As almost everyone knows, climate change scientists have been laying on the horn for several decades now, warning of a coming catastrophe if humanity doesn’t make some dramatic changes. Less well recognized is how prescient those warnings have been, as heatwaves, forest fires, droughts and glacial melt have indeed accelerated at an unprecedented rate. There may still be some culture war value in denying the reality of climate change. But doing so looks increasingly deranged, as the proof is everywhere you look.
And it’s still worse than you might think. That’s the finding of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest groundbreaking report, the most significant study on climate change’s impact since 2013. It’s a bleak report, which predicts the world is actually getting hotter far faster than predicted. The temperature of the globe has risen faster since 1970 than it has in any other 50-year period since the time of Christ, and is expected to rise about 1.5 degrees more by 2030. The report says that a nearly two meter rise in the sea level “cannot be ruled out.”
This means more heatwaves, flooding and droughts, the results of cataclysmic climate damage that may not be reversible for centuries. The IPCC panel found that these changes are “unequivocally” driven by human activity, leading to the planet’s hottest decade in 125,000 years.
All this spells a “code red for humanity,” to quote the UN chief.
But of course, we already know all this. As climate scientist Katharine Hayho said on Twitter, “the headlines of today’s IPCC Working Group 1 report are no surprise. We’ve known them for years, even decades. Their power lies in the starkness with which they are presented. No more equivocation, nothing for recalcitrant entities to hide behind.”
In other words, we waited too long to act, and now we reap the whirlwind. It is, of course, not too late to reverse course and prevent things from getting worse, but the longer we wait the more drastic actions are required. And the actions required now are drastic indeed. The report says that if we can still adding CO2 to the atmosphere by 2050, it’s at least possible that the heating would “stabilize” at about 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s not great, but it’s a certainly preferable to continuing down the road we’re on.
But ceasing all CO2 production in thirty years would require a sudden and dramatic shift away from fossil fuels towards more sustainable and renewable energy sources. For most of the world’s biggest producers of CO2 like the United States and China, the requisite urgency has been decidedly lacking. And the ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica are likely to be the irreversible casualties of our apathy.
Christians haven’t always been the climate champions that we could be. White evangelical Protestants are the least likely religious demographic in America to agree that human activity is warming the earth. This is odd considering that Christian teaching has always held that humanity has a sacred duty to honor God’s creation. Climate skepticism has sunk its claws deep into the Christian Church and while it may be too late to dodge a hotter future for earth, it’s never too late for us to repent and commit to doing better in the future as advocates for climate justice.