by Roger Sweeny
From a newsletter to parishioners of St. Francis-in-the-Wood Anglican Church, West Vancouver, B.C., June 2013
During Pentecost and now, as we ponder the Trinity, the message has been about opening our hearts to receive the Spirit of Truth, the unseen one who will walk with us, live in us, inspire us to become all we can be, to act not just for self but for others too, and to be ever respectful of all living things including Mother Earth.
A snatch of monologue from a 60-year old radio show, “Dragnet” comes to mind. That was the programme where they told us “Ladies and gentlemen: the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” And then “Knock, knock. Yes? My name is Friday. I’m a cop. Just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts.”
My Canadian College Dictionary defines a fact as ‘something that actually exists; a reality; a truth’. The following are my thoughts on a looming reality we wish we hadn’t heard about. It can no longer be put behind us, and the more we try to ignore the facts, the more difficult it becomes to confront them. Call me an alarmist old grump if you like. Yes, guilty. Yet something compels me to speak out – to give a ‘heads up’ to what’s coming at us – because if I don’t I shall never forgive my inaction.
The fact is – I’m deeply concerned that Mum’s not well. I mean our Earth Mum – Gaia. Her lungs are congested, temperature elevated, her breathing laboured, she sweats a lot and is becoming very moody. It’s a case of Elder abuse.
To underscore my concerns, here in point form are a handful of facts that I have gleaned from quite a few well respected sources. Taken together they paint a sobering picture of what Mother Earth almost certainly has in store for our successors. They will not thank us.
Analysis of core samples from 600,000 years down in the Greenland ice cap shows that the concentration of the greenhouse gas CO2 in the atmosphere ranged between 180 and 280 parts per million (ppm)up until the industrial age. Since then, and particularly since 1950, it has risen dramatically. It reached 400 ppm on 9 May 2013 at the Mauna Loa monitoring station in Hawaii which measures global mean CO2 concentrations. A growing number of environmental scientists hold that a CO2 concentration greater than 350 ppm is incompatible with life on Earth, and that we must get it back below that level as soon as possible.
AVERAGE GLOBAL TEMPERATURE CHANGE:
The consensus among climate scientists at the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference was that, in order to avoid a chain reaction of climate-related natural disasters, average future global (surface and ocean) temperature increases should be held to less than 2 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. In fact, that is about all they agreed on. The average temperature has already risen by 0.8 degrees over pre-industrial levels, and is projected to rise close to another full degree due to heat- trapping greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. A report issued by the World Bank last year confirmed the world is on track for a 4 degree C temperature increase by 2100. Even a 2 degree rise is viewed by world renowned ex- NASA scientist James Hansen as a recipe for long term disaster.
Some argue there has been a pause in surface warming since 1998. Not so. NASA confirms that the observed temperature data, corrected for periods of volcanic activity (which cools), occurrences of El Nino (which warms) and La Nina (which cools), variations in solar activity and natural weather variations clearly show that human-induced global warming has continued to increase in line with projections over the past 16 years.
The volume of Arctic sea ice in the summer of 1979 was measured at about 17,000 cubic kilometres. Last summer it was about 3,000 cubic kilometres. At this rate of melting, the Arctic could be ice-free by summer 2015. The Greenland ice cap is currently losing volume at the rate of 100 cubic kilometres per year. The West Antarctic ice cap, which contains 2.2 million cubic kilometres of ice, is warming three times faster than the rest of the world.
Scientists calculate a 2 degree increase would melt enough ice to raise global ocean levels by between 7.5 and 9 metres.
DO THE MATH:
U.S. environmentalist and author Bill McKibben lays out in his new film ‘Do the Math” what must be done to prevent a runaway environmental calamity.
- To have an 80% chance of keeping the rise in global temperature below 2 degrees the world economy can release only 565 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere by 2050.
- Known global reserves of coal, oil and natural gas contain 2795 gigatons of CO2.
- At current rates of fuel production and growth, the 565 gigatons allowance could be used up in just 16 years (i.e. by 2028).
Simply put, fossil fuel reserves are five times as great as the world can afford to burn. To avoid calamity we must leave 80% of it in the ground.
So there are just a few facts, but the implications for Canada are huge. So is the incentive to push for a non- fossil fuel economy without delay. As Christine Lagarde of the International Monetary Fund expressed it: “If we don’t act now, future generations will be toasted, roasted, grilled and fried. “ So what are we waiting for? We are all in this together.
May this be the start of a wider discussion at St. Francis.