The United Nations climate negotiations in Katowice, Poland — the follow-up to the blockbuster 2015 Paris conference — came to a dramatic close on Dec. 15 with the adoption of the "Katowice Climate Package." The package represents significant progress on global climate action and will allow nations to move forward in setting and meeting greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets over the next five years. However, the roadmap will need major improvements to reach the level of “ambition” the scientific community says is needed to protect the most vulnerable.
IN OCTOBER, The New York Times published an article that, despite its dire implications, seemed to wash away in the rapid news cycle. It described how, according to the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world’s population will see major consequences, as early as 2040, from its mistreatment of the planet. More droughts, more wildfires, more poverty, and higher temperatures—in only 22 years. When that time comes, when nature begins to resemble Hell, how will we have to live?
Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker David Conover has been thinking about this question for 12 years. “I was a parent of two young kids,” Conover told me about the moment when he began to ruminate on creation care, “and was trying to understand the world they were growing into: pollution, severe weather with fires, flooding, droughts, struggles with realities that weren’t that apparent even a generation ago.
“There have been many films made about those things, how we know that they’re happening, what’s causing them, and so on. But there haven’t been any films about people and their experience of exploring the very tough question of how to live right today in this climate.”
Conover’s wrestling with how to live a moral life during a time of environmental hardship has culminated in the production and release of his newest documentary, Behold the Earth, which explores contemporary Christianity’s relationship with creation care.
IT'S EASY to get discouraged. The Paris climate accord is the most significant multinational agreement yet to address climate change. Every country in the world, and Palestine, signed it. “That’s a lot of countries!” said former President Obama.
But on June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Agreement. By abdicating U.S. presidential leadership, Trump left it to the rest of the world’s governments to address the greatest crisis humanity has ever seen.
The depressing actions of the current administration are legion. Using federal agencies and executive orders, Trump is dismantling the climate progress so many have worked for. In September, federal agencies deregulated the release of methane gas, which traps about 25 times more heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide does. The Trump administration has allowed land set aside as national monuments to be pillaged for oil and gas drilling and mineral extraction. A fossil fuel corporate lawyer now working for the Environmental Protection Agency has dismantled our clean air regulations. The EPA has established incentives to encourage more than 300 coal plants to continue polluting our air and land.
If human-induced atmospheric warming continues at the current rate, the world will cross the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold of global temperature increase around 2040, much earlier than previously estimated, according to an October 2018 report from the International Panel on Climate Change, the first update since the Paris Agreement. Without aggressive action, food shortages and wildfires will worsen, water shortages will hit urban areas, killer heatwaves and violent storms will be more frequent, coastal areas will experience sea level rise, and populations will migrate. Humanity must become laser focused on achieving net zero emissions if creation as we know it is to survive. In other words, it’s now or never on climate change.
It seems the role of climate change is seldom mentioned in many or even most news stories about the multitude of fires and heat waves. In part, this is because the issue of attribution is not usually clear. The argument is that there have always been wildfires, and how can we attribute any particular wildfire to climate change?
“Our current economies are running a Ponzi scheme with our planet,” Mathis Wackernagel, chief executive and co-founder of Global Footprint Network, said. “We are borrowing the Earth’s future resources to operate our economies in the present. Like any Ponzi scheme, this works for some time. But as nations, companies, or households dig themselves deeper and deeper into debt, they eventually fall apart.”
He said there was a "very solid scientific consensus" that the planet was warming and that people had to "combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it" because greenhouse gases were "released mainly as a result of human activity."
Government officials have provided scant details for Day Zero logistics. Rather than communicate a clear plan of action, some are invoking fear with comparisons to World War II and 9/11.
Perhaps climate change’s calamities will galvanize the international political scene, cracking the iron grip of the wealthy on our politics and forcing redistribution of resources. But no matter what happens, people of faith must lead the charge in envisioning a just world for all inhabitants. To slow the destruction of the earth, a fundamental reimagining of our societies is required.
“U.S. leadership is indispensable to countering an anti-growth, energy agenda that is detrimental to U.S. economic and energy security interests. Given future global energy demand, much of the developing world will require fossil fuels, as well as other forms of energy, to power their economies and lift their people out of poverty."
The "we are still in" coalition opened a 2,500-square meter (27,000-square foot) tent pavilion outside a venue in Bonn, Germany, where delegates from almost 200 nations are working on details of the pact aimed at ending the fossil fuel era by 2100.
By contrast, the U.S. government delegation office at the talks covers only 100 square meters.
The findings directly contradict the Trump administration's policies on climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency has removed mentions of climate change from their website, with administrator Scott Pruitt denying that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming. "It begs the question, where are members of the administration getting their information from? They’re obviously not getting it from their own scientists," Philip B. Duffy, president of the Woods Hole Research Center, said.
More than 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is happening here and now. Yet many Americans are unaware of this scientific consensus.
Meanwhile, evidence of climate change is mounting—rising seas, retreating glaciers, and extreme weather—as are their effects on human health and well-being, everything from more lung disease and vector-borne illnesses to injuries and deaths from extreme weather events.
In the face of these sobering realities, the Trump administration is taking steps to reverse progress the U.S. has made on carbon pollution by eliminating the Clean Power Plan, radically shrinking the Environmental Protection Agency, reversing environmental safety regulations, and potentially withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement.
