Owning the Issue of Climate Change
Dr. Olav Slaymaker, Professor Emeritus UBC Geography
Everyone is talking about the changing climate, but not everyone has a clear understanding of the distinction between climate and weather. Whereas weather is an every day observable phenomenon with which we are all familiar, climate is an abstract term that depends on the length of weather record available. From the 1950s to the 1990s, for example, Environment Canada’s Meteorological Service, used a 30-year weather record to define the climate of Canada (e.g. 1950-1980; 1960-1990 and 1970-2000). It became increasingly evident that the 30-year average was itself changing with each new 30-year period; hence the question became ‘was that average weather itself changing in a consistent direction?’ At the same time, the build up of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was accelerating as measured from 1959 to 1990 (and continuing today) at Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The close association between the changing climate and the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere led the 1990, 1995, and 2001 IPCC Reports to the conclusion that there was unambiguous evidence of the influence of human activity on the global climate (IPCC Report, 2007). What we are seeing today is an endless tale of woe following an unprecedented series of weather events: e.g. “atmospheric river” events, such as November, 2021), “heat dome” events, (e.g. June 25/July 1, 2021), air quality “alerts” with high health risks (e.g. summer2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021), damaging “wind-storm” events, combined with exceptional rainfall and high tides (e.g. December 20, 2018), and “ocean-warming” events generating harmful algal blooms, large gelatinous zooplankton and invasion by warm water species (e.g. 2013-2015). These weather events are not in themselves evidence of climate change, but their cumulative impact over a decade is consistent with climate change, as concluded by the early IPCC Reports and confirmed in IPCC Reports 2013 and 2019.
There are four phenomena that have to be considered: (i) global climate is always in a state of flux, a function of the varying intensity of solar flares; (ii) the global climate has been changing more rapidly over the past century, coincident with the exponential increase of population and resource use intensity, than over the previous 10,000 years; (iii) global warming is the dominant direction of change at the terrestrial surface of the Earth over the past century, associated with the accelerated release of greenhouse gases; and (iv) human acquisitive behaviour is the root cause of climate change. We humans are either directly or indirectly responsible through unrestricted demographic growth (global population having been allowed to grow from 2.5 to 7.5 billion since the 1930s), increasing reliance on fossil fuels, and disrespectful exploitation of lands and seas (logging of old growth forests, mining without attendant land surface restitution, poorly planned urban growth, and transportation corridors that ignore community disruption). No single solution to a meta-problem like this can be offered. William Rees’ diagnosis of global overshoot is exactly right (Wackernagel and Rees, 1996). Humanity has exceeded the ability of the Earth to sustain 7.5 billion people with a lifestyle comparable to that of 21st century North Americans. Sustainability of our lifestyles requires either massive reduction of our demand on Earth’s resources or order-of-magnitude increased investments in alternative energy sources. Our ecological predicament at global scale is grim and ecologies of hope are scarce. The major themes of the apocalyptic vision of the Apostle John seem highly credible as we reflect on contemporary attempts to force a Sixth Extinction in geological history.
The fundamental question facing society is whether the present generation has a moral or ethical obligation to future generations in terms of the type of world we leave behind as our legacy. Science alone cannot, and will not, answer this question. It takes courage for us to reimagine who we are and where we are going. Charles Taylor (2007) talks eloquently about the enchanted world of pre-1500 society, in which people’s minds were “porous”, living in an enchanted world by contrast with the modern disenchanted world, in which cynicism prevails and minds are “buffered” by Kantian and neo-liberal dualism. Becoming more “porous” probably means emulating a First Nations style love of the created order, and becoming more deeply enchanted by the Judaeo-Christian understanding of the interdependence of humanity and nature.
~Olav Slaymaker, CM, Professor Emeritus of Geography, University of British Columbia.
IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) 1990, 1995, 2001, 2007, 2013, and 2019. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK. Many thousands of pages.
Taylor C. 2007. A Secular Age. Belknap Press, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, USA. 874 pp.
Wackernagel M, Rees W. 1996. Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth. The New Society Publishers, Philadelphia. PA, USA. 160 pp.
Katherine Hayhoe Awarded The Nobel Prize For Environmental Evangelism
Katherine Hayhoe, PhD University of Toronto, is an atmospheric scientist and professor of political science at Texas Tech University, where she is director of the Climate Science Center. She is also the CEO of the consulting firm ATMOS Research.
Hayhoe has worked at Texas Tech since 2005. She has authored more than 120 peer-reviewed publications, and wrote the book A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions together with her husband, Andrew Farley. She also co-authored some reports for the US Global Change Research Program, as well as some National Academy of Sciences reports, including the 3rd National Climate Assessment, released on May 6, 2014. Shortly after the report was released, Hayhoe said, “Climate change is here and now, and not in some distant time or place,” adding that “The choices we’re making today will have a significant impact on our future.” She has also served as an expert reviewer for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change‘s Fourth Assessment Report.
Professor John Abraham has called her “perhaps the best communicator on climate change.” Time magazine listed her among the 100 most influential people in 2014. Also in 2014, the American Geophysical Union awarded her its climate communications award.The first episode of the documentary TV series Years of Living Dangerously features her work and her communication with religious audiences in Texas.
On September 16, 2019 Hayhoe was named one of the United Nations Champions of the Earth in the science and innovation category.
Other Resources on Earth Care:
Steven Bouma-Prediger, For the Beauty of the Earth: A Christian Vision of Creation Care (Engaging Culture).
Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, A Worldly Spirituality: The Call to Care for the Earth.
Cal De Witt (2011) of the Au Sable Institute, Earthwise: A Guide to Hopeful Creation Care.
Loren Wilkinson retired professor from Regent College, Vancouver, BC, inspiration behind White Rock, BC A Rocha Centre (along with Peter & Miranda Harris).
Rowan Williams, Former Archbishop of Canterbury
E. F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful.
Wendell Berry, poet, novelist, prophet, environmental activist, and farmer The Peace of Wild Things.