Let’s start out with a basic fact. Global temperatures are 1-degree C over pre-industrial levels. With that increase we are seeing:
- Melting of the Arctic and Antarctic,
- Accelerating sea level rise,
- Ocean acidification,
- Global ecosystem disruption,
- Spread of vectors and diseases,
- Extreme storm intensification,
- Increased drought and flooding
- Expansion of wildfires
Things are changing so much that scientists are preparing to call an end to the Holocene Epoch, which began 11,700 years ago after the last ice age. It is characterized by the ascent of man and civilization due to ideal climate conditions. The new epoch will be known as the Anthropocene characterized by the destruction of ecosystems and their natural diversity at the hands of man. Habitat destruction and now climate change are leading to the sixth mass extinction on the planet.
The IPPC report insists that global temperatures must be contained at 2-degrees C, preferably 1.5-degrees C to prevent an irreversible ecological catastrophe. The October 2018 IPPC Summary Report stresses that meeting the later goal will require a complete transformation of society unlike any in history – all within 12 years The problem is that there is no realistic comprehensive effort to achieve the 1.5 or 2-degree C goal, and higher global temperatures can be expected to be around 3-5 degrees C at the end of the century due to political inaction and residual carbon in the atmosphere. The Trump Administration’s own estimate is 4 degrees C by 2100, which may be beyond adaptation. Two renowned scientists, Bill McGibben and Lester Brown, stress that we should be on a war footing leading a frontal assault on climate change through rapid transformation to a circular economy along with a full scale conversion to renewable energy.
This is what the faith community needs to prepare for in the coming years – the reality of our ecological and political future and the suffering that will ensue. They will be critically needed to help their congregations adapt to a rapidly changing and frightening world. As we have seen in current day disasters, the faith community is indispensable for spiritual, emotional, educational and even financial support of its members. It is critical that the next generation of clergy lead their congregations with new blood and ideas appropriate for a world in ecological and political crisis. As history has shown, many will seek the solace of their faith and community of their congregations as conditions worsen.
A daunting article by Dr. Kate Marvel, a climate scientist, declares there is no hope of escaping the “new normal” since physical and ecological changes are already underway globally and getting worse. She suggests courage and adaptation are what is needed.
Despite the good efforts of many to mitigate the adverse effects of climate disruption, the future will be a rough road. Yes, this will require courage and adaptation by our children and grandchildren to continually worsening planetary ecological and social conditions. It is for them that I mourn because of the severely damaged world we are leaving them. To finish on a somewhat positive note, courage is contagious. Perhaps, it will be that way again.
The next Sighting blog, “Lessons from the Anthropocene,” will focus on a three-step process for the faith community to prepare for the current and coming ecological changes resulting from climate change.