Some people remain unconvinced about anthropogenic global warming and climate change. I remain convinced that they are wrong, and that they have swallowed the lies fed to them by a massive and well-funded misinformation industry.
But sometimes it's worth leaving climate change to one side, and focusing on the rest of the environmental crisis. What "rest of the environmental crisis", do I hear you ask? Read on.
The first (and shorter) half of Jonathan Moo and Robert White's recent book, Hope in an Age of Despair: The gospel and the future of life on earth, is a sweeping survey of the many environmental issues facing us today. Helpfully, they divide this material into two chapters, leaving the subject of climate change to the second, and dealing with a range of other issues in the first.
So what are these other issues? They mention five:
- Biodiversity. "On average one species on earth goes extinct every eight hours. Up to 30% of all mammal, bird and amphibian species are threatened with extinction this century". "Most of the extinctions taking place are the result of habitat degradation and land use changed" (p.37), i.e., they are our fault.
- Water. Fresh water is in great demand, largely due to agriculture, and "By 2030 it is estimated that nearly half of the world's population will be living in areas of high water stress" (p.41). The oceans are also under stress. "Their acidity is increasing inexorably, largely due to growing amounts of carbon dioxide being absorbed in them as a result of our burning of huge quantities of fossil fuels." This "acidification will directly impact a wide range of marine organisms", affecting the whole marine ecosystem and food chain, and "could have far-reaching consequences not only for the ocean, but for millions of people who depend on its food and other resources for their livelihoods" (p.42).
- Nitrogen. Largely through the use of fertilisers, "Humans are responsible for doubling the turnover rates of the nitrogen cycle of the entire earth. ... The main immediate results include global acidification and stratospheric ozone loss, ... oxygen depletion of rivers ..., and a host of unpleasant side effects" (p.43). In the view of the Planetary Boundaries group, "we have surpassed the safe limit [of nitrogen use] by a factor of about four" (p.44).
- Food. Considering "our dependence on machinery in modern agriculture ... it is estimated that 7-10 kilocalories of energy are expended for every kilocalorie of food consumed in the USA. We are, as one recent writer has said, essentially eating fossil fuels. This cannot continue indefinitely" (p.46). Moreover, increased demand for land for biofuels and "the increasing consumption of meat and dairy products" (p.49) are putting great pressure on the supply of food.
- Land use. "All of the factors discussed in this chapter ... relate in one way or another to how we use the land" (p.50). "Overall 8 million square miles of land worldwide have been degraded as a result of unsustainable agricultural practices; that is nearly one hundred times the area of Britain". "Just in the years since 1970, about 20% of the Brazilian Amazon alone has been cleared" and "it is feared that if too much of the Amazon is felled, the region could transform irreversibly ... to semi-arid savannah" (p.51).
Now—global warming or no global warming—we seem to be faced with a major environmental crisis. People (and corporations and organisations and governments) are definitely taking steps to tackle this crisis, and those steps will make a real difference. But they need our support. Are we helping them in this, or are we just making things worse?