Sightings From the Treehouse: Soft Landing or Runaway Train?

Sightings from the Treehouse is an investigative blog series on climate change and the environment, from GIPL’s Power Wise Director, Bob Donaghue. You can read all the posts from the blog series here

It is amazing the wide array of technologies available today to cut our fossil fuel emissions. Solar panels are getting competitive and battery technology is improving to store energy obtained through renewable sources. Wind power is abundant in the heartland. Electric cars are getting cheaper with greater ranges, and Volvo has indicated they will stop making gas-powered cars by 2019. Cities are moving forward on sustainability and millions of people are marching in the streets around the world to fight efforts to weaken support for clean air, water and a healthy planet.
Quite appropriately, as the current administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, industry, cities and ordinary citizens are banding together to live up to the goals of the climate accord. Many city mayors (including Atlanta), governors and corporations are seeking a UN agreement vowing to meet the Paris Climate goals for 2025. Other companies indicated they are progressing on developing renewable energy and building sustainability into their operations. Fortunately, most of the technologies, behaviors, and actions needed to effectively fight climate change are in existence now. They just need to be implemented and scaled up globally.
Misinformation Campaigns
The political reality for the next several election cycles; however, is that conservative political forces will maintain control of some or all of federal government and most state governments.  This will be fed by ever-expanding propaganda.  Both will continue the misinformation campaign about climate change, trying to confuse the public so their fossil fuel allies, both domestic and foreign, can continue their profitable, polluting ways at the expense of Creation. The results of their propaganda can be seen in the figure below showing the divide between the two major political parties.  It is critical that this misleading programming be countered by those that care for Creation, our planet.

Media Abdication
You would think that the media would be all over this evolving global catastrophe. In 2016, climate change was only briefly mentioned during the political campaign, and generally with a split screen containing a denier and a scientist giving each equal time in an unequal debate.  Granted, the theatrics of today’s politics are sucking all the oxygen out of the air, but the real show is the current and evolving disaster being obscured by special interests, politicians and media inattention.  Instead of oxygen, we should be getting the carbon dioxide out of the air.  The media are not helping and are complicit, by their absence, in blurring the need for a “call to action.”  The mainstream media need to strongly counter the anti-science propaganda machine, not acquiesce.

Faith-Based Creation Care Movement
There is a growing faith-based movement to save Creation. Interfaith Power and Light has affiliates in 38 states, each reaching out to hundreds of interfaith congregations. The Evangelical Environmental Network also promotes Creation care among their community and others across the country. Every state has its congregational leaders on Creation care, but not enough.
Each faith and denomination has proclamations against climate change or harming Creation.  Some of these are dated, but others are current.  In either case, individual clergy have not yet embraced these declarations.  Have they been trained to integrate Creation care and the moral guideposts of their sacred books into their liturgy and education programs?   How many local clergy are talking to their congregations about the abuses Creation is undergoing, and what our moral obligation is to it?
So, Where Are We?
The IPCC goal is 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F) above preindustrial levels. We are already half way there with about a 1 degree C (1.9 degrees F) rise in temperatures from man-made causes, and may overshoot the IPPC goal according to some scientists.  We are seeing extreme disruptions of weather, oceans, glaciers, ecosystems and human health around the world from climate change now.  A few are discussed below:
In a matter of one month this summer, Houston experienced a 1,000 year flood event from Hurricane Harvey, Florida was slammed by Hurricane Irma which devastated much of the Caribbean with 185 mph sustained winds, while another Category 5 hurricane, Maria, devastated Puerto Rico shortly after. All are historic superstorms. The Boulder, Colorado 2013 flood was classified as a 1,000 year rain event. Even compound events listed as “Potential Surprises and Tipping Elements” in the draft 2017 State of the Climate Report are occurring. Southern California, for example, has experienced such an event which included a long-term drought and uncontrolled forest fires followed by torrential rains, floods and landslides. This compound event will soon to be repeated due to the current California wild fires.
(Photo by Daniel J. Martinez / US Air National Guard)

Staying below the 2 degree C IPPC goal will take true commitment across the board, but will still result in a wide range of worsening impacts due to carbon already in the atmosphere. Think about doubling the current 1 degree C temperature increase with the resultant extreme weather events being twice the severity of those now or stronger, or we cross irreversible tipping points? Additionally, we will be into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels for many years to come despite international agreements.
No soft landing. It is too late for that. The train has already left the station and is rapidly gaining speed. It will turn into a runaway train if we do not heed a “call to action” to get mobilized and become truly committed – politically, economically and theologically – now. Political will follows public will. The public needs to wake up.
Better yet, let’s get a time machine to go back to 1979 when President Jimmy Carter, during the 2nd oil embargo, called the nation to action to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels, embrace energy efficiency, and expand the use of renewable energy. That was the correct path at the correct time. All progress to reduce energy use came to a rapid halt with the ascension of President Reagan, and his symbolic removal of the White House solar panels.
In next month’s blog, the response of the faith community to climate change will be examined with some thoughts on next steps.