Thursday, July 07, 2005

Global Warming, G8, Christians

Birmingham, England

July 7, 2005

Several years ago I wrote a piece on Toward2015 about global warming, and received some pretty severe rebuttals from several contributors. Since then I have kept a weather eye open, as it were, on the whole issue, and have to say that on the basis of the evidence there seems to be little doubt that the planet is getting much warmer -- and that human activity has played a significant role in this process. Yet, as the G8 leaders gather for their initial talks in Scotland today, to use the words of George Soros when speaking on the BBC this morning, the United States administration is in virtual denial of the actuality and the consequences.

This American blindspot puzzles Europeans no end. Europe and much of the rest of the developed world is taking the issue very seriously, so folks here shake their heads, puzzling that Americans can be so wantonly profligate in their use of energy, the damage this is doing to the environment, and then their refusal to take responsibility.

My answer has to be that I don't know either. From the disappearing snows of Kilimanjaro to the shrinkage of the glaciers of Alaska, the Alps, and the Himalayas, there is plenty of evidence that something awful is happening, yet we go on merrily as if it is always going to be business as usual. And it is not a valid excuse for Americans to shrug and say that we never tackle something until it is a crisis -- this bears all the hallmarks of a crisis in the making if the vast majority of climate scientists are to be believed.

I found myself thinking yesterday about the sort of world my new born granddaughter will inherit as she grows to adulthood, and whether we as a generation will be able to say that we have been responsible in the way in which we have cared for it. While attempting to stay away from doomsday scenarios, I sadly concluded that Hannah and her generation will not be too pleased with us for our determination to keep on going down the same path until there the crisis is irreversible.

Nothing is gained from taking partisan potshots at the present administration in the United States for its failure to be alert to this long-term threat that lurks maybe five, maybe twenty-five years, down the road. We need to ask ourselves as American Christians whether our lifestyles are conducive to sustaining life on this planet. For example, can we justify creating 22% of the world's greenhouse gases, especially if our wya of life is the model for the sort of life the 1.3 billion Chinese and billion Indians would like to live?

I was heartened this morning to hear the CEO of BP talking on the BBC about efforts they are making to deal with the whole issue of greenhouse emissions, but it distressed me that in the same radio slot we were told many American-based oil companies like Exxon-Mobil tend to take the view of the US administration. One of the reasons such shortsightedness puzzles me is that the commodity upon which we have built our lifestyle is transported from one of the most volatile areas in the world, yet we seem determined to base our future security on the fact that the tankers will always be able to get through, and those with the black gold in their ground will always want to sell it, and sell it to us.

Add to that the jitters that take place in the economy as oil prices rise as a result of demand from China, India, and other developing countries -- and while greater supply is soon likely to come on line, that burgeoning demand is not going to go away. Yesterday the Dow Jones dropped over 100 points because of oil price fears, and I heard one of the world's leading energy strategists suggest the other week that oil prices could reach $70-80 per barrel in the relative near term.

All this should be encouraging industry and those who govern us to be investing significantly in alternative energy research, yet while the rest of the developing world is ratcheting up its ability in these areas, the USA waddles along, doing relatively little, and hoping to get away with it. Why this further puzzles me is that it is obvious to anyone with an eye to the future that there are huge profits to be made in this area of expertise, and the USA is cutting itself off from that bounty.

The other week, before I came away to England, a friend said to me, "Goodness, you lucked out by building an energy-efficient home and driving hybrid cars now that prices are rising so significantly." I shook my head and told him that this wasn't lucking out, it was one of the benefits of applying just a little forethought on the basis of trying to understand the trends of the future. The total utility bills from our house in April and May were $16.00, and in my hybrid I am able to drive 500 miles for about $20.00. Americans would certainly alter their mode of travel if they had to pay British gas prices. The other evening I filled up my rented Peugeot and it cost me about $75.00, even though the 50 liter (12+ gallon) tank was still about an eighth full.

Prime Minister Blair is right to have raised the issue of global warming at the G8 summit, and I suspect that now the issue is on the table at such a high level of conversation, it is unlikely to go away. British Christians have been some of the most enthusiastic supporters of Blair's initiative, and whether liberal or conservative, significant numbers do take their global stewardship seriously -- and it influences their way of life.

In the first chapter of Genesis, God teaches us that we are placed on this planet to be its stewards, and it is vital that we live into that characterization of what it means to be created in the image of God. What Rosemary and I have discovered as we have journeyed down this road in the last few years is that in little ways it is possible for us to alter our lifestyles so that we reduce the cost to the planet of having us living upon it.

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