Every week, as time permits, I look at the lectionary readings for that week and try to interpret them in the context of the Age of Limits.
This week’s gospel (August 18th 2019, Year C) is from Luke 12:49-56.
Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
He also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, `It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, `There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”
The Present Time
I would like to consider the last phrase, “but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” in the context of climate change. One of the frustrations that many feel is that the facts to do with climate change are obvious and not all that controversial. Yet people, by and large, continue to ignore the looming crises that a changed climate will bring.
But it could be that public awareness is shifting. In fact, it may be that the year 2019 has been something of a watershed, at least in the United States. Historians may look back on it as the year when, quite suddenly, climate change went mainstream and gained widespread acceptance.
The following may be reasons for this change.
The Daily News
We are seeing a steady stream of news events to do with the reality of climate change. The following are examples,
- Iceland holds funeral for first glacier lost to climate change
- July was hottest month ever recorded in history, scientists confirm
- Greenland’s ice is melting at the rate scientists thought would be our worst-case scenario in 2070
High Publicity Events
The climate change movement seems to be building awareness through high profile events such as Greta Thunberg’s decision to sail across the Atlantic. Such actions are likely to have a greater impact than any number of earnest reports written by bespectacled scientists.
But of all the trends, probably the most significant is that climate change is becoming part of our background. — something that is increasingly taken for granted. For example, in the August 16th 2019 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch the newspaper’s meteorologist, John Boyer, had an article forecasting the fall weather for the central Virginia area. He says,
. . . over the past century there has been a notable rise in both mean temperature and rainfall across Virginia from September to November, likely influenced by climate change.
What struck me was the almost casual manner in which Boyer, who writes for a conservative newspaper, took it for granted that climate change is a factor in routine weather forecasting.
China and India
The above comments are mostly to do with the United States and western Europe. Unfortunately, other parts of the world, particularly China and India, are even less committed to making a change than the United Sates although they make a major contribution to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations. (Comparative fossil fuel consumption for the top three nations are: China 36%, USA 34%, India 30%.)
We moved to the Richmond area about six years ago from Houston, Texas. Our choice was made easy because we have family in this area. But another factor was our reading of NASA’s long-range climate forecasts. Our interest was not so much in temperature change (everywhere gets hotter) but in rainfall. NASA predicted that south Texas would get drier (but not to drought levels), that New England and eastern Canada would be very wet , and that rainfall in central Virginia would remain about the same. It looks as if that prediction has worked out quite well so far.
Increasingly, we will have more and more personal stories such as these. They could create a rapid change in perception. One of the commentators (staggering_god) at the reddit Collapse site likely has it right when he said,
More and more, people are going to have stories. True stories about things that have happened to them, their families, or their friends. That’s what will ultimately persuade people–not models, projections, scientific experts, or charts. Like a lot of farmers today, it will start like, “I don’t say it’s climate change, but the growing season is out of whack–something’s gone wrong, and it’s nothing like I remember growing up.”
Eventually, most people are going to have their climate stories. And probably the most important thing people can do is share their person stories of being affected by climate change.
And then, like magic, everybody is going to rewrite the past. And suddenly we will all talk like were all believers all along. Even if you said you were a skeptic two years ago, it will be as if it was decades ago. Corporations will all come out pro-climate action. Politicians will tie it to our deep-rooted American values. Everybody is going to start paying lip service. It’s going to be on t-shirts, mugs, Top 40 radio hits. Everybody is going to feel warm and fuzzy inside because they were part of the movement, always with the “good guys,” always virtuous and moral and good.
And then the next battle will come. Something will be passed. It will be substantial and specific. It will be real. BUT it clearly won’t be enough. And, like all the civil rights battles before, there will be the camp of people who scream that a LOT more needs to be done, that this is problem is systemic and is NOT FIXED. And there will be the other camp who say those people are alarmist, extremist, etc. The ruling class will say, “We’ve given you something. Isn’t that enough? Aren’t you satisfied? Why can’t you be satisfied with what we’ve given you?” It will be the people who think we’ve done enough vs. the people who think we haven’t done nearly enough.
Everybody will claim to be on the pro-climate side, but it will be almost the same battle repeating again–with a kind of soft denialism. Everyone will say they are on board with fixing the climate and taking action, but a good number of people won’t take the science completely seriously. They will consider it a “half-emergency”. It will be denialism but in a different guise. The gradualists vs. the abolitionists.
