Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Present Reality

Genuine hope is anchored in the truth. Getting a handle on where we are with regards to both the science and the politics of climate change is essential to the task of finding genuine hope that is grounded in an acceptance of the truth of our situation rather than in its denial. However, gaining a sense of where we can ground our hope is difficult when the truth of our situation is constantly being revised as more of the picture is revealed.

Our knowledge about the extent and speed of climate change and its effects changes with each new piece of data. We have a general picture of what is happening, but specific pieces of that picture change as new data are gathered and feedback loops are discovered. People who follow news about our changing climate have a steady stream of new information to digest, and often that new information comes with the words “sooner than expected” or “worse than predicted”.

Before moving on to some reflection in the fourth post of this series about how we best live as followers of Jesus at this time, then, let’s look at a snapshot of a couple of pieces of what has happened in the past couple of weeks.

Earlier this month, the COP20 climate conference was held in Lima, Peru. This gathering of the parties involved in the United Nations climate negotiations was meant to create a framework for agreement on a strong climate treaty when the parties meet in Paris in a year. Getting a good climate treaty from the Paris meeting has been talked about as a sort of last best hope for averting climate disaster. The meeting in Lima left the door open for that, but does not at all guarantee that the Paris conference will succeed. Critics of the talks have said that the proposals in Lima were too weak: while cutting greenhouse gas emissions to any extent is a good thing, the sorts of cuts that are expected to come out of the Paris negotiations may well be too little too late.

Writing in The Guardian, Suzanne Goldenberg reports that some climate campaigners claim that the outcome of the Lima meeting will be a 4℃ rise in global temperatures rather than the generally accepted limit of two degrees above preindustrial levels. Eric Holthaus writes A Single Word in the Peru Climate Negotiations Undermines the Entire Thing. That word is the change of ‘shall’ to ‘may’ in order to get more nations to agree to the section about international oversight of individual nations’ emissions reductions plans.

Moreover, some question whether the 2℃ goal is a good enough target given recent observations of what is already happening with less than two degrees temperature rise. (See 3.6 Degrees of Uncertainty posted by the New York Times on December 15.) It was thought that the two degree threshold would prevent the loss of the Greenland ice sheet, but we know now that that is not the case. Reports this month say that there is a much greater risk of the Greenland ice sheet melting than earlier computer models had indicated. (See Miguel Llanos’s report for NBC News about two new studies that question these models.) 

As 2014 comes to a close, it is clear that this will probably go on record as the warmest year since record-keeping began. Atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to rise. And while more leaders around the world are beginning to talk about preventing catastrophic climate change, our actions continue to drag behind the rhetoric. 

Given this snapshot of the scientific and political realities in the news this month, what should we do as followers of Jesus? How should we live? And what does hope look like?