AS THE scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) met to discuss the final details of their latest
report in Copenhagen earlier this week, several large blocks of
ice, imported specially from Greenland for the event, slowly melted
outside the city hall.
The IPCC report is a synthesis of the evidence accepted by the
vast majority of climate scientists to indicate convincingly (most
would say "prove") that the climate is being changed, largely as a
result of fossil-fuel emissions. Hidden in the technical paragraphs
are the worrying details: the scientists say that there is now more
evidence that Greenland's ice sheet is melting quickly, that the
sea level is rising, that the global temperature is increasing.
They say that they have high confidence that these changes are
having an impact on the planet and all the species that live on
Even some of the most sceptical voices are now accepting that
our lifestyles are having an impact on the planet's climate. Their
argument is now about the intensity of the changes rather than
whether they are happening.
There are no sceptics in St Lucia, where the changing climate is
already having an impact. The small Caribbean island state is
experiencing tropical storms far more frequently. These regularly
damage the island's infrastructure, and drain its public
Sea-level rises in Bangladesh continue to threaten to inundate
low-lying farmland where millions scratch out a living. Salty soils
are, unsurprisingly, not good for crops, and so many are forced to
join the growing number of hungry migrants. These are just two
examples to show that climate change is not a future problem.
THIS is not now a debate about whether the scientific consensus
is correct, but about how to avoid the devastation they are
predicting for the planet.
According to the IPCC report, there are still things that can be
done to avoid the most damaging changes, including a dramatic
reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions over the next decades,
reducing them to zero by 2100.
European leaders met recently and agreed some of the largest
emissions reductions anywhere, but even these were derided by
activists and climate scientists as too little and too late.
Next year in Paris, the nations of the world will meet to try to
hammer out a binding climate agreement to replace the time-expired
Kyoto Agreement. Last time they tried, in Copenhagen in 2009, the
meeting ended in failure.
There are a few more optimistic noises about Paris. But the size
of the problem cannot be overestimated, since it must encompass
growing populations, aspirations towards lifestyles based on
Western advertising, the shaky economic climate, and the wishes of
the various blocs of developed and developing countries.
THE leaders of the nations can do only so much with their
conferences and policies. The place where solutions have to be find
is generally termed "civil society" - in other words, among the
people most responsible for the majority of emissions: us. How,
then, are we to live?
The most popular option is now closed to us: it is impossible to
live in denial, asserting that the scientists are mistaken. The
technical evidence of climate change is overwhelming.
The next most popular, prevalent in the United States in
particular, is to live in hope of a technical fix. There have
certainly been many advances in green energy, and more are in
development; but, without the political will to bring these online
- and pay for them - fossil-fuel use, bolstered by fracking, will
undermine these efforts.
THERE is one word that the politicians find hard to use:
sacrifice. Instead, they are locked into the language of growth.
Thus the Australian PM, Tony Abbott, criticised the IPCC
conclusions at the weekend: "If we are serious about raising
people's living standards in less developed countries, if we are
serious about maintaining and improving living standards in
countries like Australia, we have to be serious about making the
best use of coal. . . Coal is good for humanity; coal is good for
This is where the non-politicians must make their contribution.
The notion of sacrifice needs no explanation to Christians:
"Greater love has no man that he lay down his life for his friends"
The Anglican Communion has members in almost every country.
Those who already struggle to cope with the damage in their own
countries are not faceless and unknown, but friends, and more than
that: brothers and sisters in Christ. When they are hurt, we feel
the pain, not least because of the contribution Western affluence
has made to the hurt they are experiencing.
An appeal on behalf of future generations has failed to carry
the argument. Also, we are living at a time when sections of the
electorate in affluent countries such as the UK, the US, and
Australia, and the politicians who plan to represent them, choose
to deny our connection with other people on the planet.
This is not an option for Christians.
We must allow God to melt our hearts like those blocks of ice,
giving us the courage to make changes to our lifestyles - reducing
the use of our cars, changing our diet, cutting food waste - for
the benefit of our brothers and sisters: living more simply so that
others can simply live.
Joe Turner writes about science for The Scientist,
SciDev.net, and other publications and websites.