So I meant to do a blog post on the topic of how the global warming narrative stacks up against the gospel narrative. I originally timed it for publication between Easter and Earth Day. Well, it turned into five blog posts and now it is so like not even Easter on the liturgical calendar. Suppose I got excited. Anyhow, I’ll be posting this series throughout the week. And yes, it does reflect a bit on my experience as being part of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, but nothing here necessarily reflects any official position of Y.E.C.A. whatsoever. Just my own thoughts that I want to contribute to public discussion.
- Part 1: Climate Science 101
- Part 2: The Gospel
- Part 3: Gospel > Global Warming
- Part 4: Good News: Reasons #1 and #2
- Part 5: Good News: Reason #3
Climate Science 101
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. In the beginning, God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.
God made two great lights — the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.
Humankind would later call the greater light “the sun.” Humankind would later discover that from the sun came all sorts of electromagnetic waves.
A certain category of these electromagnetic waves, the ultraviolet “UV” rays, were particularly interesting. Commonly known for giving naive vacationers a nice layer of rosy-red sunburnt skin, these UV rays possessed the ability to pass freely through the gases in earth’s atmosphere. Some of the UV rays would reflect off a lightly-colored surface, like a glacier, and travel back through the atmosphere into outer space. Other UV rays would be absorbed by a dark-colored surface, like asphalt, and be re-emitted as infrared heat.
Unlike the UV rays, the infrared heat would not always make it through earth’s atmosphere into outer space. The infrared heat would often hit upon a molecule of carbon dioxide, methane or nitrous oxide — the “greenhouse gases” — and be diverted in one of any which directions. The infrared heat that got diverted back towards earth would continue to warm the planet, at least until it had a second chance to escape.
It made sense that as the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere fluctuated, so would the amount of heat warming the planet. Low carbon dioxide levels accompanied ice ages, while high CO2 levels accompanied deep thaws, the most recent of which giving rise to the great human civilizations. Geologically speaking, over the last half million years or so, CO2 levels have slowly, and naturally, fluctuated between roughly 200ppm and 300ppm (parts per million).
As of the past year, CO2 levels have crossed 400ppm. Instead of a slow rise over thousands of years, this rapid increase to unprecedented levels has been in the last two centuries — corresponding with the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the applied use of fossil fuels to stimulate the economy to generate more, more, more.
Seeing that 200ppm and 300ppm was the difference between an ice age and the fine tuning necessary to spark human civilization, scientists are now frantically trying to predict what the consequences of going from 300ppm to 400ppm will be. The models vary. But the likely possibilities undeniably range from bad to catastrophic.
Some of the consequences are already observable. Eight of the nine hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. Heat waves and hurricanes have packed an extra punch. The rainy seasons have become unusual if not unpredictable. Ice caps have melted and sea levels have risen.
It doesn’t sound like much, unless you are a Pacific islander making plans to relocate as your country starts going the way of Atlantis. Or you are a farmer in Malawi, trying to figure out how to grow millet for the first time because maize is no longer suitable for the growing season. Or your New Jersey home became uninhabitable because of Hurricane Sandy. Or you are eight years old, enjoying a carefree life and expecting one day to grow up and live a life like your mom or dad are, blissfully unaware of the paradigm shift lurking in the future, as society is forced to rethink its relationship to natural resources.
A future where CO2 levels may just be a number in the skies, because the true threat comes from the seas. We thought for a bit, had hope for a bit, that global warming had slowed down over the past decade or so. What we have discovered is that although surface air temperatures have continued to increase at a reduced rate, much of that “missing heat” has been accumulating in the deep ocean, meaning global warming has actually been accelerating over the past many years.
Why are the seas important? Climate scientists have identified a couple of “positive feedback loops” – things that cause global warming that are caused by global warming. A number of these loops involve the ocean in one way or another. For example, higher surface temperatures cause increased evaporation, putting more water vapor in the atmosphere, which acts like any other greenhouse gas, trapping heat and increasing surface temperatures. Decreased polar sea ice means less UV rays are bounced back into outer space, but instead absorbed by the oceans and transformed into infrared heat likely to get trapped in the atmosphere, continuing to warm the planet and decrease levels of polar sea ice.
We are teetering on the edge of triggering a self-perpetuating cycle, at the end of which it’s flat out eco-apocalypse, bringing many of us humans down with it. This is the story of global warming.
But the global warming story is not the whole story.
Continue onto Tuesday’s post: The Gospel.