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Climate change - what the IPCC forecasts and how Christians respond

The Earth is warmer – and steadily getting warmer – according to the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


Temperatures are on track to rise by 1.5°C somewhere between 2030 and 2052 if the current rate of warming is sustained, according to the IPPC report issued last week.

The decade 2006-2015 experienced a rise in global mean surface temperature of 0.87°C over the 1850-1900 period, and we are continuing to see increases of 0.2°C each decade. But some parts of the world – for example, the Arctic – are experiencing a faster rate of warming.

The IPCC warns that 2°C of warming will be a lot worse than 1.5°C, with land temperatures rising more that these global averages. They make some grim predictions.

• Extremely hot days in mid-latitudes warm by up to about 3°C at global warming of 1.5°C and about 4°C at 2°C.

• Extremely cold nights in high latitudes warm by up to about 4.5°C at 1.5°C and about 6°C at 2°C.

• Risks from droughts are projected to be higher at 2°C compared to 1.5°C global warming in some regions.

• Sea levels will rise by an additional 0.1m at 2°C compared to 1.5°C; this will affect 10 million people.

• Of 105,000 species studied, 6 per cent of insects, 8 per cent of plants and 4 per cent of vertebrates are projected to lose more than half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 1.5°C, compared with 18 per cent of insects, 16 per cent of plants and 8 per cent of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C.

Christians have been quick to respond to the IPCC report. Many of the differences in response relate to what actions are now necessary or desirable in reacting to the IPCC. Those who accept the IPCC science see the need for drastic action. Those more sceptical of the IPCC process tend to focus on what they see as unrealistic suggestions for how to respond. Eternity gives readers two representative Christian responses to the IPCC.

In favour of a strong response to IPCC: Dr Mick Pope has a PhD in Meteorology from Monash University, and lectures in meteorology and climate. Mick heads up the Ethos Environment Think Tank and is a Morning Star Publishing author. He supplied the comments below.

More sceptical of IPCC: Dr Albert Mohler is president of the large Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, USA, and is one of America’s most influential evangelicals. Eternity summarised his views from his “briefing” podcast. His comments were stand-alone for his podcast audience.

Mick Pope

Next Monday I am attending the Melbourne premiere of the documentary Anote’s Ark. Anote Tong is the former president of Kiribati, a chain of coral atolls in the Pacific, and he is a tireless climate change campaigner.

At the Paris climate meeting, it was agreed that our efforts to combat climate change need to limit temperature increases below 1.5°C. This was due to lobbying efforts by Pacific Island nations like Kiribati, who are fighting for their very survival.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has recently produced a report Global Warming of 1.5 C. So does this report change anything or add anything new to what we know? And how should Christians respond?

The report reminds us that the climate is changing, human beings are largely responsible, and the future is grim if we don’t act in a dramatic fashion. Many impacts will be irreversible and last millennia. The evidence is overwhelming, and no amount of wishing will make it go away. Specifically, the report compares impacts on our world for 1.5°C and 2°C. It is worth pointing out that the roughly 1°C of warming over the pre-industrial era has already added to the impacts of hurricanes over North America by raising sea levels and creating more rainfall.

The evidence is overwhelming, and no amount of wishing will make it go away.

Projections for 1.5°C and 2°C are quite different. The severity of extreme hot days are less, as are drought risks. By end of century, a 1.5°C sea level rise is 0.1m less than a 2°C. This translates to 10 million fewer people being affected. Sea level rise will continue to increase after 2100 due to melting ice sheets and the heat we have already added to the oceans. Catastrophic melting and sea level rise by tens of metres is possible if ice sheet collapse is triggered. Not quite a Noahic Flood, but a catastrophe nonetheless.

In a 1.5°C world, we may keep a small fraction of our beautiful coral reefs, but in a 2°C world these will all but be lost. Add to that the loss of ocean species due to increased acidification of the oceans from all of the extra carbon dioxide, impacting global fisheries.

Finally, global health is impacted more in a 2°C world compared to a 1.5°C one, reducing the number of people at risk of heat stroke, spread of diseases like malaria and dengue, and declines in cereal yields and livestock health. The reality is that when it comes to global temperatures, the lower the rise above pre-industrial values, the better.

So how should Christians change?

Firstly, our denialism must go. The planet is clearly warming, the impacts are many. The judgment of God is on our systemic sins, such as consumption, greed, mammon worship, and gluttony, to say nothing of our apathy.

