Climate crisis: the window of opportunity is closing rapidly

  • Fr Sean McDonagh

Wildfire in California - Wiki image

Wildfire in California - Wiki image

On Monday November 25th 2019, the European Parliament voted in favour of declaring a 'climate emergency.' The European Union is the first multilateral bloc to call a climate emergency. On the same week, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere rose to 407.8 parts per million (ppm) in 2018. From the end of the last ice age about 11,000 years ago to the beginning of the industrial revolution in 1750, there were 280 ppm in the atmosphere.

The General Secretary of the WMO, Petteri Taalas made the point that the last time the earth had experienced comparable concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was three to five million years ago. At that time the global temperature was two to three degrees Celsius warmer and the sea levels were 10 to 20 metres higher than they are now. The WMO said that this continuing long-term trend means that future generations of all species will be confronted with increasingly severe impacts of climate change, including rising temperatures, more extreme weather, sea level rise and the massive destruction of biodiversity. Taalas bemoans the fact that we do not have sufficient political will, nationally and internationally, to combat climate change. Despite the promise made at Paris agreement in 2015, countries will have to increase their level of ambition for the same of the future of humankind and all other species. .

Researchers writing in the prestigious journal Nature questioned whether planet Earth had passed a series of tipping points on climate change. Tipping points are reached when the impacts of global heating become unstoppable in terms of the runaway loss of ice sheets, destruction of forests or rising ocean levels. Until recently, scientists believed that it would take a rise of 5 degree Celsius about the pre-industrial level, to breach tipping points. Recent research suggests that this could happen Scientists are particularly worried about the release of methane from thawing permafrost

The good news is that we now have technologies such as renewable energy and electric vehicles which could enable us to make serious cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Inger Andersen, the executive director of UNep warns that "that the world's fate would be sealed in the next few years as carbon would rise to such a level as to make dangerous levels of heating inevitable.

A recent UK report argues that a new international organization should be set up as a way to fund poor nations which will suffer most from the adverse impact of climate change. This is in addition to the $100 billion a year pledge that rich countries have made to help poor countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt the climate crisis. This proposal will be debated at COP 25 which takes place in Madrid this week. On metre sea level rise will have a devastating impact on a poor country like Bangladesh.

At the Madrid conference some people will argue that compensation should paid to poorer countries like Bangladesh who are experiencing impacts of climate change through no fault of their own, because their greenhouse gas emissions are minimal in contrast to countries like the United States. The one thing we now know for certain is that climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing humans and all other species on planet Earth.

Care For Our Common Home is central to the encyclical Laudato Si'. Long before concern for the Earth was emphasized by Rome, protecting God's creation was central to Columban understanding of being on mission today. But as Columbans in Ireland and elsewhere we need to move from understanding these issues to taking concrete action. This will involve retrofitting our dwellings, off-setting our air travel by planting trees and evaluating whether running a dairy herd is in line with our commitments to care for our earth, because of what we know about the devastating impact of methane on our atmosphere. Early in November 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), confirmed that 34 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Ireland come from the agricultural sector. This is up two per cent on the previous year. Other forms of agricultural are much less polluting.

In the light of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church appointed safeguarding officers in various regions. The Columbans should now ask themselves whether there is a need for climate change people in each region or mission unit to oversee our transition from a fossil fuel economy to a renewable energy one. The challenge is there and we should be addressing it honestly.


Tags: Environment, Fr Sean McDonagh, Columbans, Climate, Climate Change

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