Warnings we would do well to heed

By Karri Munn-Venn

When a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear?

We might do well to ask, “when a glacier collapses into the sea, does anybody care?” Perhaps not as poetic, but certainly a question that requires an answer.

The urgency of the global environmental crisis isn’t new. Climate scientists have been studying the issue for decades with ever-more sophisticated modeling that clearly demonstrates that drastic changes are necessary to prevent global catastrophe.

Still, reports last week out of NASA and the University of Washington indicating that glaciers in Antarctica “have passed the point of no return,” and will lead to massive sea level rise, are alarming to say the least. Especially since these reports follow so closely on the heels of the U.S. National Climate Assessment, which raised concerns about the rapid retreat of glaciers in Alaska and British Columbia.

Scientists expect the Antarctic “collapse” will take place over the next 200-1000 years. This might seem like a long time, but the implications of glacial melting merit serious attention.

As ice melts into the ocean, the water level rises. The sea level rises anticipated as a result of the Antarctic melt start at 1.2 metres. This means that millions of people in low-lying areas (at or below sea level), particularly in the Global South, will be displaced. According to Brian Menounos, a geography professor at the University of Northern British Columbia, “Even 40 centimetres of sea level rise will cause annual flooding for 100 million people on the planet.” Already, climate change and the corresponding glacial melting have impacted biodiversity as habitat for arctic and subarctic species is reduced in the polar regions.

So what is behind all of this? Not surprisingly, it’s human consumption of fossil fuels.

Climate science tells us that we need to change course – and soon. As Christians, therefore, we must respond to God’s call to prophetic witness and action in defense of creation. Not only should our lifestyles reflect wonder, reverence, and love for the Earth, but it is imperative that we engage with church, business, and political leaders on the urgency of addressing climate change.

Because as Nobel Laureate Sherwood Rowland said, “What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

For more about glacial melting see: CBC story, The Guardian story.

For information about the reliability of climate modeling see Gavin Schmidt’s 2014 TED talk.

For more on how you can engage in climate advocacy see the ecological justice section of CPJ’s website.

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