Global Warming and Climate Change: Our Prudent Approach - Catholic Rural Life

Global Warming and Climate Change: Our Prudent Approach

Robert Gronski • March 17, 2014

Stewardship of Creation

It has been a cold winter for many of us. Parts of the country were not use to prolonged periods of polar cold. Rural areas that depend on propane gas for their heat really felt the impact. It’s also been a particularly snowy winter for some, even as others continue through a period of drought. Something’s up.

Whether or not this is an aspect of global warming and its attendant climate change is not a debate I can resolve in one blog posting. Or perhaps even hundreds of postings! But that does not prevent us at Catholic Rural Life to recount a prudent approach to global warming.

[Click here to read the U.S. Catholic Bishops statement on Global Climate Change: A Plea for Prudence and the Common Good]

Perhaps you followed news reports last week about 30 or so Democratic senators doing an all-nighter (15 hours) of speeches about climate change. They emphasized that climate change is real and humans contribute to its cause. They said there is a danger of inaction. They also said it is also solvable.

(According to one report, Republicans challenged Democrats to bring legislation to the floor to address the problem. They were secure in knowing that this wouldn’t happen, at least this mid-term election year.)

Needless to say, global warming is a politically charged issue. Given that some seats in the Senate will be tough election fights, no one cares to put their chances on the line for dealing with climate change – despite the supporting evidence and urgency of calls. And despite that human suffering will ensue when temperatures begin to spike. Strange times we live in.

Catholic Climate Covenant

Catholic Rural Life is a partner several other Catholic groups which convene under the auspices of the Catholic Climate Covenant. The executive director of that effort, Dan Misleh, recently had an article in U.S. Catholic: Is fracking the answer to our energy crisis? I reference this piece because Dan succinctly states what we need to understand about the complexities of climate change in order to take a prudent approach:

“The problem of climate change is well understood, even if the outcomes are not entirely certain. Fossil fuel consumption is generating greenhouse gas pollution, that is, more greenhouse gases beyond what naturally occurs to keep the planet in balance. We have to immediately slow and quickly reverse this activity or we’ll likely cook the planet and generate enormous hardship for ourselves, especially the poor and vulnerable. So what’s the tool, what’s the lever that we need to get the job done smarter and with less pain?”

In a moment I’ll get to what that lever – actually, set of tools – that Dan is referring to.  But I wanted to make sure that the science of global warming is not a “take it or leave it” proposition based on personal or political beliefs. Science clearly explains that the average temperature of the earth is set by its atmosphere – that great protective covering which warms the planet for us and makes the web of life possible. Otherwise, this would be a very cold place indeed.

Here’s how Wikipedia explains it: On earth, naturally occurring amounts of greenhouse gases have a mean warming effect of about 33 °C (59 °F).  Without the Earth’s atmosphere, the temperature across almost the entire surface of the Earth would be below freezing. The major greenhouse gases are water vapor, which causes a significant part of the greenhouse effect; carbon dioxide (CO2), which causes 9–26%; methane (CH4), which causes 4–9%; and ozone (O3), which causes 3–7%.

Clouds also affect the radiation balance affecting the climate, but no need to get too deep into atmospheric science. I merely want to show that greenhouse gases and global warming have been working very well for us – that is, until we went overboard with the human contribution of burning way too much fossil fuel over a relatively short historical period of time.

Easing the Stoking of Global Warming

It seems odd to argue that pumping more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere will not continue to raise global temperatures. It simply makes no sense, given the fact that is exactly how the earthly atmosphere works from time immemorial. Whether or not the impacts will be devastating remain to be seen, but it is scientifically certain that some kind of impact will occur.

Catholic Rural Life is a faith-based organization, and that faith tells me that God and the prophets tend to send us warnings well before hand to curb our excesses, walk humbly and live justly. Our human impact on the earth and all its biological beauty can and has caused serious problems, especially throughout the Industrial Age, so it’s hard to believe this will not occur as we artificially warm the earth.

Therefore, it seems imminently prudent to control our human-induced greenhouse gases – excessive burning of fossil fuels – in order to prevent the disorder that increased global warming will bring: disorder in how much rain falls (or not) in various parts of the world; intensity in storms and winds; melting of polar ice and raising of sea levels.

Here I come back around to the “lever” or set of tools that Dan Misleh identified in his article in US Catholic. The practical tools, you might guess, are better energy conservation and more “clean” energy from renewable sources. But he also mentions a change in outlook or attitude by us – as consumers, as citizens and as children of God.

We have to overcome our own tangled wing that prevents us from rising and resolving our human-induced dilemma. I see it is a struggle between those who cling to the Old Economy that must guzzle fossil fuels to continue and those seeking a New Economy based on renewable energy and temperance. But anything truly new always brings a transformative change in who controls, who decides, and who “wins”. How do we go forward and speak truth to the oil wealth and power of those in control of today’s economy?

Becoming Protectors of Creation

It was one year ago that Pope Francis, in his inaugural address at the Vatican on March 19, 2013, that he asked a straightforward question to those in power. It was virtually a challenge: “I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

This we must keep asking, keep advocating and keep pushing if we expect to see a change in our lifetimes – and a safe, secure, sustainable life for generations to come.

Resource Links:

Catholic Climate Covenant

U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on Environmental Justice

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: climate change, agriculture and federal policies

“What We Know” / American Association for the Advancement of Science

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