In contrast to the ongoing public and political debate surrounding the legitimacy and urgency of climate change, the global scientific body of knowledge appears to be overwhelmingly clear, as highlighted in The Great Disruption by Paul Gilding:
The consensus position on climate change is reflected in the rigorously peer-reviewed journals in which research is presented and issues are debated. One study by Naomi Oreskes, published in the journalScience, demonstrated that of the papers whose abstract contained the keywords global climate changebetween 1993 and 2003, none questioned the consensus position – not one. Oreskes’s subsequent book,Merchants of Doubt, revealed how many who once fronted the tobacco industry’s anti-science campaign to deny the link between smoking and lung cancer are also now prominent and vocal climate change skeptics, and they are often funded to create doubt that has no credible scientific basis.
It appears clear that – from the basis of consensus scientific knowledge from credible specialists around the world – climate change is real, serious, and is growing worse due to human activity. Yet, according to the World Resources Institute, the U.S. is on track to miss its commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Although the pledge made by the U.S. (to cut emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020) is far below what many scientists have called for, the United States’ ability to keep its promise could influence whether more nations can join together and broker a new climate pact. And so, the U.S. is (once again) in a position to dramatically influence the global agenda of climate change.
According to Nicholas Bianco, a senior associate at WRI, while the U.S. is not on track to hit its target, “…we have to tools to get there.” Imposing greenhouse gas emission limits on existing power plants – a policy the Obama administration is considering – could halve the gap between the current trajectory and our 2020 climate target. And phasing out hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs), used in cooling equipment from soda machines and many car air conditioners, would make up 23 percent of the gap, while stricter federal rules for natural-gas methane emissions and energy efficiency standards would make up 11 and 8 percent, respectively, of the difference. If it doesn't set these and other climate polices in motion, the WRI analysts warn, the U.S. will find itself falling short of its pledge, resulting in a continued spiral into the depths of climate change.
While some are skeptical of our collective ability to act in response to climate change, there is room for hope — as President Barack Obama’s recent inaugural address included some of his strongest statements to date on plans for environmental legislation:
We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations. Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But America cannot resist this transition; we must lead it. We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries – we must claim its promise. That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snow-capped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.
In faithfulness to our role as stewards of God’s creation, the time is upon us to recognize climate change for what it is: the defining global issue of our generation. In doing so, we must contact our various elected officials and demand a fulfillment of our international promise to cut emissions by 17 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. As the consequences of climate change are already serious and evident, and because the safety of future generations now hangs in the balance, our response requires urgency, commitment, and reasoned intelligence for a faithful pursuit of the common good. We cannot deny the obvious realities of climate change any longer, nor can we accept more broken promises, for now is the time to act, and today is an opportunity to show responsibility, commitment, and our best efforts at global leadership.
Brian E. Konkol is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), serves as Co-Pastor of Lake Edge Lutheran Church (Madison, Wis.), and is a PhD candidate in Theology & Development with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa).
Photo: Climate change countdown, DeoSum / Shutterstock.com