Hurricane Irma is a very loud wake up call. Hurricanes occur naturally as warmer seas evaporate and release energy when the water vapour condenses, feeding the violent winds, heavy deluges of rain and storm surges.
Global warming did not cause Irma but will have increased the severity of such hurricanes. The consequences are all too obvious to the people of the Caribbean and Florida this week.
Global warming is changing the world’s climate. We see the evidence of this in the rising global temperatures, warming oceans, declining Arctic sea ice, glacial retreat and decreased snow cover in the Alps, rising sea levels, ocean acidification and extreme weather like hurricane Irma. The hard truth is that these changes are almost certainly the result of human activity since the middle of the last century. A few people, including Donald Trump, deny this but it seems that 97% of scientists researching these developments agree we are responsible. The UN conference in Paris in December 2015 produced the COP 21 treaty to which Britain signed up along with nearly 200 other nations. They all agreed to cut carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases to stop global temperatures rising by 2 degrees and ideally by no more than 1.5 degrees.
To help achieve this the Government has said new petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2040 and all cars must have zero emissions by 2050. France has followed suit, India’s target is 2030 and Norway’s is 2025. The US has no federal policy but eight states have set their own goals. In the short term this means a shift to electric powered vehicles or hybrids. Obviously car manufacturers have to plan for meeting these targets and that means intensive research into battery capacity and decarbonisation and that poses problems.
The real challenge will be with lorries not cars. The Economist magazine reported (2.9. 2017) that “40% of greenhouse emissions from global road traffic in 2015 came from freight, much of it in long-haul operations”. Experiments on electric freight vehicles are being conducted but a battery pack for a truck with a range of 600 miles would weigh sixteen tons according to two researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA. Hybrids are the half-way house but even they have to be made pollutant free. Traffic emissions cause air pollution and London’s Mayor is now charging drivers of diesel cars extra to travel into the city. Air pollution in China is even more serious and the Government there has set much tougher targets.
Another consequence of climate change is the movement of large numbers of Africans to Europe. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reckons 21.5 million people have been displaced since 2008 because of climate change. Reduced rainfall has created prolonged droughts which make growing crops impossible. As a result people seek to move to Europe simply to survive, creating problems for recipient countries. Rising sea levels have flooded low lying islands and coastal areas. In Bangladesh, this has contaminated farm land with salt water and forced the inhabitants to migrate. The injustice in this is that these climate changes were caused by the prosperous industrial societies of the first world not by third world farmers and their families.
Thus climate change raises moral and spiritual questions as well as scientific and industrial ones. What are we doing to help these victims of the carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses we are creating? More than that, what problems are we bequeathing to our children and grandchildren. From a Christian perspective, what sort of caretakers are we of God’s creation? We all have a duty to do something. Some possibilities are walking or cycling instead of driving where possible, driving
economically and not leaving the engine idling for more than 30 seconds, insulate our homes and consider installing solar panels to generate our electricity, switch off computers when not using them, avoid wasting food and recycle responsibly, lobby our MPs and local councils to think green in the policies they make. Future generations will benefit and our Creator will surely bless us.