The “burning issue” of course is climate change, and it raises many life-changing ethical questions. Covid-19 and the Delta variant are serious problems for sure. Climate change, however, is a looming catastrophe.

On Monday, August 6th, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)  issued its latest assessment about the state of our planet. The cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases, led by the United States and European countries since the start of the industrial age, and now more recently by China, have not only heated up our planet, but have set it on course to get much worse in coming years. 

The IPCC report validates decades of scientific predictions about our human contribution to climate change and its already severe impact all over the globe. We have to brace ourselves for more extreme heat waves, more droughts, more floods, more wildfires, and more hurricanes. Rising sea levels will threaten coastal cities like Miami and even locations like Mar-a-Lago.  

A week later, on August 13th, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declared July 2021 the world’s hottest month in 142 years. NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad stressed in his statement: “This new record adds to the disturbing and disruptive path that climate change has set for the globe.”

A record-breaking heat wave that has touched temperatures of up to 46 degrees Celsius, or 115 degrees Fahrenheit, has also set off wildfires in the United States, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Siberia, Turkey, Greece, Italy, and places in between. Elsewhere in Europe, floods that used to come once in a millennium in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands have killed at least 196 people. Not far from where I live, the flood devastation and destruction of homes, buildings, and infrastructure is tremendous. 

Water levels at the largest reservoir on the Colorado River — Lake Mead — have fallen to record lows. Lake Mead, formed by building the Hoover Dam in the 1930s, supplies water to millions of people in Arizona, California, Nevada and Mexico.

Thomas Reese SJ observed, nevertheless, in NCR last week: “Millions of us are going about our business worrying about our daily lives while Catholic bishops and elites (myself included) argue about the Latin Mass, Communion for politicians and Grindr, rather than the coming climate apocalypse.” Pope Francis warned about climate change in his 2015 encyclical  Laudato Si, yet millions of Catholics, including bishops, are ignoring the looming climate apocalypse and the individual and systemic transformation needed to address it. 

In 1967, historian Lynn White Jr. argued that Christian beliefs promoted the domination and exploitation of nature, and therefore were incompatible with environmentalism. Almost half a century later, polls showed that fewer than 50% of all US Protestants and Catholics believe the Earth is warming as a result of human actions.

I remember when Pastor Robert Jeffress, who belonged to the former US president’s Evangelical Advisory Board, retorted on Fox News: “Somebody needs to read poor Greta (Thunberg) Genesis, Chapter 9 and tell her the next time she worries about global warming, just look at a rainbow. That’s God’s promise that the polar ice caps aren’t going to melt and flood the world again.”

Many evangelical Christians, polls show, still agree with Jeffress. Others who reject climate change are simply convinced it is a hoax. Nevertheless climate change ignorance contributes to impending disasters. A helpful book here is Robin Veldman’s The Gospel of Climate Skepticism: Why Evangelical Christians Oppose Action on Climate Change. Veldman observed in an interview in Newsweek “Part of being a part of the evangelical community is showing that you keep good theologically conservative company and environmentalism is associated with being liberal.” 

Recall the story of Chicken Little playing in the yard when an acorn hits her on the head. She yells. “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” With climate change we now realize the alarm is real. It is neither an hysterical nor a mistaken belief. Climate disaster has begun, and more frightening scenarios are imminent. 

Climate change has been described as a “perfect moral storm” because it brings together three major challenges to ethical action. (1) Climate change is a truly global phenomenon. (2) Emissions have profoundly intergenerational effects. Emissions of the most prominent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, typically persist in the atmosphere for a long time. This contributes to negative climate impacts not for a few years but for centuries. (3) Our combative tools are underdeveloped in many essential areas, such as international justice, intergenerational ethics, scientific uncertainty, and the appropriate relationship between humans and the rest of nature.  

The issue of climate change is complex, but the message is simple:

• Global warming is real. Human activity is the major cause.

• Global warming is dramatically changing the world around us today.

• Urgent action is called for.

• If we do nothing new (business as usual), the consequences will be dire.

Individuals, groups, associations, churches, and governments must take concerted action now. We must study. We must seriously reflect. We must all collaborate and act.

  • Jack 

8 thoughts on “The Burning Issue

  1. Dear Jack,
    You have touched on the single issue that is inescapable for us all. No human will avoid the outcome of this crisis so we had better get it right. Sadly, when “faith” leaders attach “biblical evidence” to support doing nothing to prevent global warming, the solution will be even harder to attain. The time to debate is over. We need to act. Are these signs of the Apocolypse?

    1. Yes Frank. This is a very serious issue, with major implications especially for our generation’s children and grandchildren.

      Warmest regards

    2. Many of Canada’s Conservative party politicians — not to mention our thinly-veiled-theocrat former prime minister Stephen Harper — are/were ideologically aligned with the pro-fossil-fuel mainstream American Evangelical community and Republican Party. They generally share the belief that to defend the natural environment from the planet’s greatest polluters, notably big fossil fuel, is to go against God’s will and therefore is inherently evil. (No wonder they hate any carbon tax. For conservatives they sure pollute the planet most liberally.)

      Meanwhile, when a public person openly fantasizes about a clean, pristinely green global environment, or world peace, or a guaranteed minimum income, many ‘Christians’ reactively presume he/she must therefore be Godless thus evil or, far worse, a socialist. This, despite Christ’s own teachings epitomizing the primary component of socialism — do not hoard morbidly superfluous wealth when so very many people have little or nothing.

  2. With the unprecedented man-made global-warming-related extreme weather events, wildfires and off-the-chart poor-air-quality advisories (etcetera), I wonder how many fossil-fuel industry CEOs and/or their beloved family members may also be caught in global-warming-related harm’s way? Assuming the CEOs are not sufficiently foolish to believe their descendants will somehow always evade the health repercussions related to their industry’s environmentally reckless decisions, I wonder whether the unlimited-profit objective of a CEO’s job-description nature is somehow irresistible to him or her? It brings to mind the allegorical fox stung by the instinct-abiding scorpion while ferrying it across the river, leaving both to drown. …

    Collective human existence, to me, remains analogous to a cafeteria lineup consisting of diversely societally represented people, all adamantly arguing over which identifiable person should be at the front and, conversely, at the back of the line. Many of them further fight over to whom amongst them should go the last piece of quality pie and how much they should have to pay for it — all the while the interstellar spaceship on which they’re all permanently confined, owned and operated by (besides the wealthiest passengers) the fossil fuel industry, is on fire and toxifying at locations not normally investigated.

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