Listening with Radical Ears: The Importance of the 2014 IPCC Climate Report

By Kaeley McEvoy 11-05-2014
"As Christians, we must open our ears, minds, and hearts ." Photo via shutterstock.com

“The reason I speak to them in parables is that ‘seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.’ With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah that says: ‘You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes” (Matthew 13:11-15)

Humans shut their eyes to truth.

This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the final installment of its three-part synthesis report on climate change. According to Rajendra Pachauri, the chairperson of the IPCC, this report is the “strongest, most robust, and most comprehensive analysis” to come out of the IPCC, which has been tracking climate change since 1988. Yet, there are still some who are hard of hearing.

The data that lies within the report is nothing completely new: climate change is happening, humans are responsible for climate change, and fossil fuels are severely damaging our levels of CO2. So, what is different about the newest installment of the IPCC report?

The emergence of one word: irreversible. 

In 2007, when the IPCC released its previous climate report the word irreversible appeared only four times in the final report. Seven years later, the word appears 31 times in the full synthesis report. To include direct language:

“Surface temperatures will remain approximately constant at elevated levels for many centuries after a complete cessation of net anthropogenic CO2 emissions. A large fraction of anthropogenic climate change resulting from CO2 emissions is irreversible on a multi-century to millennial time scale, except in the case of a large net removal of CO2 from the atmosphere over a sustained period.”

Translation: Even if we were to completely remove a large amount of CO2 emissions this second, temperatures would continue to rise.

To me, this is extremely alarming. Yet, how much does this information really change the way the public views climate change?

Will the inclusion of the word “irreversible” finally frighten people enough for public policy makers, business professionals, and world leaders to act on the immense and urgent necessity for change?

In a fairly ironic way, Slate reported yesterday that,

“There should be no more international reports on climate change.”

Why? Because it’s all been said. It’s all been proven. In so many ways, the debate is over. What we must do now is listen.

Jesus was patient with his disciples when they did not understand his message. He quotes the prophet Isaiah saying, “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes.”

In many ways, our society has continued to “close our eyes” to the facts of climate change. I understand, 100-page reports released by international commissions only convey so much. Graphs, charts, and temperature analyses are important, but they are sometimes easy to “hardly hear.” 

Yet, when one listens with the heart, when one listens to Jesus, then we as people have the chance to truly understand.

“Blessed are your eyes,” Jesus said, “for they see, and your ears, for they hear. Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”

As Christians, we must open our ears, minds, and hearts to the warning signs God’s creation is giving us. In Christ, we find the reality of resurrection. We find the message of radical hope. We find the strength to believe that the sins we have committed against the earth are not irreversible.

Kaeley McEvoy is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.

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