Scientists and governments now accept scientific evidence that the
climate is changing. In the UK, rivers flood more frequently, spring
comes earlier and aphids emerge in February.
Worldwide we read of droughts, rising sea levels, retreating glaciers
and an increase in weather-related disasters. Eight of the ten highest
average global yearly temperatures ever recorded were during the
1990s, and it is likely that it was the warmest decade in the last
Human use of fossil fuels is largely responsible. When we burn fossil
fuels to make electricity or to power our cars and aeroplanes, carbon
dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Other contributory causes
to global warming are destruction of forests, energy-intensive agriculture,
and more methane from increased rice production arising from population
growth. But the biggest cause is the huge consumption of fossil
fuels in the developed world.
What is happening to the climate?
The carbon dioxide, water vapour and methane in the atmosphere act
as a sort of 'blanket' to keep in some of the sun's warmth. Without
this 'blanket' our planet would be very cold indeed. By burning
fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas we have released more carbon
dioxide into the atmosphere and the planet is heating up too much.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an international
group of leading climate scientists brought together by the United
Nations and the World Meteorological Organisation, says that most
of the warming is caused by human activities. Over the past 200
years the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased
by about one third due to human activities, principally the burning
of fossil fuels. During the last 100 years the average global temperature
has increased by about 0.6 degrees Celsius.
The IPCC predict that during this century temperatures will rise
between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees (the wide range is due to uncertainty
about the future level of carbon dioxide emissions). This may not
seem very much but the difference between an ice age and the warm
periods between is only 5 or 6 degrees. So we are risking a change
equivalent to a whole ice age over the course of only a century,
with potentially catastrophic consequences.
Because of thermal expansion and increased melting of glaciers sea
level will rise by about half a metre which will be disastrous for
huge numbers of people living in low lying coastal areas, many of
whom are amongst the poorest people on earth.
There will be more floods and also more droughts leading to deaths
and severe economic consequences - again especially affecting the
The regional distribution of available food will alter markedly.
The shortfall in food production could lead to millions of 'environmental
refugees', largely in the developing world.
Not only species but whole ecosystems may disappear. One climate
model predicts that the Amazon rainforest may dry up releasing huge
amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and triggering even greater global
warming. Never has there been a more urgent moment to invoke the
Contraction and Convergence
The governments which committed themselves to the Kyoto Agreement
promised to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by an average
of 5% by the year 2010 compared with 1990 levels. However, the Royal
Commission on Environmental Pollution says a global reduction of
at least 60% is needed. When developing nations improve their material
standard of living they inevitably increase their emissions. So
we in the developed world will have to contract our use of energy
and achieve cuts of 80% to 90% and converge with developing people
to create a more equitable world. International discussion must
now focus on a post-Kyoto climate change agreement.
What about the nuclear option?
Huge investments in renewables, and energy efficiency to reduce
energy use, will be required if nuclear power is not to be part
of the solution. The problems of nuclear waste, safety, security
and by-products remain unresolved. Consequently government policy
should instead favour wind, solar, geothermal and bio-mass energy
Why does this matter for Christians?
In order to meet the 80-90% target we will have to adjust our lifestyles
to a 'low energy' way of living (the holiday air flight as a 'right'
is simply not sustainable). What is lacking is not the technology;
it is the political and moral will. We need a deeper conviction
amongst our leaders and the population as a whole that there must
be a radical change in the way we use energy.
The Bible does not address global climate change directly. But it
does suggest that if we love and serve God and respect his creation
he will bless us with 'the early and late rains' so that harvest
will be good, while if we turn aside and worship other gods (like
cars and status) the land will 'yield not her fruit' (Deut. 11.13-17).
The Psalms, too, echo this message of respect and care for God's
creation (e.g. Psalms 65, 95, 104, 148). The climate is God's gift
to us and the whole earth community. To put this wonderfully diverse
planet at risk by dramatically altering something as fundamental
as our global climate is blasphemous.
Through his incarnation and his resurrection Jesus has transformed
our relationship with the earth, which is to be treated with great
reverence. We Christians are called to love all neighbours, to be
healers and servants.
What have the churches said?
'This task requires a response from each one of us. Through our
own life styles we can contribute to the reduction of greenhouse
gas emissions. Through our witness we can encourage governments
to advance on the road towards responsible reduction targets.'
(The World Council of Churches Climate Change Programme)
'Let not the Government of this country simply express vague and
polite interest in Contraction and Convergence; let them make every
possible effort to bring it about for the salvation of the planet.'
(Rt Rev John Oliver, Bishop of Hereford)
What can we all do as individuals?
Pray daily for the necessary 'conversion' in ourselves, our neighbours
and our leaders to do all in our power to combat global warming.
Buy 'green energy' from renewable sources.
Cut out unnecessary use of cars and inessential air travel.
Buy food grown or produced locally in order to reduce the distance
that food is transported.
Cut down energy use at home:-
Fit energy-saving lightbulbs; turn off lights.
Turn down the central heating thermostat by 1 degree C, and set
the hot water cylinder thermostat at 60 degrees C.
Insulate hot water tanks and pipes.
Shower rather than bathe.
Close curtains at dusk to stop heat escaping through windows.
Switch off TV and video rather than leaving them on stand-by.
Use full loads in washing machines.
Choose the right size pan for cooking food, keep lids on; don't
Cut down on draughts but keep enough ventilation. Wear an extra
Small individual actions can add up to a huge impact!
What can Christians do as a community?
Operation Noah is CEL's programme that empowers individuals and
churches to act on climate change.Get your church on board the
'Ark'. See the leaflet "Build your own ark "
Ask your MP to press the government to deal more seriously with
the issue and set a personal example by using sustainable transport.
Encourage your local church to join the EcoCongregation scheme which
helps communities to tackle issues such as climate change. EcoCongregation,
ENCAMS, Elizabeth House, The Pier, Wigan WN3 4EX.
Get your local church to include regular prayers on this issue.
See CEL's monthly Prayer Guide.