Director of Sustainability
How often do you think about global climate change? How often do your friends talk about it? For many Americans, climate change is either an afterthought or something so overwhelming it is easier to not engage, or only consider it during the freezing polar vortex with jokes like, “so much for global warming.”
To critically reflect on climate change means engaging in politics, economics, the energy sector, natural history and ethics. It also requires personal reflection—what, if anything, is required of me as I think about the reality of climate change on a personal level?
The way in which we approach these broad questions depends on how one answers this question: is human activity responsible for the changing climate? The arguments and debate around climate change are often centered on that question of human culpability, and I agree that there is a debate and there should be a debate around climate change (and sustainability in general).
However, the question of human culpability is not the appropriate or productive debate. While there are some disagreements about the intensity or how quickly the effects of climate change will take shape, there is very broad agreement among the global scientific community about a few aspects related to climate change.
Without going into all of the science, I will list three areas of agreement among the scientific community:
- Climate change is occurring, and it is largely the result of ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions related to human activity.
- Seas are warming and rising which will (have already) resulted in changing climate.
- The effects of climate change are distributed unevenly, and the results of a changing climate are greater weather variations and extremes in different areas of the globe.
The scientific community is in agreement about these realities of climate change and has been for the last thirty years. The general public, and specifically Christians, have not agreed. 69 percent of evangelicals do not believe climate change is occurring, and certainly, do not agree that it is human induced.
A recent poll by the Yale Program on Climate Communications gives us some of the most accurate data available on public climate change perception. 70 percent of Americans believe that climate change is happening, and 53 percent believe that these changes are human-induced. Further, about 70 percent of Americans also are of the belief that limits should be placed on CO2 emissions related to coal-fired power plants.
If the scientific community is clear, and public opinion is changing rapidly, what is the climate change debate? Truly, there are only two debates:
- If we should do something to try to reduce the increase of greenhouse gasses related to climate change.
- How we should reduce said increase.
The first question is a moral question, as Pope Francis says in his 2015 encyclical, “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”
The second question is of politics, economics, engineering, chemistry, education and others. Climate change (and more broadly, sustainability) are essential questions for university students to learn about and form opinions.
I hope we can stop the debate happening in our public discourse about the scientific validity of climate change and focus our attention on the true debate of should and how to tackle this problem. It will take all of us, all disciplines working together, to do it.
What do you think about climate change? Take the Messiah College poll to let us know!