I've been seriously engaged with climate change since 1992, and it seems to me that as a society we've entered into a strange place concerning the truth about climate change. It's as if we entered a "fun house" at one of those traveling carnivals, where curved mirrors distort our bodies and faces into strange shapes. Some of us seem to be camping out in the fun house, ready to accept what we see in its curved mirrors as the truth about climate change. Others of us seem content to live at the carnival -- eating junk food, playing games in hopes of winning a cheap stuffed animal, riding the rides, banging into others in the bumper cars. Every now and then we think about leaving, but carnival barkers badger us, even intimidate us, into staying. As the cheap thrills wear off we know that we should get back to reality -- we see it past the carnival gates -- but for now we stay. "Let's go back to the bumper cars one more time! How about another fried Twinkie?"
Here's the bottom line, which I will explore more fully in a follow-up post: No Christian or person of good will can stay in the carnival of climate denial. The love from God in our hearts -- love for Him and for others -- will help us face the truth. Indeed, it is incompatible with climate denial and climate inaction. But as is true with our whole lives, we must let His love transform us so we can accept the truth about climate change and our need to act.
At the carnival of climate denial, barkers and hucksters abound. Perhaps the loudest and most insistent and intimidating is Rush Limbaugh.
When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts, had the temerity recently to buck what Mr. Limbaugh deems as party orthodoxy (i.e., climate denial), here's what Mr. Limbaugh had to say:
LIMBAUGH: Bye-bye, nomination. Bye-bye nomination. Another one down. We're in the midst here of discovering that this is all a hoax. The last year has established that the whole premise of manmade global warming is a hoax, and we still have presidential candidates who want to buy into it!
Mr. Limbaugh is an obvious target to be described as a barker at the carnival of climate denial.
But there are others at the carnival, legitimate scientists from impressive places like MIT and Harvard and Princeton who are also climate denialists. In addition, some of the legitimate scientists at the carnival include self-professed Christians -- decent men from all appearances. All of this lends credence to remaining within the gates of the carnival.
Yet outside the gates of climate denial and its fun house of curved mirrors, the truth about climate change continues to reveal itself to anyone who allows the love of God to give them "eyes to see." This includes reports and warnings from the most respected scientific bodies from the U.S. and around the world, as well as more and more extreme weather events.
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is the nation's premiere scientific body, established to advise the government on what science has to say about important decisions our elected officials need to make. Over the past year the NAS has issued a series of major reports on climate change, beginning with one published in May 2010 on the science. The report regards both climate change and that human activities are the primary cause as "settled facts" (p. 17). It states:
"Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for -- and in many cases is already affecting -- a broad range of human and natural systems" (p. 21).
It warns: "The ultimate magnitude of climate change and the severity of its impacts depend strongly on the actions that human societies take to respond to these risks" (p. 22).
These scientific conclusions may be new to you. You may have seen news accounts that suggest there is still a debate going on in the scientific community. Those inside the gates at the carnival of climate denial want to convince you that a real debate still rages, that the science isn't settled.
The truth is this: a consensus on these conclusions was reached over a decade ago by scientific experts from here in the U.S. and around the world. Those who say otherwise are deceiving themselves and you.
The final report (May 2011) in the recent NAS series on climate change concerns both the need for action and suggestions on the way forward. Here is how they summarize the need for action now:
• The faster that greenhouse gas emissions are reduced, the lower the risks; and the less pressure there is to make steeper and potentially more expensive reductions later.
• Investments currently being made in energy-related infrastructure and equipment will lock in emissions commitments for decades to come. Enacting relevant policies now will provide crucial guidance for those investment decisions.
• The risks of continuing "business as usual" are greater than the risks associated with strong efforts to limit and adapt to climate change. Policy changes can potentially be reversed or scaled back if needed, whereas many adverse changes in the climate system would be difficult or impossible to "undo."
So, here's the truth: invest now, or pay much more later. Invest now, or risk harmful, systemic and essentially irreversible changes.
The prudent thing is to act boldly now with "strong efforts." Waiting is the risky thing. Again, those who tell you otherwise are deceiving themselves and you. They want to keep you at the carnival of climate denial. But doing so is incompatible with the love of God.
Recent Extreme Weather
It's hard to not have noticed the extreme weather happening here in the U.S. and around the world. But to be clear from the outset, not all recent extreme weather events have been intensified by climate change. For example, preliminary scientific analysis suggests that the Russian heat wave of 2010 was a rare but natural occurrence. There is as of yet insufficient evidence to link climate change to supercharged tornadoes like the ones that ripped through Alabama and the Southeast in late April and that hit Joplin, Mo., on May 22.
Climate is weather over time, and climate change results in a change in weather patterns. It takes time for such changed patterns to emerge and for scientists to be able to then say that climate change has happened. So scientists usually focus on patterns, and not on whether climate change intensified a particular event.
But scientists have predicted what a warmer world looks like: more floods and droughts, more heat waves, more intense storms. Even a major (but nearly unknown) report in June 2008 from the Bush Administration affirmed that such climate-intensified weather patterns had been occurring in recent decades.
So what's been in the news lately? Let's see. Well, there's been...
- Flooding at near-record to record levels along the Mississippi River from Illinois to Louisiana, inundating thousands of acres and creating the largest dead zone yet in the Gulf of Mexico due to the excessive nutrient run-off. And it looks like record-level Missouri River flooding might not be far behind.
- Drought and wildfires so bad in Texas this spring that in April Gov. Rick Perry asked everyone to pray for rain. Indeed, this is the driest Texas has been since records started being kept in 1895.
- Wildfires raging in Arizona that are already the largest in state history.
Similar events are happening all around the world both this year and last, from the devastating floods in Pakistan to floods and drought and wildfires in Australia to drought in China impacting their wheat crop and thereby raising prices around the world.
The weather extremes and weather patterns are communicating to anyone with eyes to see what a warming world looks like. As a recent Newsweek cover story on the reality of climate change put it, "Batten down the hatches."
Climate Pollution in 2010
Even with the ill effects of a global recession still lingering, in 2010 global emissions of greenhouse gases from energy consumption were the highest ever at 30.6 gigatonnes (Gt), a 5 percent jump from the previous record year in 2008, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
This level of pollution and the rate of growth means we are nearly out of time. If we do not take serious, dramatic, society-altering steps to overcome global warming soon, then we may not be able to avoid tipping points that produce consequences far beyond the significant impacts I outline in my book, "Global Warming and the Risen LORD."
According to the IEA, to avoid these very dangerous tipping points, emissions must peak at 32 Gt. At our current rate we will reach that level sometime in the next two years. And 80 percent of such pollution is locked in, coming as it does from power plants and industries and vehicles already built and in use around the world.
Truth is, we're getting dangerously close to driving off a cliff in the clown car of climate denial. Scientists have posted signs with blinking lights warning there's a cliff ahead. They are essentially yelling, "Stop, stop! Reverse course!" But those with us in the clown car say "Cliff? What cliff? I don't see no cliff! Hit the gas! Yippee!"
The facts, the evidence, the findings are clear. The truth is plain to see for those who allow the love of God to give them eyes to see. It's well past time to hit the brakes and get out of the clown car and exit the gate at the carnival of climate denial. Time to be a grown-up.
The Rev. Jim Ball is author of 'Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian Discipleship and Climate Change.'