polar bearHot enough for you?

The world’s poor face an even bleaker future than polar bears, thanks to global warming.

Global warming has proved one of the rare issues capable of uniting Christians of all persuasions into a more or less coherent chorus for change. A lot of folks have been moved to a call for action on global warming and the related phenomenon of climate change by a biblical understanding of their responsibilities as stewards of creation. According to this perspective, we are mere trustees of a creation and a future that is not our own.

Now, as ice caps melt and polar bears paddle furiously for an icy safe haven perpetually receding just out of their reach, a lot more folks have awakened to their responsibilities vis--vis climate change. But if creation stewardship isn’t enough to motivate your Christian conscience, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development (CAFOD) in Great Britain has come up with a whole new angle on climate change that should bring more righteous attention to the problem. Intervening now to restrain the worst climate effects of global warming is the right thing to do not just because of how it affects the environment but because of its impact on the world’s most vulnerable people.

According to “Up in Smoke,” a report prepared by CAFOD and the other members of the Working Group on Climate Change and Development, global warming promises to reverse decades of social and economic progress in Asia, where 60 percent of the world’s people live. It could make commitments to halve global hunger and poverty by 2015, the Millennium Development Goals, essentially unattainable.

The report predicts that specific regions of Asia are likely to experience both climate extremes of devastating drought and typhoon-driven flooding owing to the cruel vagaries of global warming. Individual climate catastrophes will be accompanied by an overall breakdown of weather patterns, ending a meteorological predictability upon which the rhythms of Asian agriculture have been built over millennia. In the future more temperamental monsoons may be just as likely to demolish as nurture a Southeast Asian growing season.

That means regional resources that could have been dedicated to economic growth or to improve living, health, and education standards will have to be redirected to climate and crisis response as disaster and crop failure take precedence over social investment. The timing could not be worse for many Asian nations finally on the verge of emerging from the broad economic and social deprivation of the past.

Some of the effects of global warming can now only be mitigated, but to prevent the absolute worst from happening, citizens of the affluent world have to do more than greenwash their homes and domestic industries. Individual actions to reduce “carbon footprints” will always be welcome and worthwhile, but it’s time for citizens to start issuing “come to Jesus” calls to their national governments and demand a comprehensive, globally integrated blueprint for change.

National emissions cuts, according to CAFOD’s report, must move substantially beyond even the most ambitious targets of the Kyoto Protocol. Even as they invest in advanced alternative energy and infrastructure for reducing greenhouse emissions, industrialized powers also must develop a mechanism for sharing the wealth, so the world’s poorest, and often rapidly industrializing, nations can do the same. As the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases (perhaps now surpassed by China), a good opening salvo in the war on warming for the United States might be at least embracing Kyoto’s spirit of international cooperation and compromise. Unfortunately during recent U.N.-sponsored talks in Bali, the U.S. continued to play an obstructionist role.

The poor of the world can’t wait for the wealthy to worry about global warming any longer. The floodwaters and drought that will obliterate what progress has been achieved will not wait on more debate and political grandstanding. The time for talk is rapidly ending; the time for real change is now. The last thing this particular global dilemma needs is more hot air.

Kevin Clarke is a senior editor at U.S. Catholic and managing editor of online products at Claretian Publications. This article appeared in the February 2008 (Volume 73, Number 2; page 46) issue of U.S. Catholic.

All active news articles