I just flashed back to the 1940ies, when if a news story broke between the time the morning paper and evening paper were published, there would be a special addition of the paper. If you happened to be downtown, you’d see and hear paperboys in their corduroy knickers and wool caps, waiving papers with large headlines, like JAPANESE BOMB PEARL HARBOR. To get your attention that something important happened, they’d yell at the top of their voices, Extra! Extra! Read all about it!Well, Stop the Press, I’m breaking into the commentary I was writing, because I am concerned with several issues that aren’t actually new, but have irrupted to a new level recently and need to be addressed as breaking news, on climate change and global warming.My hope is that I can provide you with enough information to realize at an intellectual and emotional level, that we are not winning the climate change and global warming battle, and encourage you to put these issues of environmental justice on the same level for change, as we do social justice.
I believe that each of us has a responsibility to learn everything we can about climate change and global warming, so we can become part of the solution, not as scientists but as followers of Jesus. I believe Jesus would be leading the way to save Mother Earth, if his earthly ministry were during the 21st Century. This commentary will provide basic scientific knowledge for us to be informed advocates for future generations.
WHAT IS GLOBAL WARMING, CLIMATE CHANGE AND GREENHOUSE GASSES?
Just so we’re all on the same page, as they say, here are some brief definitions of some of the major terms that are often confusing. Climate change and global warming are the terms that are commonly and often used interchangeably; however they are two different phenomena. They both are causing drastic changes to our planet. Climate change is change in the climate of a region of the world, which occurs over a long period of time. Global warming is the rise in the average temperature of the atmosphere surrounding the Earth. Most scientists agree that Global warming and Climate change are a threat for every living thing on earth.
The Greenhouse effect is the change in the earth’s climate caused by accumulation of solar heat in the earth’s surface and atmosphere. Human activity contributes increasing amounts of the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and chlorofluorocarbon, to the atmosphere. Some of the particles and gases in the atmosphere also allow more sunlight to filter through to the earth’s surface but reflects much of the radiant infrared energy that otherwise would escape through the atmosphere back into space. For more information here is a website article entitledThe Connection between Greenhouse Gases, Climate Change, and Global Warming,[LINK]andanother, Greenhouse Gases and Why they are Increasing on the website ofUS Energy Information Administration(EIA) [LINK]
THE DANGER OF THE CLIMATE CLIFF
For several months the local, national, and international media has focused on the consequences of United States congress letting us go over the Fiscal Cliff , and the likelihood that its lack of action would have on the global economy. As we all know now, after keeping us in suspense at the very brink of a likely disaster, they came up with a “stop gap solution” that kicked the proverbial can down the road. As irresponsible as the way congress handled that situation was, it pales in comparison with how the power elite in our global community refuses to acknowledge the scientific facts that we are getting dangerously close to the tipping point of going over the Climate Cliff.
In early January of 2013, Moyers and Co. aired a TV program entitled, Ending the Silence on Climate Change, hosted by Bill Moyers. In his introduction Moyers took what some might think is a provocative position of our going over the Climate Cliff. He warned, “Meanwhile another reality beckons and there’s a menace more threatening than the Fiscal Cliff. What should really be scaring the daylights out of us-the crisis which could makeall others irrelevant-is global warming. Get this one wrong and its over-not just for the USA, but for planet Earth.” His interview with scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, director of theYale Project on Climate Change Communication, and specialist in the psychology of risk perception, made his position on theClimate Cliff more plausible. To paraphrase James Carville’s slogan that he coined for Bill Clinton’s election campaign, “It’s the climate change, stupid”!
In addition to providing important scientific information about global warming, Leiserowitz provides answers to the questions, “Why isn’t this planetary emergency on every politicians mind? Why are any of us still silent?” He also points out: the theme of social justice, that we have a responsibility to take care of the poor, the sick, the powerless both in our own country, and around the world; the argument that how can it be okay in good conscience for us to “…ignore a problem that’s going to push millions of people around the world into the exact same kinds of circumstances we’re trying to help them with”; the need to engage both the faith, secular and scientific communities and identifies six groups, all with different needs for information in order to become engaged with part of the solution. Additionally he provides a number of solutions, which as I said above I’ll cover in another commentary. Here is the video of Moyers’ interview. [LINK] It’s approximately fifty minutes, and right under the screen is a link to a full transcript of the interview.
THE TIPPING POINT
In my last commentary in Catholica, The Creeping Culture of Consumerism [LINK], I discussed how we needed to become more conscious and conscientious consumers by reconsidering how we value and acquired stuff, and for the sake of the planet, how we dispose of stuff. Our appetite for accumulating more stuff than we need not only has an effect on us spiritually. How can we damage our environment by not disposing our stuff properly, and live a spiritual life at the same time?
