What to do when the powers drag their feet?by Gordon Houser
In Kansas, where I live, we have experienced a second consecutive summer of extreme heat and drought. We are not alone. People I talk to keep hoping this is an anomaly, a simple weather pattern that will change and bring cooler, wetter weather next summer.
Would that it were true. But the overwhelming evidence from climate scientists around the world is that climate change is happening. And “an increasing body of science points to rising dangers from the ongoing buildup of human-related greenhouse gases—produced mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and forests,” according to a report in the New York Times.
Furthermore, “global emissions of carbon dioxide jumped by the largest amount on record in 2010” (5.9 percent). This trend, scientists fear, “will make it difficult, if not impossible, to forestall severe climate change in coming decades.”
Meanwhile, political powers have generally put the brakes on taking any kind of concerted action to address this problem. The United Nations can’t agree on a plan, and the U.S. Congress is influenced by money from fossil fuel companies and ideological foes to the idea that humans contribute to climate change.
A growing number of businesses recognize that short-term profits aren’t too helpful when long-term survival is in question, and there are some hopeful changes being made. But unless the majority of political powers get on board and make significant changes in the production of greenhouse gases, the heat and droughts and storms will likely continue.
I say likely because science deals in probabilities, not certainties. Many people seem to think that if something isn’t certain they don’t have to worry about it, especially if it means they’ll have to change how they live.
There has been an established scientific consensus about the role of climate change in causing weather extremes, but a recent paper by James D. Hansen, a prominent NASA climate scientist, and two co-authors has gone further in tying specific weather events to climate change.
According to the paper, published online on Aug. 6, “scientists can claim with near certainty that events like the Texas heat wave last year, the Russian heat wave of 2010 and the European heat wave of 2003 would not have happened without the planetary warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases,” writes Justin Gillis the New York Times.
The paper argues that “the percentage of the earth’s land surface covered by extreme heat in the summer has soared in recent decades, from less than 1 percent in the years before 1980 to as much as 13 percent in recent years.”
In an interview, Hansen says that “the change is too large to be natural,” and adds, “It’s just going to get worse.”
The response of his scientific colleagues, however, was split. Some experts agreed with the paper’s findings, while others were not persuaded that specific heat waves could be tied to global warming.
One climate scientist, Andrew J. Weaver, “compared the warming of recent years to a measles outbreak popping up in different places. As with a measles epidemic, he said, it makes sense to suspect a common cause,” writes Gillis.
While the powers drag their feet, what do we do? Ignore the evidence and hope for the best? Let the next generation take care of it?
Perhaps what we do individually seems small, insignificant. But Mennonites have often claimed we are called to be faithful, not just effective. Let’s be faithful.
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