrants are welcomed; those exposed to the elements are wrapped in warm clothes; medical care is provided to the sick; and prisoners are looked after.

But before he mentioned any of those priorities, Jesus first addressed food insecurity. “I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat.” If Jesus meant anything at all by the order of his judgments, we must see feeding the hungry a matter of paramount importance to our faith.

And if that’s even remotely true, then Christians should pay close attention to a new report from the UN’s climate agency, warning of severe global hunger in the coming decades. Early last month a draft report, drawn up by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was leaked to the public. It’s the second of three reports, following the first that came out this September. The leaked IPCC draft report outlines the threats climate change poses to the global food supply, predicting a decrease of up to 2% each decade in yields of staple crops like corn, wheat, and rice. That projected decline is all the more alarming when we consider the parallel 14% increase per decade in the demand for food that scientists are expecting. And it puts to rest hopes that once flickered in the minds of some researchers and many “climate skeptics” that hotter weather and higher carbon levels might actually increase photosynthesis and food production.

Famine Memorial, Dublin, Ireland

Famine Memorial, Dublin, Ireland

You got the numbers, right? Manmade climate change could depress global yields of staple foods by 2% per decade, at the same time that demand for food grows by 14% per decade. If you do the arithmetic, you’ll find that in four decades, there would be half as much food supplied as food demanded, on average, all over the whole world, absent other major changes in agriculture.

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Sir John Houghton Summarizes New U.N. Climate Report

Just last Friday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its 5th Assessment Report since 1990, and the related Summary for Policymakers. The report took six years to produce and is considered the most comprehensive review of the scientific evidence for man-made climate change available. 830 scientists from 85 countries contributed, reviewing 9,200 research studies on matters ranging from rising sea levels to ocean acidification, to the impact of volcanic activity, to name just a few.

Sir John Houghton

Sir John Houghton

Over the coming weeks, we’ll be reviewing the IPCC findings in some detail. But given the hundreds of pages involved, permit me to begin with a thumbnail sketch by Sir John Houghton, former Co-Chair of the IPCC, Oxford University professor, leading Christian author and thinker, and friend of the beloved pastor, John Stott. In a British website connecting the environment, science and Christianity, Houghton summarized the main findings of the report as follows:

1) That it is extremely likely (i.e. more than 95% probability) that human influence on climate caused most of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951- 2010.

2) That there is high confidence that this has led to warming of the ocean, melting of snow and ice, a rise in global mean sea level and to more climate extremes with increased intensity.

3) Further warming will result from continued emissions of greenhouse gases, causing changes in all parts of the climate system. Considerable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions will be required if climate change is to be limited.

4) Under almost all possible scenarios a rise of 1.5C is predicted by the end of this century relative to 1850 to 1900 temperatures, but in some scenarios the rise is greater than this. Most scenarios predict further warming beyond 2100.

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How the West Was Burnt

“Probably most catastrophes end this way without an ending, the dead not even knowing how they died…, those who loved them forever questioning “this unnecessary death,” and the rest of us tiring of this inconsolable catastrophe and turning to the next one.”   ― Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire

Darrell Willis prayed desperately. He called his wife, and then the head of the Prescott, Arizona Fire Department. They prayed too.

In the background, the radio crackled pleadingly: “Are you there Granite Mountain? Are you there Granite Mountain?” Over and over, but there came no answer.

Courtesy, Terry Tomkins, U.S. Forest Service

Courtesy Terry Tomkins, U.S. Forest Service

Minutes before, one of nineteen young Granite Mountain Hotshots working a fire on nearby Yarnell Hill had radioed Willis, the Prescott Wildlands Fire Chief, to report that they were being overrun by flames, and were deploying their emergency fire shelters, lightweight cocoons used as a last resort by wildlands fire fighters.

Almost instantly, the eyes of the entire country were riveted on Prescott, now the scene of the most deadly wildfire disaster in several generations. What had begun the day as a routine 15-acre fire had grown to 200 hundred acres. By late afternoon, a sudden thunderstorm had shifted the winds nearly 180 degrees, sending a wall of flame into Yarnell, and over the thin line of exhausted men fighting to contain it.

Over the three weeks since the tragedy, we have mourned and prayed for the fallen, and for the nineteen families left to wipe away their tears and carry on without fathers, brothers and sons.  And finally, we have begun to ask: Why did this happen? Why were these nineteen precious lives cut short in their youth?

Helmets and boots of 19 who died on Yarnell Hill

Helmets and gear of the nineteen who died on Yarnell Hill

Of course, there are the proximate answers. Firefighting is an inherently dangerous calling. Freak storms can always cause fires to behave erratically. Maybe this-or-that measure could have reduced the danger. But what about the spike in wildfires engulfing the West these days? What could explain the almost-daily incidence of forest fires on the national news? Isn’t it time to take a serious look at the reasons for these events?  Continue reading