It is interesting that the dangers secular scholars see as threatening the world or the survival of humanity are remarkably parallel to the dangers Jesus told us to take note of as reminders of his return. I regularly stress that these events are not to be regarded as signs of Jesus’ imminent return but as reminders that he is coming back.
Jesus spoke of earthquakes, war, famine, disease etc. He also mentioned “stars falling from the sky.” Dr Seth Baum, founder of the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute, a secular organisation, lists various “Catastrophic Threats to Humanity :
• Environmental change: climate change, biodiversity loss, biogeochemical flows (interference with the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles), stratospheric ozone depletion, ocean acidification, global fresh water use, land use change, chemical pollution, and atmospheric aerosol loading.
• Emerging technologies: artificial intelligence (robots and intelligent computers), biotechnology (genetic manipulation), geoengineering (climate engineering), and nanotechnology for atomically precise manufacturing.
• Large-scale violence.
• Pandemics: Pandemics can be of natural or artificial origin, or both.
• Natural disasters: asteroid and comet impacts, supervolcano eruptions, solar storms, and gamma ray bursts from the sun. (He also mentions the very long-term issues of the gradual warming of the Sun, which will ultimately make Earth uninhabitable for humanity in a few billion years and the Milky Way collision with the Andromeda Galaxy)
• Physics experiments: This includes high energy particle physics experiments such as at the CERN Large Hadron Collider going wrong.
• Extraterrestrial encounter.
Let us examine some of these concerns:
There is considerable interest in the danger of a devastating asteroid strike on Earth. The world’s first Asteroid Day was held on 30th June 2015, the anniversary of the “The Tunguska Event” when an asteroid destroyed thousands of square miles of forest in Siberia on 30th June 1908.
Some 150,000 asteroids have been registered but there are many more. Some are about a mile in diameter and, if they impacted Earth they could destroy civilisation. It is not just the impact damage but the ensuing serious weather changes and starvation. Asteroids only 450 feet across could cause severe regional damage.
In September 2014 an asteroid the size of a house came within 25,000 miles of Earth. In August 2027 an asteroid 0.6 miles across could approach within 19,000 miles.
Paul Cox, technical and research director of the Slooh Space Telescope in the Canary Islands, commented: “We continue to discover these potentially hazardous asteroids – sometimes only days before they make their close approaches to Earth. We need to find them before they find us!”
One of his colleagues, Dr Bob Berman said: “On a practical level, a previously unknown, undiscovered asteroid seems to hit our planet and cause damage or injury once a century or so, as we witnessed on 30 June 1908 and 15 February 2013 [The Chelyabinsk meteor which entered Earth’s atmosphere over Russia].”
Scientists have reported that the first half of 2015 was the hottest since records began. June was the fourth month of the year to break a temperature record. The average June temperature across the world was 61.48°F, 0.22°F higher than the record temperature last year. Earth has broken monthly heat records 25 times since the year 2000 but hasn’t broken a monthly cold record since 1916.
The reduction in Arctic ice is an indicator of global warming. From 2010 it reduced by 14% but in 2013 it increased by 41%. Those sceptical about global warming seize on this as proof global warming isn’t happening. But scientists respond that there are occasional cold years, but they don’t alter the fact that overall the temperature is rising. In fact, they point out that the temperature in 2013 would have been considered normal in the 1990s but since then, with global warming, has become below normal. The melting trend resumed in 2014.
The sun’s activity (processes which produce heat) vary over a cycle of 10-12 years and some scientists are predicting that solar activity will fall by 60% between 2030 and 2040 causing a “mini ice age.” However, as on previous occasions, this will be a temporary reduction and won’t affect the overall warming of the earth.
Pope Francis has produced an encyclical about the problem of global warming. He refers to the earth as a sister who “cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.” He adds that “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system… Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.” He expresses particular concern for the poor who will face the worst consequences of global warming. He warns that the results of global warming could cause wars. He writes: “Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.”
Johan Rockström is an internationally recognised expert on global sustainability who teaches natural resource management at Stockholm University. In January 2105 he wrote a paper in the Science journal about the damage humans have done to the environment in which he said that in order to keep the earth hospitable :
• We should keep carbon dioxide levels to less than 350ppm (parts per million) but the level reached 400ppm in March 2015.
