Jesus said that wars, famines, earthquakes, pestilences etc., were “the beginning of birth-pains” of the Messiah (Matt 24:6-8), i.e. early reminders that he would return to deal with injustices and suffering of the world. Global warming fits into this category of “the beginning of birth-pains” of the Messiah.

Global warming sceptics

There are, of course, people who deny that global warming is happening, for example Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, many members of the US Republican Party and the Wall Street Journal. Nigel Lawson’s Global Warming Policy Foundation also does so. According to press reports in September 2014 the GWPF is secretly funded by the Institute of Economic Affairs which is itself funded by fossil fuel companies which have a vested interest in denying global warming.

On the other hand, the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, which have cast doubt on global warming in the past, have now changed their tune and accept that it is happening and human beings play a role in it.

One argument against global warming is the claim that warming has been on pause in the last 15 years. However scientists point out that, whereas global warming has slowed down, there has still been a rise of 0.2℃ over the last 15 years. They also point out that a reason for the slowdown is that excess heat is being stored in the Atlantic and Southern Oceans and that a natural ocean cycle will cause the temperature to rise in around 15 years’ time. The Pacific may also have a similar role. Trade winds help the oceans to absorb heat into an area 100 -300 metres below the surface. These trade winds are likely to drop in some years’ time (probably soon after 2020) which will facilitate the heat being released. Scientists also point out that volcanic eruptions spread particles into the atmosphere which reflect the sun’s heat back into space, thus acting against global warming.

The fact is that the World Meteorological Organisation has reported that 13 of the 14 warmest years have occurred since 2000 and each of the last three decades has been warmer than the previous one, with 2001-2010 the warmest on record.

The WMO also reported that concentrations of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere increased faster in 2012-13 than at any time since 1984. They were 142% of pre-Industrial Revolution levels. Methane was 253% and Nitrous Oxide 121% of pre-industrial levels, both of them greenhouse gases. The seas are becoming more acidic at a greater rate than for 300 years.

The effects of global warming

It would be a mistake to put all the extreme weather and other disasters (floods, hurricanes, drought, heatwaves, etc) down solely to global warming. The world population has doubled since the 1970s and many expanding cities are either built on the coast or on flood plains. Some scientists are considering declaring 1950 to be the start of a new geological age called the Anthropocene which refers to the human domination of the planet. It has been characterised by dramatic population increase and industrial development leading to great pollution and waste. Pollution is said to cause 1 in 8 human deaths. The so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch – a floating ‘island’ of rubbish – is said to be twice the size of the United States. Forests have been cut down, oceans over-fished and many species becoming almost or actually extinct. This will all be evident in the sediments which will form the rocks and fossils in the future.

However, climate change is predicted to have serious effects:

Extreme weather: Hotter air holds more moisture which will lead to extreme precipitation, and, of course, water expands as it grows warmer which will lead to flooding. This can be linked with melting ice caps. Also the Amazon rainforest, the “lungs of the earth” is drying out making it vulnerable to massive forest fires. In 2005 and 2010 it became a net producer rather than an absorber of Carbon Dioxide.

Hunger: because of reduction in food production and increasing prices.

Heat-related deaths: The Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health points out that “many countries experience annual heat-related and cold-related deaths associated with current weather patterns.” It added that “heat-related deaths would be expected to rise by around 257% by the 2050s.”

Violence: because of growing poverty and hunger and resulting migration. The 2014 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report stated: “Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger.” It is also obscene that half of the world’s wealth is owned by 1% of the population. The US Center for Naval Analyses Military Advisory Board, described climate change as a “catalyst for conflict.” It claims that it “will aggravate stressors abroad, such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence” as “massive floods, water shortages and famines … are expected to hit and decimate unstable nations.”

Water shortage and flooding: experts are speaking of the 21st century being characterised by “water in the wrong place” – a lack of drinking water in some places and flooding in others. Water tables are falling in every continent. Arctic ice is disappearing much faster than scientists expected. Flooding in Europe is likely to double by 2050. Dame Julia Slingo, chief scientist at the Meteorological Office, said that in early 2014 the UK had seen the “most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years.”

Ocean acidification: because of absorption of carbon dioxide. This will lead to a shortage of fish for those dependent on it as a food.

Extinction of species: In 2007 the IPCC suggested that 20 to 30% of plant and animal species faced an increased risk of extinction this century if the planet keeps warming. The wildlife population is less than 50% of what it was 40 years ago and valuable habitats are being destroyed.

John Kerry US Secretary of State said in February 2014: “Climate change can now be considered another weapon of mass destruction, perhaps even the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”

Attempts to combat global warming

Various methods have been suggested, for example:

Reflecting sunlight back into space: This could be done by spraying sulphate particles high in the atmosphere, whitening low clouds by spraying salt water above the oceans, thinning high cirrus clouds to allow more heat to escape from the earth, whitening the ocean surface to reflect more sunlight by generating microbubbles or covering deserts with shiny material. However a study in November 2014 showed that these methods would cause worse floods and droughts for billions of people.

Extracting Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere: This would require burning many plants and trees in power plants and capturing the Carbon Dioxide from them. It would require the planting of huge numbers of trees. This would be very expensive.

Climate Change talks

At the talks in Lima at the end of 2014 every country committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. There is, however, much more to be done and commitments are not always worked out in practice.

A call to action

As always, when considering events and trends which fit into the category of “the ‘beginning of birth-pains’ of the Messiah” we should seek to do whatever we can to counteract the harm involved. Desmond Tutu, writing in The Observer in September 2014, said: “Never before in history have human beings been called on to act collectively in defence of the Earth. If we don’t limit global warming to two degrees or less we are doomed to a period of unprecedented instability, insecurity and loss of species. The most devastating effects of climate change – deadly storms, heat waves, droughts, rising food prices and the advent of climate refugees – are being visited on the world’s poor. Those who have no involvement in creating the problem are the most affected, while those with the capacity to arrest the slide dither. Africans, who emit far less carbon than the people of any other continent, will pay the steepest price. It is a deep injustice.”

He then went on to call for a boycott of events, sports teams and media programming sponsored by fossil fuel companies; demand that their advertisements carry health warnings; ask our religious communities to speak out on the issue from their various pulpits, etc.

It remains to be seen if global warming becomes the global nightmare it has the potential to be. In the meantime it fits into this category of “the ‘beginning of birth-pains’ of the Messiah” alongside wars, famines, earthquakes and pestilence.

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