Climate Change: Should Christians Care?

(April 25 2009: Energy Lobby Threatens Climate Talks)

It is sometimes claimed that Christianity and concern for the environment are incompatible. After all, the old ‘Penny Catechism’ assured us oldies (I am 69) that the earth and all it contains was “...made for man’s use and benefit”. We also read in Genesis that the Lord God gave Adam complete dominion over “all creatures that on earth do dwell”. What we have forgotten is that with the gift of dominion we were also given responsibility. “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” Yes indeed, we went on to till and to exploit our wonderful Eden but we have long forgotten that we were also supposed to keep it.

For the more than 200 years since the launch of the industrial revolution that promised dominion has become more and more complete. The large‑scale but relatively difficult extraction and burning of coal was soon followed by the much easier and even more voracious extraction of oil and gas.

Oil and gas, more than any other single factor, have facilitated revolutions in medicine and agriculture. These have enabled the global population to grow from an estimated one billion in 1800 to more than six billion today. Even optimists, however, expect that all but the most difficult and expensive to extract reserves will have been exhausted within the lifetime of those now in their twenties.

Of course there are still huge reserves of coal, enough for another hundred years if not more, waiting to be extracted and burned.

Unhappily, the burning of oil, gas and coal produces carbon dioxide (CO2). This, as we now know, produces climate change. Should we Christians – especially if we are Catholics – care and act accordingly? Will we be condemned by an avaricious world if we do? Will we be condemned by God and our own truer selves if we do not?

The Kyoto Treaty to limit the production of so called ‘greenhouse gases’ was signed in 1991. It has proved largely ineffective – global emissions of CO2 are now almost four times greater.

Scientists have begun increasingly urgent researches into the records of the varying CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Some of the relevant records date from hundreds of millions of years ago. Scientists have also researched the records of average global temperatures back through similar periods of time. This painstaking work has shown that there is an inexorable relationship between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and the temperature of our planet. Increases in CO2 concentrations, however caused, are always followed by increases in the average global temperature.

To apply the results of their research to forecasting what is likely to happen in the decades to come they have also been working to develop ever more sophisticated computer models of our atmosphere and biosphere.

Among the more alarming conclusions is that any rise in average global temperatures of more than 2 degrees centigrade is expected to trigger a ‘loop’, a ‘positive feedback’. Among other unstoppable consequences will be the release of vast quantities of naturally stored CO2 as the Siberian permafrost melts down. Once that process kicks in no actions by individuals or governments will be able to prevent the resultant further increases in the average global temperature and the unimaginable catastrophes to follow.

The sheer complexity of our interlinked atmosphere and biosphere and the vagaries of existing records mean that scientists have been unable to produce any simple formula or graph that might accurately express the relationship between any concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere and the resultant global temperature. They have had to fall back on a combination of statistics and the kinds of analysis employed by bookmakers and insurers to establish betting odds and actuarial risks.

Among these complexities is that carbon dioxide is not the only gas known to increase global temperatures. Methane, a byproduct of the decay of dead plant and animal matter (hence its traditional name: ‘marsh gas’), must also be factored in. The result is expressed as the ‘CO2 equivalent’.

The climatologist Malte Meinshausen suggested in 2006 that if the CO2 equivalent in the atmosphere reaches a concentration of 550 parts per million (ppm) there will be an average likelihood of 82% that global warming will exceed two degrees. At 475 ppm the average likelihood falls to 64%. Only if concentrations are at 400 ppm or below will there be a relatively low chance (an average of 28% – just over one in five) that a rise of more than two degrees will ensue. The current level is 459ppm. Yet no government in the world has set an official target lower than Sweden’s proposed 550 ppm CO2 equivalent.

The target set by our own UK government is for an apparently similar upper limit of 550 ppm. However, scientists have discovered that this figure refers only to CO2. When methane is added the actual CO2 equivalent rises to a very high risk 666 ppm. The ancients would have considered ‘666v to be a very spooky figure indeed!

Moreover, the scientists stress that their forecasts are no more than approximations. They are prepared, however, to agree with politicians and economists that the 28% risk of a rise in global temperatures of two degrees associated with 400 ppm is ‘low’.

But let us imagine a situation in which one in every five planes leaving Heathrow was doomed to crash. Would the public accept official assurances that such a proportion was a ‘low’ risk? That seems to be the kind of gambling with the future of our planet being openly promoted by political leaders and their economic and business gurus in the developed and developing world. In a society in which technology and wealth are the new golden calves the inconvenient warnings and teachings of both scientists and priests have become increasingly marginalized and ignored.

We have become the wealthiest people the world has ever known. However, we are not satisfied and, as the newly elected President of France has emphasized to an adoring audience, continued and increasing growth remains the only game in town.

CAFOD is promoting a campaign with the slogan: “Live simply so that they may simply live!” If our collective dash for cash gamble fails there may indeed be no option left but to live simply. Then we the wealthy ones may have some chance to simply live. The tragic irony of such a scenario is that the poor and exploited and marginalized people in Africa and similar regions who have contributed least to the fateful CO2 equivalent will become its first victims.