• We should maintain 90% of biodiversity (variety of plants and animals) but it has dropped to 84% in parts of the world such as Africa.
• We should limit the addition of phosphorous, nitrogen, etc., to crops to 11 trillion grams of phosphorus and 62 trillion grams of nitrogen but we are adding some 22 trillion grams of phosphorus and 150 trillion grams of nitrogen.
• We should maintain 75% of the earth’s forests but the level is down to 62%.
• We should limit the emission of aerosols (which affect climate change and organisms) into the atmosphere to a technical level of 0.25 but it is up to 0.30 over S Asia.
Global warming is a major factor in various negative developments in the natural world:
• Large areas of the Atlantic Ocean, up to 100 miles long, are no longer able to sustain any animal life.
• We are producing the same amount of carbon dioxide as occurred in the Permian Era when ocean acidification led to a mass extinction not only of sea creatures but of some terrestrial life forms and forests. Prof Rachel Wood of Edinburgh University said: “The data is compelling and we really should be worried in terms of what is happening today.”
• Water shortage around the world is causing hardship, violence and political tension because 50% of the world’s water is transnational, i.e. flows across national boundaries. Thousands of rivers have disappeared. As the world population has tripled in the last century, water demand has increased sixfold. The UN’s recent annual World Water Development report predicts demand will increase by 55% by 2050 and if usage remains as now the world will only have 60% of the water it needs by 2030. This could lead to crop failure, ecosystem breakdown, an increase in disease and poverty, violent conflicts and industry breakdown.
• A report in the journal Nature Climate Change says that heatwaves that previously occurred once every three years are now happening every 200 days due to global warming.
• It is true that there has been a dramatic growth in plant cover around the world in the last decade, including through a major tree-planting campaign in China and natural growth in grasslands and non-tropical forests in former Soviet States, Africa and Australia because of heavy rainfall and abandoned farms. However the problem is that the extra carbon being stored by this additional vegetation is only 7% of the 60 billion tonnes of carbon which has been emitted into the atmosphere during the same period. The remainder will stay in the atmosphere.
The Pew Research Center published its “Global Threats Report” in July 2015 which revealed that the majority of people in Latin America and Africa (19 out of 40 nations surveyed) regard global warming as the worst threat facing the world. Many people in Asia also regarded it as a big threat. (By comparison, Europe and the Middle East regard ISIS as the top threat).
The Science and Security Board of the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists created a symbolic clock which represents a countdown to a global catastrophe. In January 2015 the clock was advanced to three minutes to midnight, the closest it has been since 1987 during the Cold War. The scientists concerned warn of the risk of global warming and nuclear accidents. Since 2009 all nuclear powers are expanding nuclear reactors and weapons programmes. The West hopes that the Iranians will not develop nuclear weapons but others, especially the Israelis, do not expect them to keep their word, which is hardly an irrational fear, despite all the precautions. North Korea has nuclear weapons, as does Pakistan. The Saudi Arabians are speaking of the possibility of obtaining nuclear weapons because of their fear of the Iranians. Many people are worried that terrorists will get hold of nuclear devices.
Bill McGuire, Professor emeritus of Geophysical and Climate Hazards at University College London has recently written a book on how climate change triggers earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes. He says: “We ignore volcanic threats at our peril.” He described how the eruption of the Tambora volcano in Indonesia in 1815 produced pumice which clogged shipping routes for years and created a thick covering some 300 miles away. It also produced a sulphurous fog over eastern N America and Europe which reduced summer temperatures by 2 degrees centigrade, incessant rain and very powerful storms. This led to harvest failure and famine, causing disease and death on a large scale. If such an event were to happen now the effects on our interconnected world markets could lead to a collapse of food production.
Much larger eruptions in the past have produced hundreds of times more sulphur and volcanic winters lasting for years with one third of the Earth covered in ice and snow. The Yellowstone supervolcano in America is thought to be overdue for a major eruption. It is possible it could produce so much sulphur dioxide that it could block the sun for 5-6 years causing worldwide famine and even an end to civilisation.
Global warming will affect ice-covered volcanoes, facilitating eruptions.
The Lord wants us to take notice of all these things as reminders that he is returning to bring a transformation of nature and of human nature. But he also wants us to pray about them and the people affected or likely to be affected by them.