Climate change is not a passing fad

Dave Bookless gives three reasons why we need to take expert warnings about climate change ‘very seriously’.
Nearly a month has gone by since the launch of the Stern Review on “The Economics of Climate Change”. Now it’s time to get it into perspective.
At the time there was massive media hype: The Independent gave its first 10 pages to the review, and the BBC reported it as its top story all day. Even The Sun had a large picture of Tony Blair in front of the planet under the headline: “I’m saving the world…YOU lot are paying!”
A month has passed. In a world of fast-moving media stories, it’s easy to lose perspective. Lebanon has all but disappeared, ‘Make Poverty History’ seems to be consigned to history. How do we tell if – as several people have suggested to me recently – climate change is simply for the ‘noughties’ what the Cold War was for the 1970s-1980s? Is it the case that we need a bogeyman, an enemy to battle against, even if the danger such ‘enemies’ present is inevitably exaggerated?
Having trained as an historian, I can see the argument. ‘Experts’ are forever warning about the coming apocalypse (the French invasion, “Reds under the bed”, an asteroid impact) and are nearly always wrong. Cry wolf too often and we just yawn and change channels.
Is it just the same with climate change? Having given a lot of time to the different viewpoints, I want to offer three reasons why this time we need to listen very seriously to the warnings.
Firstly, we need to because of the number and quality of the experts. There are still those who think that expert opinion is divided on climate change. It isn’t.
As Al Gore’s excellent film An Inconvenient Truth states: an analysis of the 900+ peer-reviewed scientific papers on climate change in the past decade showed 100% agreement that global warming is a] taking place and b] largely caused by man-made carbon-related emissions. There is no other scientific issue in history on which opinion has been so unanimous.
On no other issue have the world’s leading science academies issued a joint statement or scientists from such a vast variety of backgrounds produced joint reports (through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).
The only ‘experts’ who disagree with the consensus are quite simply either in the pocket of oil companies or making a cynically lucrative living out of playing Devil’s Advocate. Remember cigarettes and the tobacco industry’s claims?
The Stern Review has helped because a world-renowned economist, with no environmental axe to grind, has coldly looked at the facts and made some pretty stark conclusions.
Secondly, we need to because of the clarity of the evidence and the scale of the impacts. As Stern reminds us, drawing from authoritative sources, climate change is already taking place and, even at current levels, the predicted impacts are large-scale and perhaps irreversible.
Hundreds of millions of people, particularly the world’s poor, will lose their livelihoods if not their lives. Up to 40% of wildlife species are under threat of extinction this century.
At this point, confusion sometimes breaks out because scientists genuinely differ as to the severity of likely impacts and as to whether we’ve already reached a catastrophic ‘tipping’ point of no return – as argued in James Lovelock’s The Revenge of Gaia – or whether a ‘window of opportunity’ still remains – the majority view, and, if so, whether this gives us 10, 30 or 50 years’ grace.
We need to recognise, as Stern admirably does, that science cannot make exact predictions when there are so many variables, but that we must act, and act now, because the risk of not doing so vastly outweighs the cost of taking decisive action immediately.
Thirdly, we must respond because Christian faith demands it.
This is a matter of justice. As Stern states: “The poorest countries and people will suffer earliest and most.” Talk to mission and development agencies in Africa and Asia and they are already seeing this. This is also a matter of simple obedience. The Bible may not address global human-induced climate change directly, but it lays a framework for human interaction with the planet.
The shocking truth is that Christians have largely missed the point in terms of God’s purpose for us as human beings on planet Earth. Our primary role from creation onwards is to ‘image God’ in looking after the planet in a just and godly way (Genesis 1.26-28).
The Stern Review may challenge us to put our hands slightly deeper in our pockets, but it assumes that a world predicated on ‘progress’ and ‘profit’ can continue with only slight adjustments. The Bible goes much further.
We are called to metanoia – to a complete about turn in our relationship with God, each other and the planet.
In our relationship with God, we need to rediscover that the planet is God’s, not ours, and that we are answerable for how we treat it. In our relationship with each other, we need to listen to the voices of those whose misery is caused by our luxury. In our relationship with the planet, we need to recognise that we are created from dust, and are interdependent with all life on God’s sustaining mercy.
We address climate change not just so we and our children may be safe but also as an act of worship to the One “by whom and for whom all things were made” (Colossians 1.16).
The Rev Dave Bookless is a CMS Mission Partner in Britain, who works as National Director of the Christian environmental charity A Rocha UK.


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