In April 2014, scientists from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued their fourth report, which said more clearly than ever that climate change is occurring as a result of human activity. Carbon emissions are being trapped in the atmosphere and warming the planet. The scientists said that if we do not reduce fossil fuel consumption the results will be potentially catastrophic. They predicted, for example, that we might see the collapse of ice sheets with an ensuing rapid rise in sea levels in coming years.
Less than a month after the IPCC report, a part of that prediction came to pass. Two scientific groups, one of them the North American Space Agency (NASA), reported that a large section of the West Antarctica ice sheet has begun to disintegrate and its continued melting has likely passed a point of no return. The IPCC had earlier warned that the global sea levels could rise by as much as a metre by the end of this century and by more in subsequent years. American researchers say that, in turn, would inundate land in cities such as Miami, New Orleans, New York and Boston.
There is a growing sense of urgency among scientists but it is difficult for most individuals, and certainly for politicians driven by four year cycles, to be concerned about what will happen a century or two from now. However, Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations secretary general, fears for the future and has called upon world leaders to attend a Climate Summit in New York City on September 21-22. By inviting heads of state to attend, Ban Ki Moon wants to break an enduring cycle of stalled international negotiations on climate change.
There are vast proven reserves fossil fuel reserves in the world, a good deal of it trapped in the sticky bitumen of the Canadian tar sands. According to Bill McKibben, the climate change activist behind a group called 350.org, 80 % of the oil, coal and gas on our planet must stay in the ground if we are to limit the future rise in temperature to 2 degrees Celsius.
McKibben’s 350.org and 850 other groups are planning a giant march and rally to accompany the climate change summit in New York City. “We think that organizing, mobilizing, and building social movements are ultimately what change the course of history,” says the 350.org website.
The 25-member Canadian Council of Churches (CCC) wants to get Canadian churches and other faith-based organizations active on the issue as well. To that end, the ecumenical group Citizens for Public Justice has prepared worship aid materials, including prayers and sermon notes, for use on Sunday, September 21.
Joe Gunn, CPJ’s executive director, says, “We will be asking faith communities to make this day the largest demonstration of action on climate sensitivity on record, by walking, biking or taking public transit to work on that day. We also hope that faith-based organizations will make free use of the materials that we have prepared for them.”