Science of climate change | Morality of climate change
Climate change is not just a scientific issue – it is also a moral one. While scientists may record the changes that are happening to the earth’s climate and eco-systems, it is vital to also be aware of the impacts these changes are having on the people of the world, and how we are related to both the causes of and the solutions to climate change.
theological position paper:
Impacts on people
The melting of polar ice means that low-lying islands are gradually being inundated by rising sea levels, causing coastal erosion and salination of fresh water supplies and increased soli salinity leading to failure of crops.
In other parts of the world, the increased droughts and changing rainfall makes it very hard for farmers to know when to plant and when to harvest their crops, as both wet and dry weather is required at different times in the planting cycle to ensure a good crop. Further, the changing temperatures also affect the ability of crops to survive and thrive, particularly those that are only suited to either warm or cold climates. This not only affects poorer farmers ability to earn a living, but for subsistence farmers affects their very ability to feed themselves.
The changing rainfall patterns, and the effects these have on river systems, also affects the abilities of communities to maintain a supply of fresh drinking water. This is a particular issue in Australia as well as around the world. However in poorer countries the effects of lack of fresh water sources are often much greater as other sources of water such as bottled water are not freely available or affordable. This leads to large increases in health problems, whether caused by dehydration and heat stroke, or by water-borne diseases and illnesses such as diarrhoea, which is the greatest killer of children under 5 in the world.
Other health problems also arise from the general increasing temperatures which see a spread of the tropical zones further out from the equator, along with an increase in the spread of associated tropical diseases into communities that have previously had no exposure to the disease and therefore no immunity. Malaria particularly is an example of this.
Other social problems arise from the decrease in arable land and particularly the supply of fresh water, both of which see large numbers of people moving away from their homelands in search of better livelihoods elsewhere. This may result in a large rural-urban migration as people descend on already highly populated cities, great internal displacement as people are forced to move between different regions within a country, or even international migration as people cross borders into other countries. In addition to the tensions and unrest this can cause, fighting can also break out over the control of precious resources.
People as the cause and the solution
The science is clear - people have been the cause of much of the climate change and thus the challenges that we are seeing today and into the future. There is a gross injustice in the fact that people in developed countries have contributed the most to climate change, but can afford to deal with it, while the people in developing countries, who have contributed the least, suffer the greatest consequences of climate change, and are poorly resourced to deal with its consequences.
A just response in this situation requires not only for the global community, and especially developed countries, to do everything we can to mitigate climate change and help poor countries adapt, but we also need to take a long hard look at the root of the issue. The system of ever-increasing consumption in developed countries is simply not sustainable for our planet, and until we can acknowledge this and change our way of thinking and living, we will continue on the same destructive path. We need to fundamentally change our relationship with the earth, from one of exploitation and consumption to a relationship of respect, care, protection and stewardship – the way that many religious teachings depict it should be.
When we take action to reduce our consumption it will help mitigate some of the above impacts by reducing climate change, but it can also have direct beneficial impacts on poor communities. For example, when we choose to eat less meat, reducing the demand, then not only will methane emissions from livestock be reduced, but the cereals and grains which are used to feed these livestock will no longer be diverted from feeding poor communities struggling with food security. Taking action for climate change can have immediate impacts, as well as longer term impacts on poor communities.
- ABC Religion and Ethics article 'Faith must confront climate change with a single moral voice' www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2012/07/13/3545416.htm
- Article: "NASA scientist: climate change is a moral issue on a par with slavery" www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/apr/06/nasa-scientist-climate-change
- UN Videos on the human cost of climate change www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=81856%20
- World Vision's resources on Climate Change and poverty www.worldvision.com.au/issues/Climate_Change.aspx
- Oxfam videos on the Faces of Climate Change https://www.oxfam.org.au/explore/climate-change/what-oxfam-is-doing/faces-of-climate-change