“As individuals, as institutions, as a people, we need a change of heart to preserve and protect the planet for our children and for generations yet unborn.”
– Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good, US Catholic Bishops, 2001
Climate Change is under way already. Its effects have been felt from New Orleans to Bangladesh. Across the globe, early warning signs include melting glaciers, shifting ranges of plants and animals and the earlier onset of spring. Churches in small island nations in the Pacific report their young people are leaving – to establish lives where they won’t be inundated by rising seas.
The urgency with which we must act becomes clearer with every new scientific study. The melting and breakup of ice sheets in the Arctic and the Antarctic is happening faster than predicted. Rising temperatures make cold places warmer, but they also make warm places dryer. Rain-fed agriculture in Africa is particularly at risk. Even a small decrease in rainfall can have a large negative effect
Climate Change impacts include:
- More extreme heat waves and droughts
- Rising sea levels
- More severe storm activity (warmer ocean waters spawn fiercer storms)
- Glacier melt will lessen, adversely affecting ground water supplies. Millions, particularly in South Asia, will be affected.
What is Global Warming?
Global warming is caused by an excess of carbon dioxide emissions and other heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere. These are emitted primarily by the burning of fossil fuels and the clearing of forests – 75% and 20%, respectively, of total human-caused CO2 emissions each year. These gases remain in our atmosphere for a hundred years or more.
Until now, the ocean has acted like a great sink, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, but it is close to saturation. Oceanic absorption of carbon has caused it to become more acidic – a threat to coral reefs, already severely compromised in many areas. The acidity causes bleaching and death of the coral. Further coral reef destruction would have a devastating impact on fisheries around the world.
In the United States – our coastal areas, the productivity of our farms, fisheries and forests as well as the livability of our cities – is at risk. But the greatest negative impact of warming will fall on poor countries least able to adapt. Those who contributed least to the problem will likely bear the brunt of it.
Response of the Religious Community
The religious community has been working hard to re-awaken a religious vision of the world as a living interconnected cosmos guided by the Spirit for the enjoyment and nurture of all creatures. Faith communities have been active in urging policy makers to be open to that vision and to act quickly, effectively and to take into consideration the impacts on those least able to cope, both in the US and abroad. Both mitigation (the reduction of greenhouse gases) and adaptation (the ability to cope with the changes that are now inevitable) are both necessary. And, the sooner we act, the lower the price we will all have to pay.