A Sustainable Environment: Our Obligation to Protect God’s Gift
by George P. Nassos
We Must Develop a Social Consensus to Minimize Climate Change
There is no question that global warming, better known now as climate change, is becoming a greater concern than ever. We have seen more droughts, more storms, higher temperatures and more fires. Why haven’t we done what is necessary to mitigate this environmental problem. It is not because we didn’t see it coming.
About 50 years ago, a team of MIT experts conducted a computer model and produced a report titled “Limits to Growth”. This report showed the interrelationship between global factors like population, non-renewable resources, global pollution, food production, services per capita, and industrial activity. The report predicted a continued depletion of non-renewable resources like oil and gas, increased global pollution and a sharp decline in population by 2030. These same experts then looked at the real data from the first 30 years of the study and noted that these real data coincided very closely to the predicted model.
A more recent study by KPMG looked at the Limits to Growth model almost 50 years after the original study was published. One major change to the model is the greater availability of fossil fuels since 1972 because more oil and gas has been discovered. This study concludes that the current business-as-usual trajectory of global civilization is heading toward the terminal decline of economic growth within the coming decade—and at worst, could trigger societal collapse by around 2040.
Another warning was provided to us in 1988 by James Hansen who at the time was head of the Goddard Space Institute. He testified before Congress stating that the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere is increasing. For several centuries, the concentration was somewhat stable at 280 parts per million (ppm), but it creeping up. Hansen said that if the concentration goes above 350 ppm, we are going to be in trouble. Despite several warnings nothing was being done so he resigned from Goddard and took a position at Columbia University. He has continued to warn us as we reached 350 ppm around 1995 while the current CO2 concentration is over 410 ppm.
In addition, the IPCC just released a report on the state of the Earth’s climate. It details with greater certainty than ever before the links between human activity and extreme weather patterns: fires, floods, and rising sea levels. It further states that we must take urgent action to curb global heating and prevent catastrophe.
Compounding this problem is neglect of the fossil fuel industry to admit that the combustion of fossil fuels is contributing to climate change. For many years, companies like Exxon Mobil have denied relationships between the combustion of fossil fuels and climate change. The management was receiving reports from its own researchers, leaders in the field of climate science, that their products were causing unprecedented warming on a global scale. Rather than share this information and take the necessary action, they kept this information away from the key stakeholders.
What is happening today is not much different than what happened in 1949. Scientists started looking at a possible link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer, and a report was presented seven years later that data show this link is definite. In 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General recommended that controls be put in place to protect the general public from cigarette smoke. Large tobacco companies spent millions of dollars over several decades to discredit the science associating their products with cancer. It wasn’t until 1998 that the tobacco industry admitted to the cigarette and cancer relationship.
To help solve the climate change problem we must look at our culture and create a social consensus, however long it takes, as a scientific consensus doesn’t seem to work. As Andrew Hoffman pointed out in “How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate”, it takes time, usually too much time, to develop a social consensus. In the case of cigarette smoking, it eventually happened when parents would warn their children, and even their friend’s children, of the danger of smoking. This took four decades even though the scientists were adamant about their findings. Since social consensus seems to have a greater impact on people than the science itself, we must employ this culture as soon as possible. However, rather than the older generations warning the younger generations of the dangers in smoking cigarettes, in the case of climate change don’t be surprised if the younger generations take the lead to develop the necessary social consensus to mitigate climate change. After all, it is their future that is at stake.