Climate Change: What’s the Real Issue?

Climate change seems to be the buzz word these days. Everything under the sun is being linked to climate change – either to make news headlines, apply for research funding or simply as a fad. But is climate change the real problem that we’re facing? Mike Hulme, Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglia, thinks not.

I don’t think that climate change is the fundamental problem. For me, the idea of climate change – that the reach of humanity is now so great that the functioning of the entire planetary system is being altered by our collective actions – is merely a magnifier for many of the other ills in our world, ills that we humans are deeply implicated in. ~ Mike Hulme, Real Scientists, Real Faith

He points out, correctly, that climate change may worsen the food crisis, accelerate the extinction rates of many species, place more people at risk of flooding and other natural disasters, but that these are existing problems that we have brought upon ourselves – with or without the production of excessive greenhouse gases. The continued destruction of natural habitats for land use, the economic disparity between rich and poor, the human population explosion – are underlying issues that need to be addressed urgently. Climate change, whether natural or human-induced, do not cause these problems. The Earth’s climate has been changing for billions of years. It merely exacerbates the problem. The problem, I believe, is in human greed and social injustice. Of course, I’m not advocating that we should discard current attempts to reduce our collective and individual carbon footprints. What I’m merely getting to, is that reducing carbon emissions is not tackling the root of the problem.

In a substantive or material sense I don’t think climate change is the ultimate evil. We are not depleting the climate in the way we are depleting other resources. There will be just as much ‘weather’ each day as before, although it will be redistributed accordng to different rules. The point isn’t whether we are making the climate better or worse: such moral categories do not apply to the climate (is a drought an absolute evil, or is a calm tropical day an absolute blessing?). The real question is whether we are willing and able to live with the climates we are newly making and whether we are paying enough attention to those less able to survive and thrive under these new regimes. ~ Mike Hulme, Real Scientists, Real Faith

And here is where I believe that people of faith all over the world need to participate. The science of climate change, though valuable, cannot give us the moral imperative to act. It is the values that come from the various religious metanarratives, that show us the way. In Christianity, the theology that all God’s creation is sacred, that we humans are stewards of that creation, participating with God in continuing creation, forms the central pillar for Christian action in relation to these issues. Then follows the command by Jesus to love our neighbour as ourselves. In a globalized world, the notion of neighbour takes on a whole new meaning, extending its context beyond geographical boundaries. The science of climate change tells us that our actions can have huge implications for a poor villager living on the other side of the world. What then, does it mean for us to ‘love our neighbour’?

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