Am I my brother’s keeper? Are we? Is anybody? Are we truly free to do whatever we like with our money, with our time, with our possessions, with our Garden of Eden? There is a proverb that says: “Take what you like,” says God, “take it and pay for it…”

It was Saint Augustine, I think, who said that we should pray as if everything depended on God, but that we should act as if everything depended on us. Or, as someone else put it, “He prays but little who prays only on his knees!”

©:Barry Tobin, Pentrebane, Cardiff, 12 May, 2007.


Christian Aid
The well‑known charity’s web page on this global problem.

Christians in Science
CiS is an international network of those concerned with the relationship between science and Christian faith, open to scientists, teachers, students and all those with an interest in this dialogue.

Christians in Science Ireland
CiS Ireland is one of nine local groups of Christians in Science, and brings together CiS members on the island of Ireland. They have organised a conference on climate change to be held in Belfast on Saturday 16 February 2008.

United Nations Climate Change Conference – Bali, 3 ‑ 14 December 2007
The Conference, hosted by the Government of Indonesia, brings together representatives of over 180 countries together with observers from intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, and the media.
The two week period includes the sessions of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, its subsidiary bodies as well as the Meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol. A ministerial segment in the second week will conclude the Conference.

IPCC – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee – Fifth Report
Deals critically with a draft climate change bill. Published 3 August 2007.

Cardiff Transition Project
The Cardiff Transition Project is to here to help people in Cardiff plan how we can change our lives to create a positive future in the face of environmental challenges- low energy, low carbon and sustainable - healthy and happy.
Welcome to eFreeko - Recycle unwanted items for free.
Here you will find lots of items that people are willing to give away, for FREE! This is instead of taking them to a local landfill site. The aim of this site is to reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfill (20.9 million tonnes of it last year in the UK) and recycling is great news for the environment. And FREE stuff is great news too!

Climate Stewards
It is too late to stop global warming in the short term, but by being "carbon neutral" we can slow the rate of change and give more time for human populations and wildlife to adapt.

What are we going to do as the oil runs out?
Community solutions to the impending oil shortage.

I Count
We can stop climate chaos!

Together we are irresistible - together we count. Taking steps together we can do almost anything we choose.
Just as we have polluted our world to the edge of climate chaos we also have the resources and knowledge to save it. It comes down to what we want, what we dream of. If we choose we can make our politicians take the action needed.

Christian Environmentalism,Texas.

Christian Environmentalism or Christian Stewardship, Duluth, Georgia.

The Vatican hosts a seminar on climate change.

Newid hinsawdd yng Nghymru / Climate change in Wales.


Some basic reading:

Our Plundered Planet by Henry Fairfield Osborn, 1948.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, 1962.

The Limits to Growth by D.H. Meadows and others, 1972.

We’re all in This Together
‘The Little Earth Book’ by James Bruges, Bristol, 2000.

The Long Emergency by James Howard Kunstler, 2005.

Heat – How to Stop the Planet Burning by George Monbiot, 2006.

Six Degrees by Mark Lynas, March 2007.

Thinking Biblically about Climate Change
By Richard Bull. Scripture Union, 1 March 2007.

“...does exactly what it says – it helps you think biblically about climate change! I thought this might be yet another book telling us to live in a more environmentally friendly way’ – but it wasn’t! I found that is was fresh, insightful, challenging (but not preachy) and really got me thinking.”

A Moral Climate by Michael S. Northcott
The ethics of global warming. Michael S. Northcott, Darton, Longman & Todd, 2007.

SPCK, 2007. Human tide – the real migration crisis
On Monday 14 May 2007, Christian Aid published this report warning of the likely catastrophic consequences of climate change on the already marginalised people of Africa.

Christianity, Climate Change and Sustainable Living
Nick Spencer & Robert White: SPCK, 2007.
“. . . goes far beyond the boundaries of the problem of climate change, to a future in which sustainability in all its aspects is paramount and where the whole global human community no longer rapes the earth and its resources, but lives harmoniously and comfortably with it...”

The food crisis – a global problem...
Climate change, whether or not due to human activity, is a demonstrable feature of our wonderful blue planet.
It is an aspect of the growing food crisis that cannot be painted out of the picture.

Will the Gulf Stream freeze?
From ‘The Independent’, Tuesday 15 May 2007.

Evangelicals split on climate change.
From the BBC, Tuesday 15 May 2007.

Alarmist messages about climate change counterproductive.
From the BBC, Tuesday 15 May 2007.

Five years to save the world...
From the World Wildlife Fund, 16 May 2007.

Too late to save the ice caps?
‘The Guardian’, 19 May 2007.

Climate change threat to whales and dolphins
From the World Wildlife Fund, 22 May 2007.

Will a cooler sun bring a cooler earth?
From Canada an alternative point of view, 22 June 2007.

Is Al Gore just to scary?
From the USA, 25 June 2007.

How did we get into this mess?
George Monbiot, 28 August 2007.

The Metro (free newspaper): ‘Climate Watch’

Global economic crisis will cause starvation
In the Metro free newspaper on Monday 30 March 2009 the death of 400,000 children from hunger during the next 12 months is predicted...


The Natural World

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