Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

The Environmental “Cliff”

Steven E. Meyer


December 7, 2012

By Steven E. Meyer 

As important as the so-called “fiscal cliff” is, it pales into insignificance compared to the looming environmental “cliff.”  Under new World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim, the organization has launched a major effort to address climate change.  The bank is a leading development lender, and Kim—the first scientist to lead the organization—has said that the development challenge, especially in the poorest parts of the world, cannot be solved without tackling climate change.  

The report Turn Down the Heat, which was compiled for the bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, explores the impact of a four degree Celsius (7.2 degree Fahrenheit) increase in temperature by the end of the century. Most scientists believe there is sufficient evidence to support the prediction of a four degree Celsius increase by then. The report has been published to coincide with the United Nations climate change meeting in Doha, Qatar that aims to extend the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

According to the report (as well as other documentation), the effects of climate change are accelerating faster than anticipated just a few years ago. Arctic ice is melting at an alarming rate, leading to a constant rise in sea levels. Since 2010 more people live in cities than rural areas, and most cities are on the coast where they will be subject to flooding and, in some cases, to outright destruction.  Extreme heat waves have hit places such as the United States, Europe and Russia during the past decade; the Mediterranean Sea region could record temperatures as much as nine degrees Celsius hotter in during the summer than they do now; hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones and tornadoes are now more common than historical records would predict. 

According to the report, 97 percent of scientists are convinced that climate change is real, and an overwhelming majority of them say that the climate is changing because of human activity. It has been a well-established fact, reinforced by the bank’s report, that the tropics and other very poor areas of the world will suffer most as the temperature rises, with damaging floods and drought leading to starvation, loss of homes and habitat, increasing poverty and a concomitant rise in disease. Areas of the world such as the low lying coasts of Bangladesh, Vietnam and portions of Africa are likely to suffer most. But, the damage is not confined to poor areas, as we saw with the results of hurricanes Katrina (2005) and Sandy (2012). As the report indicates, weather “events” such as these are becoming the “new normal.”  

According to Kim, who is supported by most climate scientists, the evidence of climate change is now “unequivocal.” While so-called emerging countries, such as China and India, are now responsible for most of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change, the established (post) industrial countries in the West have led the way over the last century. This dichotomy has led to an unhealthy and silly debate over who is most at fault and who should change most. The emerging countries want their place in the economic sun, and the older economic countries want to preserve their position. The truth of the matter is that no one is going to be able to preserve the current trajectory. It is that serious. 

And where are Christians in all of this?  There are some encouraging signs.  Many Christian organizations have taken an enlightened stand on climate change including the National Association of Evangelicals, the U.S. Catholic Bishops, Lutheran World Relief, A Rocha, etc.  But, it’s not enough! Christians must do more—this is a moral and stewardship challenge that we cannot ignore if we are to preserve God’s world as we have been commanded.  We need to hear more from the pulpit, apply more pressure to politicians and provide more money to Christian and non-Christian organizations working to reverse the current path.

—Steven E. Meyer is a Fellow of the Center for Public Justice.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”