Climate Change and Global Warming
"We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there is such a thing as being too late." - Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
What You Need To Know
For as long as the earth has existed, the sun's rays have provided warmth that gives us seasons, weather patterns, and a predictable climate. Periodically, the earth has warmed or cooled, but the global warming patterns experienced in the last 250 years are the result of human activity directly related to the burning of fossil fuels. Beginning with the industrial revolution in the late 1700's, coal and oil have provided the energy to build the modern economy.
However, the side effects of burning fossil fuels have proven to be more harmful than we ever knew, because that process releases chemicals into the air we breathe and into the upper atmosphere. Those chemicals like carbon dioxide act like a blanket over the earth and prevent heat from escaping in a normal way. As the activities and energy consumption of an industrial civilization have increased, trapped heat has risen to the point where entire natural systems are changing.
The problems of climate change and global warming are confirmed and well-documented by the scientific community. Reputable scientific organizations that reflect the consensus among leading scientists about this urgent problem include:
- Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
- Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS)
- National Academies of Science (NAS)
- Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change
- American Geophysical Union (AGU)
- American Meteorological Society (AMS)
- Climate Change Research Center (CCRC)
- American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Before the industrial revolution, the historic level of carbon dioxide was roughly 275 parts per million. We are currently raising that level at two parts per million annually to the level of approximately 390 parts per million in 2010. Even if we changed our fossil-fuel based economy immediately, the affects of current global warming will continue to heat the planet. In addition, there are feedback loops that may accelerate global warming. For instance, white ice reflects heat whereas darker ocean absorbs heat; as some ice melts, more ocean is exposed and the ice melts faster because the surrounding ocean is warmer.
The fact is that our planet and the natural systems that sustain life are changing due to global warming. With hotter weather, we get more evaporation and more moisture into the air. The consequence is that we have more extreme weather events; when it rains, it is more likely to flood. When a hurricane passes over warmer water, it is more likely to strengthen. Normal rainfall patterns are changing around the earth and humans and animals are having to adjust their behavior, their reproductive patterns, where they live, and their sources for food.
Why Is Global Warming An Issue Of Faith?
People of faith are beginning to realize that global warming and climate change are issues of environmental justice. For humans, those who are poor or unable to adjust will be the first to feel the effects of a warming planet; many will lose their homes to rising seas and be unable to grow food for their families. The scientific predictions are that as ice melts on Antarctica and Greenland, sea levels will rise as much as four feet, thus displacing millions of persons who live and work and grow food near the coasts. Low-lying countries such as Bangladesh will lose most fo their land mass, islands in the Pacific will disappear, and coastal marshes such as The Everglades in South Florida will be under sea water. For plants and animals, global warming means that many will not adjust in time and will become extinct, thus reducing the diversity and beauty of God's natural creation.
Developed countries such as the United States consume a disproportionate amount of the earth's resources and produce a disproportionate amount of carbon. In the U.S., 5% of the world's population consumes 25% of the earth's resources, thus contributing a disproportionate amount to global warming. It is an issue of injustice between those who "have" and those who "have not."
What Can You Do?
- Calculate the carbon footprint of your family and your congregation to determine a baseline for energy savings.
- Home: turn the thermostat down in winter and up in summer, insulate, get only the appliances you need and make them energy efficient, buy a smaller home or rent a smaller apartment, shade your windows, dry your clothes on the line.
- Transportation: ride a bike or walk more and drive less, purchase fuel-efficient and smaller vehicles, commute by public transportation, limit flying.
- Food: grow a garden for vegetables and herbs, support your local farmers through a CSA, limit packaging and waste, start a compost pile.
- Yard: plant native perennials rather than grass to limit mowing, buy an electric mower if you need to cut grass, recycle leaves and yard waste, plant trees for shade and heat reduction, start a worm farm, compost for soil enrichment.
- Education: explore websites and community resources for more ways to save energy and cut your carbon footprint, join our congregational "Green Team" to plan for action.
- Advocacy: write or call your elected officials at every level to inform them that global warming is an issue of faith and justice and that public policy decisions to address global warming are essential.
Links and Resources