Therefore, our second response is repentance. While population increase drives consumption and hence impacts on the planet, and population increase is larger in the majority world, it is the first world that is the largest consumer of goods, energy, and land, and the largest producer of greenhouse gases historically. Insofar as our theology normalises our comfort levels and blithely ignores our impact on God’s creation, the Lamb calls on us to ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you do not take part in her sins’ (Rev 18:4).

Climate change is a sign of judgment on us, and not an apocalypse to be welcomed in anticipation of our rapture

Our third response must be to avoid the ‘Jesus parachute.’ To be sure, I await Jesus to return to make ‘all things new’ (Rev 21:5). In fact, I’ve just written a book on that very topic. But ‘all things new’ is a programme for the renewal of all things, not its burning up. Climate change is a sign of judgment on us, and not an apocalypse to be welcomed in anticipation of our rapture – a get-out-of-jail card. Remember, that day is for ‘for destroying those who destroy the earth’ (Rev 11:18).

Fourthly, we must love our neighbours as ourselves – to say that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions ignore both the fact that we export a lot of coal and natural gas for others to burn, and that our per capita emissions are among the highest in the world. What message do we send Anote Tong and others from the Pacific? ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’ (Jas 2:15)?

Finally, reflecting on my sermon passage for Sunday, Romans 5:12-21, sin and death reign due to the sin of Adam, but Christ is the new Adam who makes all things new. The resurrection means we are saved with and not from the earth (Rom 8). Now is the time to remind the church, including Christian politicians, and the world of this, and as new Adams and Eves, to serve the Earth and tend it (Gen 2:15). In facing the pressing climate crisis, this unavoidably means quitting coal.

Albert Mohler

Mohler responded to a Washington Post story on IPCC. “Headline from the Washington Post: ‘The World has just over a decade to get Climate Change under control … ‘Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis report that “The world stands on the brink of failure when it comes to holding global warming to moderate levels, and nations will need to take ‘unprecedented’ actions to cut their carbon emissions over the next decade, according to a landmark report by the top scientific body studying climate change.”

Mohler focused strongly on this statement: “To avoid racing past warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels would require a ‘rapid and far-reaching’ transformation of human civilisation at a magnitude that has never happened before, the group found.”

“Now that’s an astounding series of sentences,” Mohler begins. “It begins with the warning that the world has just under a decade to avoid what basically comes down to an apocalypse … and then we read that what will be required is nothing less than, let me quote it again, ‘transformation of human civilisation that has never happened before.

This does not come from  a place of valued neutrality.

“That’s a bit much to read before breakfast. That is not to say that this report from the United Nations’ IPCC is not a serious report. It is not to say it lacks all scientific credibility. Many of the people involved in this report are some of the most credible and respected climate scientists from around the world. It is to say that no report like this offered by any agency of the United Nations emerges from a non-political context. This does not come from  a place of valued neutrality. Such a place does not exist. This comes from within a certain worldview…

“By the time you look at  the actual report from the UN group, it becomes clear that the highly exalted Paris accords from which the United States withdrew last year are ruled to be inadequate to prevent climate change below 2°C aiming at 1.5°C.

“Also note something really interesting which was embedded in that second paragraph of the Washington Post article. That is we are told that the goals of limiting climate change are based upon records of what the climate was during the pre-industrial era. Now wait just a moment. That is really a long ways back.

“And furthermore, if it doesn’t mean anything else it means rolling back the gains of the Industrial Age. Now this is where Christians need to think very carefully. If we date the Industrial Age to at least the last decades of the 19th century to when human beings began to harness steam routinely … we are now looking at almost a century-and-a-half of human experience.

“What has happened in that century-and-a-half? If you were to go back you’d have to say there was no air-conditioning, there were no automobiles, there were no airplanes, there was no refrigeration as we know refrigeration today, there were no antibiotics and anaesthetics were not routinely available. Modern hospitals would have been impossible. You just begin to roll everything back and you begin to understand why there is that abrupt sentence at the end of the second paragraph saying what will be required (these are the words of the Washington Post again) if we are to avoid doom is a transformation of human civilisation at at magnitude that has never happened before …

If you were to go back you’d have to say there was no air-conditioning, there were no automobiles, there were no airplanes.

“As Bjorn Lomberg and others argued, eventually there will be some kind of balance between the understanding of profit and loss given the realities of what climate change will mean and what it will mean to try to respond to that challenge. That is to say it is fundamentally unlikely – and let’s just call that an understatement – that people in the modern industrialised West are going to say ‘you know, we can actually do without automobiles, and airplanes, we can do without air-conditioning and refrigeration, we can do without anaesthetics and antibiotics, we can do without cat-scans and school buses, we can simply return to the pre-industrial era.’

“Just to make the point as plainly as honesty demands. That is not going to happen.”