What would I know?
I worked as a hydrologist and water manager for most of my adult life. I am not a climate change expert, but I have sufficient knowledge of climate and the water cycle to know that the climate is changing and to assess the available data and the conclusions that scientists have drawn.
This page summarises the best available information on climate change.
1. The world really is getting hotter
Global temperature has been slowly rising for more than a century, and heating up more rapidly since about 1970.
The last decade has been the hottest on record, globally, and 2016 was the hottest ever recorded. In the last dozen years, 2005, 2010 2014, 2015 & 2016 have all broken previous temperature records.
Those who argue that the world isn’t warming generally take some isolated statistic that appears to show no temperature rise, but the global data is very clear.
2. The weather is getting more extreme
Global warming doesn’t just cause an increase in temperature, it changes weather patterns, and produces more extreme weather – longer droughts, bigger floods, larger and more frequent storms, loss of Arctic and Antarctic ice and rising ocean water levels. For example:
- Ocean levels have risen globally by about 10 cm in the past 50 years, increasing the impacts of storm waves and coastal erosion.
- Climate change is changing habitat and living patterns for a diverse range of animals – polar bears in the Arctic, Adélie Penguins in the Antarctic, mountain lions in the US and reindeer in Russia.
- Changing rainfall patterns, longer droughts and higher temperatures are harming crop production, but increased Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere is actually offsetting this. Climate change is changing how grapes are grown in Europe.
- Arctic sea ice varies seasonally and from year to year, but the trend is that it is declining – 2016 was the equal second worst year for of sea ice in almost 40 years of records, and the lowest winter maximum on record. Sea ice is important in regulating the earth’s temperature and influences air and ocean circulation.
3. We are the main cause
Climate change is caused by an increase in the earth’s temperature. Natural causes, such as volcanic activity, a change in energy from the sun and variations in the earth’s orbit around the sun, have only a minor impact, and scientists have found that the main cause is an increase in water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons in the atmosphere. These gases trap the sun’s energy which reaches the earth’s surface, reduce the amount reflecting back into space, and thus warm the earth’s surface.
Agricultural activities (land clearing, fertiliser use, flood irrigation and stock all produce greenhouse gases), industrialisation and the increase in burning of carbon fuels in electricity generation, heating and transportation, are the clear causes of the increase in these so-called greenhouse gases.
4. There is a climate change conspiracy, but it’s not what you think
There is strong scientific evidence for climate change, and, despite the sceptics, almost no evidence against it. For example, James L. Powell, appointed by US Presidents Reagan and Bush to the National Science Board, reviewed almost 11 thousand peer-reviewed scientific papers published in 2013, and found only 2 that rejected anthropogenic global warming as a fact.
Conservative christians sometimes accuse climate change as being an invention, a conspiracy of scientists and environmental groups. Studies show that some people fear losing their autonomy if global actions to reduce climate are adopted, and some christians believe God will end the world before global warming does to much harm.
I’ve not seen any evidence for these fears, but I have read of evidence that big business has organised to present misinformation on climate change, aided by conservative politicians and media. After all, 6 of the worlds 10 top companies are oil or energy companies, and two more are automotive companies that depend on oil.
It wouldn’t be the first time – tobacco companies ran a misinformation campaign for decades to suppress the scientific evidence about smoking and cancer. Christians would do well to be wary of allowing other people’s greed to fool them.
5. Christians should care deeply
Climate change is already affecting all our lives, and in the future it will be detrimental to the next generations.
But its impacts will be most felt by some of the poorest people in the world:
- Drought will affect parts of Bangladesh, while millions living in low lying coastal areas will experience increased storms and flooding.
- Subsistence farming in Nepal is becoming more hazardous due to changed rainfall patterns and increased erosion.
- Lower rainfall in North Africa will bring increased drought, famine and devastation.
- Low-lying islands such as Tuvulu and the Maldives may become unlivable due to rising tides, increased storms, and saltwater intrusion into groundwater.
6. We can do something about it
Some of the impacts of climate change are now inevitable, but the worst can be ameliorated. It will take a move away from the use of coal and fossil fuels, and the use of sustainable energy from wind, tide, sun and geothermal energy.
The costs of making this change are reducing all them time, and in some cases renewable energy is cheaper than the conventional sources.
Christians should be willing to pay a little more, if necessary, to protect God’s creation and the world’s vulnerable people. We can purchase green power rather than environmental harmful power, support government action such as carbon taxes and incentives, and vote for politicians who will act. We can use less energy by driving smaller or hybrid cars, and using our air conditioners less.
7. It’s time to act!
I believe christians have been quiet or sceptical about climate change for too long.
It’s time to get properly informed. Don’t be fooled! Believe the evidence, not the scare-mongers.
And it’s time to act. Every year we delay, the problems for our children and later generations will be worse. Acting now can make a real difference.
Read more about climate change
Get more detail at Climate Change.
Picture: Australian bushfire (Climate Council).