I don’t presume to be an expert on climatology, but I have been researching what some of the most acknowledged scientist have concluded. Here is an eBook entitled, Storm Warnings: Climate Change and Extreme Weather. The book was published by the editors of Scientific American, which is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. You can go to Amazon.com “to look inside” and read sections including the Table of Contents, which lists 22 articles from different authors. After reading the book, I felt as if I completed a course in Climatology 101. The book is available for $3.00. [LINK]
Here’s a book with a provocative title, Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change. I suspect that title was chosen to attract attention, because the author, Clive Hamilton, questions others who use environmental warnings that are apocalyptic, and his text is less seditious than his title. He is clearly concerned that the growth of global greenhouse gas emission which is now “…exceeding the worst case scenarios of a few years ago, and we will pass the tipping points that will trigger irreversible changes in climate…” However, instead of debating the science, he focuses on why people, including some scientists, deny climate change and oppose most steps offered to prevent it. Hamilton believes that the reason most politians don’t act on the findings of the majority of scientists, is because they are trumped by “… power, money, bureaucratic inertia, and our own innate desire to ignore what we don’t want to believe.” It’s clear that he believes that large corporations are the major offenders behind climate change resistance. So we’re not dealing with just the problem of climate change, but with the power elites, and our own tendency to ignore problems by denial. As they say in the 12 step programs, “denial is not a river in Egypt” it’s the elephant in the living room that everybody ignores.
In the early chapters he describes gloomy probabilities for the environment’s destiny given the power of the contrarians. But later in the book he offers solutions. He calls for action-immediately and resolutely. But even if the future looks grim, Hamilton’s position is, “…action is the best cure for despair.”
FOR OUR GRANDCHILDREN
Whether or not you have grandchildren, here’s a book for everyone who’s concerned about the safety and wellbeing of future generations: The Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe, by James Hansen. It’s available as an eBook on Amazon.com for $3.00. Here is some more information about the author and his book. [LINK]
Rather than giving my version of his positions on the damage global warming is having on our environment, here is a twenty minute presentation he gave on the TED YouTube series. You’ll see a person, who is not only an eminent scholar and expert on global warming, but a grandfather who is deeply concerned about his grandchildren’s future on a planet that is moving towards disaster, and a social activist who is willing to go to jail for the sake of future generations. [LINK]
At the risk of overloading you, here’s a recent fifteen minute YouTube interview with James Hansen, entitled Human Fingerprints on Sandy, in which he connects climate change as one of the major causes of Hurricane Sandy as well as: storms, floods, wildfires, heat waves and droughts, that are increasing in scale, severity and frequency. [LINK] If you’re interested in an extended interview with Hansen click here [LINK] .
SWAT THE MOSQUITOES OR CLEAN UP THE SWAMP?
As a former professor of mine advised me over fifty years ago, “We need to keep our hands on the near things and our eyes on the far things.” He put it in more concrete language when he said, “As social workers we need to swat the mosquitoes and clean up the swamps at the same time.” It seemed to be wise advice at the time. It fit well with my religious values, and with the ethics of the profession of social work that I practiced and taught for well over thirty years. Social work practice focused for years on the Person in their Environment (PIE). Until recently the environments that they dealt with, were limited to the family, small groups, communities, and large organizations, like corporations. However, in the last dozen years the social work profession has begun to realize how important it is to be committed to environmental issues, while at the same time not abandoning their responsibility to the Person in their Environment. So the old adage of the mosquitoes and the swamp still applies. The difference is that our sense of environment extends to Mother Earth.
My point is, that just as the profession of social work has adapted to the 21st century and is becoming more involved with the survival and sustainability of future generations, I believe that we all have to be equally involved in that mission. I intend to write a follow-up commentary on strategies we can use personally to be part of the solution in our everyday lives, and how we can work in solidarity with those who have been laboring in the vineyard of cosmic social change. I will pay special attention to the role the Catholic Church and other faith communities have taken in sounding the warning bell that the fate of our planet is our Common Responsibility. I am convinced that if we don’t make it a priority to become part of the solution of global warming, future generations will suffer. Personally, I’ve decided that however much time I have left, my mission is to do what I can to become involved and promote causes, whose focal point is sustaining our planet. At this point, anything else seems like “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”.
Let us pray for the environment!
PRAYER for the ENVIRONMENT
teach us to conserve, preserve, and use wisely
the blessed treasures of our wealth-stored Earth.
Help us to share your bounty, not waste it,
or pervert it into peril for our children or our neighbors in other nations.
You who are life and energy and blessings,
teach us to revere and respect our tender world.