Climate Change and the Future of Humanity


What I have learned during several months of study during the course of writing a long theological paper about climate change and the probable future of humanity, can probably be summed up in a few simple facts, followed by what I think are a few common sense observations.


First, nearly everyone agrees that there has been, especially in the last century or so, definite evidence of global warming. The only real issue, as it seems at this point, is whether or not humans have anything to do with it. Some claim it is all attributable to natural cycles. Some of these cycles, such as the weather fuctuations like El Niño and La Niña and the North Pacific Oscillation, the solar (sunspot) activity cycle, etc., are of comparatively short duration, occuring anywhere from a dozen to three times a century and, at best, can only explain relatively short-term variations in the weather patterns from year to year.  Others, are of much more long term duration, like as the periodic variation in the degree of eccentrity in the earth’s orbit of the sun which reaches an extreme only about every 95,000 years or so.  It is this latter (along with the combined effects of some other long-term solar variations) which probably explains the fairly sudden onset of at least ten “ice ages” over the past million years, each interpersed with prolonged periods of slow global warming.    


Second: However, the existence of such long-term natural cycles do not seem to explain the rapidity of the temperature rise at the present.  Instead, the evidence, especially from the Greenland icecap drillings and from the study of the ocean’s remaining coral reefs, indicates a much higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than during the warm periods after the previous ice ages, especially during the past century or so. When this data is compared to that from previous cycles, most scientists conclude that the major cause of the present upsurge in global warming must be due to the “greenhouse effect” caused primarily by the great increase of fossil fuel burning by humans.


Third (and here we are dealing with paleontogical data that is rarely brought into the debate), we now know that the human race, or at least its early prototypes, barely survived the last two occurances of the ice age cycle. Nor were humans, or even mammals of any appreciable size, around 65 million years ago when the age of dinosaurs abruptly ended and the global climate was much warmer than it is now or or has been ever since.  So whether we (homo sapiens), who seem to have evolved primarily during the previous interglacial warming trend, then gradually replaced the Neanderthals as the last ice age slowly retreated about 20,000 years ago, can survive this latest warming trend remains to be seen. Waiting for massive volcanic eruptions to cool the atmosphere, or until the next ice age begins (not scheduled until about 30,000 years from now) hardly seems like a wise option. Nor is placing one’s trust in the earth as a self-regulating organism any sure bet, especially considering that Mother Nature’s response to past imbalances was a series of mass extinctions of practically all life on earth! 


However, for Christians and for others who believe that they have been called by God to care for the earth and to promote its productivity, I think the message should be at last becoming clear. While more carbon dioxide and acclerated global warming might make some forms of agriculture in the more northernly regions of the earth more productive, the increasing shortage of reliable sources of fresh water elsewhere has, despite the “Green Revolution”, actually reduced agricultural production, while increased agricultural chemical runoff (never mind the BP mess in the Gulf of Mexico) and other forms of pollution have already destroyed large areas of what was once productive offshore fishing grounds, once a major source of protein for much of the world’s population.


All this considred, it seems to me, at least if we claim to be responsible Christians, that we cannot, in good conscience, continue our wasteful and destructive “standard of living” (this while a  major portion of the 6.7 billion who are already alive now are already suffering from deep-set poverty or even malnutrition) — much less expect to “increase and multiply” to the 9.4 billion persons the UN expects by 2050. Instead, I think we must undergo a major revision of what we hold to be “the good life” or else we will deserve to be condemned as destroyers of the fulness of life that we believe God intended to flourish on the face of the earth.


R W Kropf     7/9/10                            ClimateChange.doc