Prior to March of this year my understanding of the both the wide and intense impact of climate change was elementary at best. Oh, I knew that climate change is eventually detrimental to the planet… what an understatement! I knew people die from heat waves, glaciers melt, oceans rise, and droughts occur, but that was about it. All that, of course is bad enough, but I finally learned that the impacts are even greater than this when I finally decided to dig deeper through a reading of David Wells-Wallace’s The Uninhabitable Earth. Life After Warming. That launched a whole new perspective and a lot more reading to attempt to “catch up.”
I’ll just mention one more: Climate Change and the Health of Nations. Famines, Fevers, and the Fate of Populations by Anthony J. McMichael, leading health scientist with the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). By the way, I had been writing articles for numerous Christian publications for some 15 years on the biblical foundations of creation but simply was not dutifully informed of the gravity of the planet’s current and upcoming state. So, what are the impacts of climate change?
One more caveat is necessary before pursuing our list of impacts. Yes, our planet has undergone a number of cycles of warming and cooling, usually taking millions of years. The current cycle, however, began just 200 years ago with the rise of the industrial revolution, much of that increase within just the last 30 years and rapidly approaching levels that, in the past, resulted in global extinctions.
Let’s begin our list of climate change impacts…
BiodiversityCurrently our planet has already lost 50% of the vertebral animal population, this loss has occurred in the last 40 years. There are many reasons for that but the major one is simply all animal life depends on a food chain that begins with water and land-based micro-organisms much more sensitive to warming and cooling than larger animals. Consider, for instance, the loss of 75% of the planet’s insects in just the last 20 years. While roaches and mosquitos are a nuisance to much of the human population, pollicization of flowers and consequently the crops we consume, depend on them. And we haven’t even spoken of future projection of the loss of biodiversity. By 2050 possibly one million species may be extinct. By then, there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish.
RefugeesOne factor, not the only one, leading to the emergence of one million Syrian refugees since 2011 is the loss of crops due to a drought that was the consequence of climate change. Foreseen floods in Bangladesh will probably produce 10 times that number of climate refugees. The World Bank predicts refugees will number 140 million by 2050. The United Nations ups that estimate to 200 million (some say a billion) and their predictions are notoriously conservative.
HeatwavesSince 1980, Earth has already experienced 50-fold increase in the number of heatwaves. The five hottest summers in Europe since 1500 have all occurred since 2002. Currently there are 354 major cities with median maximum temperatures of 350 C or greater. By 2050 there will be 970 such cities exposed to fatal heatwaves.
Flooding and FiresThe frequency and intensity of hurricanes and monsoons continues to increase. In August and September of 2017 three major hurricanes emerged from the Atlantic Ocean and each one was labeled an event that occurs once in every 500,00 years. 2019 already broke former records in hurricane intensity and consequential destruction with two category 5 hurricanes. Flooding has increased 4 times since 1980 and twice more since 2002. Sea levels will 0.30-1.20 meters by the end of the century. And the Amazonia fires were 77% worse than last year.
FamineScientists have calculated that for every degree of global warming crop production drops by 10%. If the planet reaches the predicted increase of at least 4 degrees by the end of the century, food production will decrease by 40% when the population will have increased by 50%. Solution? Better technology and land for food production? The latter is especially difficult as former arable soil becomes desert and a move to more moderate climates will mean a move also to less fertile areas. Better technology? That is always our hope. However, the greatest advances in seeding occurred in the 1940’s…
Conflicts and WarsAn interesting calculation by the United Nations: for every half degree of global warming, armed conflict increases by 10-20%. If that increase is another 3 degrees by the end of the century, armed conflict is predicted to increase by another 60+%.
Hopefully, even this brief list is enough to change all sectors of society, our homes, neighborhoods, and local, regional, national and international governmental organizations to take action. Although it may not be apparent, the church too, plays a vital role. That is certainly Paul’s perspective in Romans 8:18-25. The “liberation of creation” from its “decay” is intimately connected to the people of God who are to be the first to undertake the fundamental human task of taking care of God’s creation. These actions include mitigating the effects of climate change via actions that reduce and limit greenhouse gases; adapting to the environment through reforestation, water treatment and purification; and finally, local and international governmental agreements. The task no doubt is huge. But it is important that each one us, as a vital expression of our commitment to follow Jesus, prayerfully and firmly begin to make changes.