Like Lemmings to the Sea…On Our Sheer Climate Stupidity

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Somewhat unfairly, the small Arctic rodent, the lemming, has been thought prone to bouts of mass suicide. The same can now be said of humankind, although in our case the charge seems more accurate.

Last month the World Bank released a report, Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4°C Warmer World Must Be Avoided. In the formal tones of a bank report it shows the world is on track to be four degrees warmer by the end of this century than it was in preindustrial times. A short quote captures what this will likely mean:

[quote]A world in which warming reaches 4°C above preindustrial levels (hereafter referred to as a 4°C world), would be one of unprecedented heat waves, severe drought, and major floods in many regions, with serious impacts on human systems, ecosystems, and associated services.[/quote]

That’s bankspeak for bloody disaster. For example,  a 2010 heatwave in Russia cost 55,000 lives, 25% of the annual crop and $15 billion in losses. Go to four degrees and there’s going to be a lot more of these. They will become the new summer normal.

Go to four degrees and we can expect the world’s reefs to be regularly bleaching and to start dissolving. That’s not only a disaster for the Queensland tourist industry, but because reefs act as a buffer against storm surge, will see far more damage and loss of life around the world.

And it seems that food production will be hit hard in a world where 10 billion odd human beings all need to be fed.

These are but a few of the expected effects. The Exec Summary concludes like this:

[quote]A 4°C world is likely to be one in which communities, cities and countries would experience severe disruptions, damage, and dislocation, with many of these risks spread unequally. It is likely that the poor will suffer most and the global community could become more fractured, and unequal than today. The projected 4°C warming simply must not be allowed to occur—the heat must be turned down. Only early, cooperative, international actions can make that happen.[/quote]

When a conservative institution like the World Bank starts talking like this you know it’s time to worry.

Unfortunately our response to date has been as bizarre and irrational as that for which lemmings are famed. There are relatively simple solutions but we’re proving unwilling to take them.

To my sceptical friends, I get that you have questions and doubts about the reality of anthropogenic climate change, but is it not time for you to treat this as a risk management exercise? Surely with a strong consensus among climate scientists that we are heading for disaster it’s worth acting just in case they’re right. It’s not likely that my house will burn down but I still have it insured just in case. Yes it costs me a little but it’s good risk management. Isn’t it worth insuring the planet?

To my friends who believe in climate change, is it not time for us to keep on raising our voices? The window in which we can keep climate change to 2 degrees is rapidly closing, and some think it has passed.

And to my pastoral colleagues, I know it’s difficult to preach and teach on this, but surely this is the defining stewardship issue of our time. Maybe we need to have some kind of forum where we explore ways to address this issue. As Martin Luther is reputed to have said,

[quote]If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.[/quote]

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