A High Degree of Certainty
I read somewhere that the sun’s getting hotter every year. It seems that pretty soon the earth’s going to fall into the sun—or wait a minute—it’s just the opposite—the sun’s getting colder every year.
Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby
We can relate to Tom Buchanan’s solar confusion almost a century after F. Scott Fitzgerald penned his classic novel in 1925. While our sun is about halfway through its life, with easily another five billion years to go, what about earth’s lifespan? Is it getting hotter every year?
According to Dr. Robert Kopp, director of the Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at Rutgers University, the earth “is running a fever.” In February, he warned the US House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, “The faster we reduce our [carbon dioxide] emissions, the less severe the effects and the lower the risk of unwelcome surprises.” Last October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a sobering report to world governments indicating that if global emissions weren’t cut in half over the next twelve years, catastrophic warming would cause $54 trillion in damages. A month later, our federal government’s National Climate Assessment concluded that without a drastic reduction in emissions, the US could increase by nine degrees or more by the end of this century. Still other respected members of the scientific community have already conceded that emissions reductions alone won’t prevent climate disaster at this point, in particular for coastal areas, where a third of the world’s major cities are located.
With certainty about climate change from so many respected scientific experts, why all the confusion? A few reasons: the issue’s scope is massive and hard to digest, international cooperation is mandatory, and polar-opposite opinions of politicians and their followers harden despite the facts, leading to louder denials that the climatory elephant in the room isn’t there.
Moreover, after evidence emerged in the 1980s that humans were accelerating global warming, those who had much to lose by emissions limits began to discredit science and influence lawmakers. For example, the contrarian opinions and research on climate change that the energy industry bankrolled was used to lobby legislators against reductions in emissions. As Pope Francis wrote, “Economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected” (On Care for Our Common Home [Laudato Si’], 54).
When elected leaders and their followers voice opinions contrary to sound scientific reasoning—such as the politicians who said falling rocks are responsible for rising sea levels or that Jews control the weather—we need to state that their claims are false and cite the truth of science. Incredibly, many people trust scientific evidence when it confirms our religious belief that human life begins at conception, but they discredit substantial scientific proof that humans are heating the planet. As Catholics, we rightly protect the unborn, but the world that babies are born into also needs protection. That’s a prolife stance, too!
Shouldn’t our concern for those who come after us be so universal that it transcends political intransigence and ideologies? Remember, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” My friends, our common home is on loan. As a result, we must care for it responsibly and give it to the next generation without depriving them of its blessings.