However, we are not helpless, and the situation is not hopeless. In many ways, the prospects for progress in combating climate change are good. The costs of clean, renewable energy, such as solar and wind, are dropping precipitously, and a large majority of Americans want us to transition quickly away from fossil fuels, regulate carbon emissions, and abide by the climate agreement reached in Paris last year. National environmental organizations are seeing rapid increases in donations and volunteerism from those who oppose federal efforts to dismantle environmental protections. But it’s not enough.
Building a strong national movement to protect the climate requires many voices. The voices of Christians are especially needed. And many are speaking up. “The poor, the disenfranchised, those already living on the edge, and those who contributed least to this problem are also those at greatest risk to be harmed by it. That’s not a scientific issue; that’s a moral issue,” wrote Katharine Hayhoe, a renowned climate scientist and evangelical Christian, on The Conversation website. She has noted that, “As scientists we don’t know a lot about suffering, but as Christians we do. And we know that part of the reason we’re here in this world is to help people who are suffering.” Pope Francis has made the case that climate change is one of the principal challenges facing humanity and that it is a moral imperative for Christians to rise to the challenge.
The years ahead of us will be the most challenging our species has ever faced. For many of the other species that share this planet with us — and for some of our own people — it will be too much to survive. Dressing for a funeral doesn’t begin to prepare our hearts for this kind of devastation.
No matter where we are, the climate crisis is not far from home.
For some time it has largely been the world’s most vulnerable, in the global south, bearing the brunt of suffering and climate-induced devastation. Those who have the power to change things have so far all but ignored “the cry of the poor and the cry of the earth,” as Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical a little over a year ago.
But just this past month in the United States — one of the world’s wealthiest nations — we have seen historic droughts, unprecedented floods in Louisiana, and wildfires in California, killing many and displacing tens of thousands.
The Paris climate accord, negotiated in the French capital just weeks after the terrorist attack there in November, was signed April 22 in recognition of Earth Day, reports USA Today. World leaders representing 175 countries were present for the signing, along with 197 children, including John Kerry’s granddaughter, whom he held as he signed the agreement for the U.S.
Churches in eastern and southern Africa are appealing for humanitarian aid in the region, as 36 million people grapple with the worst drought in decades. Linked to extreme El Nino weather conditions, the drought has hit countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, among others. The conditions have reversed normal weather patterns, upsetting people’s livelihoods.
On July 21 and 22, the Vatican hosts two conferences on human trafficking and climate change, bringing the mayors of major cities — including several in the U.S. — to Rome for the events. What do human trafficking and climate change have to do with each other? And what does Catholicism have to do with them? Let us explain.
Q: Why is the Vatican concerned with human trafficking and climate change?
A: If Pope Francis has two pet issues, they are human trafficking and climate change. Since the first year of his papacy he has spoken against human trafficking, calling it “a crime against humanity” and lamenting it as modern slavery. It’s an even bet that when the pope addresses the United Nations in late September he will hammer it as one of the crucial issues of our time. Ditto on climate change. In June, the pontiff published his encyclical — the highest teaching of the church — on climate change.
“Our home is being ruined and that hurts everyone, especially the poorest among us,” Francis said just before the publication of the encyclical.
1. I Went to Church with Bruce Jenner, and Here’s What Caitlyn Taught Me About Jesus
“Caitlyn knows who Jesus is, and Jesus knows her by name. Whether that sits comfortably on a timeline or blog comment, I know firsthand that Caitlyn has heard the good news. And, Caitlyn has taught me more about Jesus.”
2. And the Award for Trailblazing Feminist Icon Goes to — Miss Piggy
The Sackler Center for Feminist Art awarded the Muppet with its First Award, which recognizes women for being first in their fields and has included the likes of Sandra Day O’Connor, because the character has “qualities that … women need to have to face the world as it is, and she gives us a good smile on top of it all.”
3. In Baltimore Schools, Free Meals for All
"Given the socio-economic status of the city, it's a no-brainer," [parent David T.] Clements said of the program. "Parents can now take that money and apply it to their futures."
4. Study Finds Global Warming Hasn’t Slowed
The latest study, published in Science, reverses previously held thought that global warming was on hiatus. Not so, according to the numbers, which were based on what the scientists say is more accurate land and sea temperature measurements.
There could not be a more important year for climate action. It’s now or never. The future of our planet and the people, places, and things that we love depend on all of us working together to demand a healthy, just, and vibrant planet home. It impacts everything else – immigration and migration due to drought, flooding, sea level rise, and worsening storms; war and conflict over natural resources; access to drinkable water; food insecurity, hunger, and agriculture; disaster relief. It even impacts the sex trade — when women have to walk farther and farther to find water, they’re more vulnerable to rape and kidnapping in many regions.
So here we are, now. Governments, scientists, universities, companies, our military, and thousands of non-profit organizations are all scrambling to save the very integrity of God’s creation, the composition of the atmosphere God so magnificently created to support life on earth. And Christians are barely even at the table. We need to be at the table.
Most Americans say they feel a deep connection to the wider world.
But all that spiritual stargazing makes no difference in views about the facts of climate change and global warming, a new survey finds.
Just 5 percent of Americans thought climate change was the most important issue in the U.S. today. And religion was a major dividing point on how much — or how little — they think it’s a matter of concern, according to a new survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.
“We asked about spiritual measures such as being in awe of the universe, and you might think it would correlate with views about the universe. But, in fact, they have very little relationship,” said Robert Jones, CEO of PRRI, which conducted the survey on U.S. adults’ attitudes toward climate change, environmental policy and science.