The first of a trilogy of climate reports to be concluded in 2022 was released recently (August 9) in advance of the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) to be held in Glasgow on October 31 – November 12 2021. (See the press release of the report HERE.)
It is the 6th major assessment of climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which was created in 1988. The report, approved by 195 governments and based on more than 14,000 studies, is the most comprehensive summary yet of the physical science of climate change. It is also the most ominous report of all the IPCC reports since the first was published in 1990. Such a blistering warning should paradoxically send chills up and down the spine of every inhabitant of a planet facing an existential code red climate crisis.
The findings state unequivocally that humanity is to blame for the rapid warming of the planet (primarily through the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation) that is now locked in for a 1.5 degree Celsius increase over the next few decades no matter what mitigation measures are taken. At 1.5 degrees C of warming baked into the climate, scientists have determined that the dangers to life as civilization has known it grow considerably. 1.5 degrees C is a critical threshold at which irreversible changes in ecosystems will occur, putting millions of people at risk. (Click HERE to learn more.)
Current atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have not been this high in at least 2 million years. The last decade is quite likely the hottest the planet has been in 125,000 years. The IPCC report states, “At current rates of warming, the world will likely cross the 1.5 degree threshold between 2030 and 2052.”
And according to NOAA Research News: The atmospheric burden of CO2 is now comparable to where it was during the Pliocene Climatic Optimum, between 4.1 and 4.5 million years ago, when CO2 was close to, or above 400 ppm. During that time, sea level was about 78 feet higher than today, the average temperature was 7 degrees Fahrenheit higher than in pre-industrial times, and studies indicate large forests occupied areas of the Arctic that are now tundra.
A New York Times article indicates that at the current baked in 1.5 degree C scenario nearly 1 billion people worldwide could swelter in more frequent life-threatening heat waves. Hundreds of millions more would struggle for water because of severe droughts. Some animal and plant species alive today will be gone. Coral reefs, which sustain fisheries for large swaths of the globe, will suffer more frequent mass die-offs. But wait, there’s more. If nations continue their unsustainable “business as usual” model through mid century, global average temperatures may keep rising to 2 degrees, 3 degrees or even 4 degrees Celsius compared with the pre-industrial era. This look into the future presents a more dire picture than what has occurred over the last half century during which global temperatures have risen faster than at any point in the past 2000 years.
So, how shall humanity as a whole react to such ominous news? And how shall people who comprise the living body of Christ on earth (a.k.a. the Christian Church) react to this body of evidence that could be taken as a doomsday scenario? While Christian teachings make clear that caring for creation is central to the practice of the faith, there are unfortunately too many people of faith who reinterpret scripture and theology in a way that is more in tune with a libertarian understanding of life and the economy than one modeled by lessons from the Old and New Testaments.
Cardinal Blasé Cupich sees that libertarian bias as a major challenge to faithfully addressing anthropogenic global warming, the greatest existential and moral crisis in the history of civilization. He says, “It is really up to us to challenge how so many believing people, faith-filled people, have bought into a libertarian notion of the world and the economy as something that we are to dominate for our own profit, without considering the consequences not just for the created order and material world, but also for how humanity is organized and how it contributes to human flourishing.”
As unnerving as the science is and as disturbing as the facts are, the IPCC report also indicates that there is still a small envelope of time and space for humanity to salvage a livable planet. But such salvation can only occur when systems of governance treat the eco-systems of the planet as our “common home,” a communal dwelling which we are called and commissioned to protect and preserve. In so doing we worship the Creator and promote the common good of all creation.
Rev. Fletcher Harper, executive director of the multi-faith climate organization GreenFaith scanned coverage of the IPCC report, and winced at the doomsday angle that many stories took. He knows climate change presents an emergency to humanity, and that much must be done quickly to avoid mass catastrophe. But for him, the takeaway wasn’t the end times the climate problem presents, but the good news that solutions represent.
Speaking to the Roman Catholic publication, Earthbeat, he said: “To me, the conundrum behind so much of this is that so many of those changes are possible and good. Everybody frets as if these changes represent the end of living well, when, in fact, the opposite is true. This is our pathway to a positive future. What religious communities need to do is to say we find hope in action on this.” He added that this can include raising awareness about climate science or lobbying for stronger responses from society. “No more words. We know what needs to be done. Hope will come from action.”
Enough discussion. Enough debate. Enough deception. Enough denial. Science, facts and truth reveal what needs to be done. What is needed is the will to do it for the sake of the common good in the stubborn face of inaction and in the throes of hopelessness. Hope will come from action.
Here is where the Church can be the lead actor on the world stage, acting in the manner of the early Church as described in the book of Acts (the Acts of the Apostles):
“And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.” (Acts 4:31-33 NKJV).
Filled with God’s grace the first “Christians” became a gracious lot, all for one and one for all. They did not proclaim their freedom to do as they pleased to please themselves. They did not trumpet their inalienable right to own property and possess goods (or people). They did not preach a “prosperity gospel,” but rather proclaimed the good news of freedom by grace through faith in the reconciling work of Jesus the Christ.
If there is any hope of redeeming (buying back, converting) a dying planet from the ravages we have inflicted upon it, it won’t come from behaving in the same manner over and over again and expecting a different result. That is insanity. Such hope will have to come from the sane and faithful actions of those who believe that nothing we possess is our own, but that by the grace of God we have all things in common with all of creation and above all else we are privileged to be faithful stewards of our common home.