Tuesday, 07 December 2021

Our climate crisis

We live in a dynamic world where change is part of the natural order. Over time we have experienced significant evolution in social, political, economic and technological aspects of our lives. Similarly, in the natural world scientists tell us that over very long periods, the natural landscape, plant and animal ecosystems and the atmosphere undergo very gradual transformations. What is causing us increasing concern and even alarm is the accelerating rate at which the climate is now changing, how this has been brought about by human activity and the threats posed to our way of life.

The key factor seems to be the increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide concentrations which have increased by 50% in the last 250 years. It is widely acknowledged that the burning of fossil fuels has been the major contributor to this as the world has generated increasing quantities of electricity from coal, oil and gas. Our insatiable demand for transport and massive growth in the production of cars and other vehicles has created unprecedented demand for oil. In addition, the rapidly growing demand for farmland to feed our ever increasing population, especially in parts of South America, Africa and South East Asia has led to extensive deforestation. The subsequent burning of the timber releasing the carbon, trapped in the wood, back into the atmosphere.

Another more potent greenhouse gas is methane, released by grazing animals as they 'break wind' and as more countries strive to increase their output of meat from pastures created by deforestation, levels of this gas will rise. As greenhouse gases lead to warmer temperatures, huge 'reservoirs' of methane currently trapped in the permanently frozen ground in Siberia and northern Canada would be released into the atmosphere as this permafrost melts, so accelerating the process of atmospheric warming. Rising temperatures are contributing to the unprecedented melting of polar ice which on returning to the oceans is leading to a gradual, but accelerating rise in sea level. Even a rise of just a few centimetres would threaten some of the world's most densely populated coastal lowlands from the Gulf Coast of the USA to the Ganges Delta in southern Asia.

The predicted effects of climate change are well documented and over the last decade we have seen increasing evidence of this taking place. As global average temperatures rise, the atmosphere can hold more moisture which in parts of the world is producing storms of increasing ferocity leading to extensive flooding, destruction of property and crops and in some areas, devastating landslides. Changing weather patterns are leading to some parts of the world seeing a great reduction in rainfall and as the land dries out wildfires have become more common, as has happened in Australia and California in the last two years.

The great tragedy of climate change is that it is the world's poorest and most vulnerable who will suffer the most, despite them doing the least to cause it. As food and water supplies come under threat the world is likely to see an upsurge in climate refugees. There is a growing awareness of the problem and many governments are at least talking about how to tackle the problem. The UN climate summit of 2015 in Paris did result in some initiatives being established, but while they may 'talk the talk' the worry is that change may not happen sufficiently quickly.
The Doomsday scenario may not be inevitable. We can all do a little bit to help reduce the problem such as turning down our heating a little or cutting down on the use of electric driers where possible. But the driver of change has to be our government and other governments all around the world. They are actively promoting the development of renewable energy such as wind and solar power and paving the way for the internal combustion engine to be replaced by electric vehicles. What is worrying is that not all governments appear to appreciate the urgency of the situation.

During a video message to the UN Security Council at the beginning of March 2021, Sir David Attenborough pleaded for countries around the world to come together to declare a climate emergency and realise that climate change is the biggest threat to our security that modern humans have ever faced.

We all have a duty of stewardship as trustees of the planet. If deciding to do nothing feels more comfortable we should realise the need to take our responsibilities seriously, if not for ourselves then for our grandchildren and future generations. This planet is our home, entrusted to us by God who commands us to take care of the earth, but His edict to have dominion over it does not mean to have complete domination and exploitation of it. Sadly, this is what has happened; we continue to overuse the land, carry out massive deforestation, and over exploit the earth's fuel and mineral resources. Planet Earth is our home and if we continue to abuse it, it will be a choice we will surely live to regret.

Trevor Kernohan

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