In short, we will have spent 30+ years doing NOTHING. Then we will do SOMETHING. And that will only be the very start. Every inch of ground after that point will be fought over. You’ll never truly weed out the denialists, they will just go underground, slow walk everything, and come up with endless “reasonable” objections. Mostly, the language will change. Everybody will agree that they’ve always been on the right side. In this way, the problem will likely become only more insidious.
In the end, the delays and obfuscations will lead to our utter destruction. But in whatever history we tell centuries hence, we were ALL for Independence. Nobody was ever a royalist. We were ALL with the abolitionists and Abraham Lincoln, the whole time. We ALL hated Nazis and supported the Allies. We ALL loved Martin Luther King. And we ALL thought climate change was a big problem and supported significant climate action.
This week’s Peak Prosperity site has an article entitled Why Common Knowledge Changes The World. The article is to do with financial issues but the concept of Common Knowledge can be applied equally well to the perception of climate change. There are three steps.
- A small number of people with specialist knowledge become aware of the problem. The great majority of people either do not accept that there is a problem or — more commonly — they simply ignore the whole issue.
- Then more and more people recognize that there is a problem. Their private knowledge, in this case, goes from denial or ignorance to accepting that “something is going on”. But the crucial point is that this knowledge is private and that they believe that others have yet to change their mind.
- Then, suddenly, people become aware that they are not alone or isolated. Hence private knowledge quickly becomes public knowledge.
I suggest that we are currently at Step 2 and that the transition to Step 3 could happen within the next two or three years.
In the book that I am writing, and at this blog site, I am trying to work out a theology that is appropriate for our time. It can be based on the following three points:
- Understand and tell the truth.
- Accept and adapt.
- Live within the biosphere both material and spiritually.
I have highlighted the first of these points. More and more people are gaining an understanding of what is taking place but they feel rather isolated. However, once enough people gain an understanding, and once they talk to one another, the whole public perception of climate change could shift quite quickly. Whether that change in perception will lead to effective action remains to be seen.
The American Meteorological Society has released its 325 page report State of the Climate in 2018. Here are some quotations from the Abstract.
In 2018, the dominant greenhouse gases released into Earth’s atmosphere—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide—continued their increase. The annual global average carbon dioxide concentration at Earth’s surface was 407.4 ± 0.1 ppm, the highest in the modern instrumental record and in ice core records dating back 800,000 years.
. . . global surface (land and ocean) temperature was the fourth highest on record, with only 2015 through 2017 being warmer. Several European countries reported record high annual temperatures. There were also more high, and fewer low, temperature extremes than in nearly all of the 68-year extremes record.
. . . Pakistan, recorded its highest temperature of 50.2°C, which may be a new daily world record for April.
. . . The 2018 Arctic land surface temperature was 1.2°C above the 1981–2010 average, tying for third highest in the 118-year record, following 2016 and 2017. June’s Arctic snow cover extent was almost half of what it was 35 years ago. Across Greenland, however, regional summer temperatures were generally below or near average. Additionally, a satellite survey of 47 glaciers in Greenland indicated a net increase in area for the first time since records began in 1999.
. . . On 17 March, Arctic sea ice extent marked the second smallest annual maximum in the 38-year record, larger than only 2017.
. . . For the Antarctic continent as a whole, 2018 was warmer than average. On the highest points of the Antarctic Plateau, the automatic weather station Relay (74°S) broke or tied six monthly temperature records throughout the year, with August breaking its record by nearly 8°C. However, cool conditions in the western Bellingshausen Sea and Amundsen Sea sector contributed to a low melt season overall for 2017/18.
. . .The deeper ocean continues to warm year after year. For the seventh consecutive year, global annual mean sea level became the highest in the 26-year record, rising to 81 mm above the 1993 average. As anticipated in a warming climate, the hydrological cycle over the ocean is accelerating: dry regions are becoming drier and wet regions rainier. Closer to the equator, 95 named tropical storms were observed during 2018, well above the 1981–2010 average of 82.
. . . Globally, fire activity during 2018 was the lowest since the start of the record in 1997, with a combined burned area of about 500 million hectares. This reinforced the long-term downward trend in fire emissions driven by changes in land use in frequently burning savannas. However, wildfires burned 3.5 million hectares across the United States, well above the 2000–10 average of 2.7 million hectares.
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