Alongside seeking to take seriously biblical teaching on eschatology it is instructive to take notice of what is sometime called secular eschatology, i.e. secular predictions by scholars of serious disasters which the future could hold. Global warming is one such.
Scientists have warned that there would be a climate crisis in the second half of this century but there are warnings that the crisis is already here. The amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by 143% since pre-industrial times. 2016 is likely to be the hottest year ever measured. 2015 broke the record for temperature as did 2014. In fact 15 of the 16 warmest years ever recorded have occurred this century. Arctic ice now covers a smaller area than ever recorded. Because of unusual thawing of ice in Siberia the bodies of animals which died in the 1941 anthrax epidemic have caused an anthrax outbreak. There have also been very serious droughts in India and bleaching of coral reefs.
Although thermometer records only go back to 1880, scientists are able to examine ice cores, corals and tree rings showing the earth is at its hottest for 5000 years. But CO2 levels are the highest for almost a million years. Prof Stefan Rahmstorf, at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany says the rate at which humanity is emitting CO2 is the fastest for 66 million years. CO2 is the main cause for the extreme weather in 2016 but scientists also say that about one fifth of the temperature rise in recent months is due to El Nino (the climate cycle in the Pacific Ocean which goes through cyclical changes).
Rahmstorf added: “What is happening right now is we are catapulting ourselves out of the Holocene, which is the geological epoch that human civilisation has been able to develop in, because of the relatively stable climate. It allowed us to invent agriculture, rather than living as nomads. It allowed a big population growth, it allowed the foundation of cities, all of which required a stable climate.”
A 2014 report by the Royal Institute of International Affairs said the global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined. The author stated: “Preventing catastrophic warming is dependent on tackling meat and dairy consumption.” That is hardly a popular warning!
Europe will experience extreme weather causing severe wildfires, river floods and windstorms. The UK government has hopefully woken up to the fact that severe flooding is likely to recur.
Greenhouse gases have caused the Indo-Pacific Warm Pool, the largest area of warm water in the world, to increase in size and temperature. This has led to five small islands in the S Pacific disappearing. The pool is known to oscillate in size and temperature over a 20-year period but researchers have discovered that it has grown by one third in size and 0.3C temperature in the last 60 years. Because it is so big (9000 by 1500 miles) this has a huge effect. Scholars have said only 12-18% of the temperature rise has been caused by this cycle and the rest by global warming.
The Antarctic Ice Sheet covers almost 5.4 million square miles at the South Pole and contains about 61% of all the fresh water on Earth. The effect of global warming on this ice could raise sea levels by almost three metres.
In 2015 thousands of people died of heatwaves in Europe and Asia. Scientists predict that if the temperature reaches two degrees above pre-industrial level some countries in the Middle East and N Africa could experience daytime temperatures of 46C by the middle of the 21st century. Prolonged heat waves and desert dust storms could render some regions uninhabitable. One study predicts that by 2100 temperatures in countries like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain could occasionally reach 74-76C which could cause fatalities.
In 2009 The Lancet medical journal published a report commissioned by University College, London which predicted that global warming could so affect the quality of food that between 300,000 and 700,000 people could die each year by 2050. In particular they predicted that by 2050 climate change would seriously reduce the amount of fruit and vegetables and processed meat. They called climate change the greatest threat to health in the 21st century due to floods, droughts and increased infectious diseases. They added that it could reverse 50 years of progress in medicine.
The World Economic Forum recently published a report by 750 experts which saw climate change as the biggest threat to the global economy. Cecilia Reyes, the Zurich Insurance Group chief risk officer, said: “Climate change is exacerbating more risks than ever before in terms of water crises, food shortages, constrained economic growth, weaker societal cohesion and increased security risks.” The World Bank said that 100 million people could slide into extreme poverty because of climate change, in addition to the 703 million who are already in extreme poverty. Global warming leads to crop failures, natural disasters, higher food prices and the spread of waterborne diseases, creating poverty.
The Paris Agreement to tackle global warming
In December 2015 177 nations agreed to try to prevent the world’s average temperature rising more than 1.5C above the pre-industrial level (it is already 1.3C). They will set targets every five years after the agreement comes into force in 2020. But analysts have said that the measures they have actually agreed so far would mean a rise of between 2.6C and 3.1C by 2100. This, of course, breaches the 2C limit beyond which scientists have predicted there will be catastrophic and irreversible droughts, floods, heatwaves and sea level rises.
The rich countries promised to provide $100bn (£66bn) to help poorer countries switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy and to protect them against dangers such as increased flooding.
The agreement also includes aiming at having “net zero emissions” during the second half of the century. This means that any CO2 produced would need to be captured and disposed of or offset by planting huge numbers of trees. However, in a joint letter to the press, British climate experts stated: “This involves rapidly growing trees and grasses faster than nature has ever done on land we don’t have, then burning it in power stations that will capture and compress the CO2 using an infrastructure we don’t have and with technology that won’t work on the scale we need and to finally store it in places we can’t find.”
Already Ban Ki-moon’s climate change envoy has accused the British and German governments of backtracking on the agreement by providing subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. It is also not encouraging that the UK government has abolished the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
Scientists are talking of the need to close down all coal-powered power stations by 2025 and to abolish the combustion engine (petrol/diesel engines) by 2030.
Professor Chris Field, of Stanford University, said that the 1.5C goal looks impossible or very, very difficult and he warned that closing down fossil fuel plants before renewable alternatives are established would mean there would be insufficient energy and people would suffer.
Many scientists say the only hope is to develop new techniques of extracting CO2 from the atmosphere as most of the current possible techniques are unworkable.
 ‘Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector – Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption’, December 2014.
 Professor Paul Beckwith, University of Ottowa, Professor Stephen Salter – Edinburgh University, Professor Peter Wadhams – Cambridge University, Professor James Kennett of University of California, Dr Hugh Hunt – Cambridge University, Dr. Alan Gadian -Senior Scientist, Nation Centre for Atmospheric Sciences, University of Leeds, Dr. Mayer Hillman – Senior Fellow Emeritus of the Institute of the Policy Studies Institute, Dr. John Latham – University of Manchester, Aubrey Meyer – Director, Global Commons Institute, John Nissen – Chair Arctic Methane Emergency Group.