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Issue #1653      August 27, 2014

Culture & Life

Climate disruption and religious bigotry

One of the confusing aspects of global warming is the undeniable fact that in some parts of the world temperatures are actually falling. In July and August, “cool air moved from high northern latitudes into much of the US, setting record-low day time and night time temperatures as far south as Florida and Georgia. Temperatures dropped to winter-like levels in the mountains of Tennessee” – (Dahr Jamail, Truthout). In the North Atlantic, the Gulf Stream is losing its thrust, failing to carry warm water all the way to the coast of Europe and causing temperatures on the Continent to drop.

The Nile has fed civilisation in Egypt for thousands of years.

This data has been seized upon by climate deniers as evidence that global warming is a furphy. However, in reality, it is evidence of their own simplistic approach to the issue. Although the world is experiencing an overall rise in temperature, this has mixed effects that manifest themselves in different ways, causing temperatures to rise dramatically in some areas (the Arctic, for example) and to fall in others.

In the circumstances, calling it simply “global warming” probably doesn’t help. A better term is “human caused” (technically “anthropogenic”) climate disruption (ACD for short). A study published in the scientific journal Nature recently found that ACD aggravated by air pollution would damage crop growth globally to such an extent that an estimated 50 percent more people would go hungry by 2050.

The article by Dahr Jamail in Truthout previously referred to also notes some other significant effects caused or aggravated by ACD. “In the North Atlantic, the numbers of codfish spawning are at an all-time low, and regulators are pointing towards ACD as the reason.

“Salmon in Oregon are feeling the impacts, as diminishing river flows, higher water temperatures and the effects of drought are combining to take their toll on the Klamath Basin fisheries. Not surprisingly, drought-plagued California is also seeing large numbers of juvenile salmon die off due to low river flows and hotter-than-normal temperatures.”

And in Washington State, in the USA’s north-west, “billions of baby oysters are dying”. Meanwhile, “rivers that now run dry or are reduced to a tiny trickle before reaching the sea for at least part of the year now include the Colorado (a major river in the south-western United States), the Yellow (the largest river in northern China), the Nile (the lifeline of Egypt), the Indus (which supplies the majority of Pakistan’s irrigation waters), and the Ganges (which is situated in India’s most populated area – the Gangetic basin)”.

The Nile has fed civilisation in Egypt for thousands of years, but now its precious waters are being extracted by farmers far upstream long before they reach Egypt. Most rivers run into the sea, and the sea – as a wise man once said – is never full. Some, on the other hand, flow into artesian basins. However, the world’s artesian basins are being depleted much faster than they can be naturally refilled, whether they are in Australia or Saudi Arabia.

Dahr Jamail again: “As of today, 18 countries that contain half the population of humans on the planet are over pumping their aquifers. China, India and the United States, which are the three largest grain producers on the planet, are included in these. Saudi Arabia has become the first country to predict that its aquifer depletion will shrink its harvest of grain, and will thus soon become completely dependent upon imports for all of its grain. Saudi Arabia has a population of 29 million.”

And “a recently published study by NASA and University of California, Irvine has revealed that groundwater in the Colorado River Basin is disappearing at a ‘shocking’ rate.”

But while fresh water is becoming scarcer, methane – the most potent greenhouse gas of them all – is being rapidly unlocked from the soils and permafrost of the Arctic where it has hitherto been safely locked away, literally in cold storage. Since 2000, temperatures in the Arctic have risen twice as fast as the rest of the world and as temperatures rise, huge methane-filled craters are emerging in Siberia, plumes of methane are bubbling from the seabed of the Arctic Ocean.

Since the industrial revolution began, humanity has emitted into the atmosphere some 240 gigatons of carbon. But the stock of methane frozen under the Arctic Ocean alone – and now being rapidly unfrozen – according to a March 2010 report in Science cumulatively contains the equivalent of 1,000 to 10,000 gigatons of carbon.

ACD deniers, like our extremely reactionary Prime Minister, are not concerned by the threat posed to life on Earth by the release of frozen methane or any of the other ACD manifestations. Abbott and many of his ministers are not worried about the possible end of life on Earth because they believe they are the chosen of God, special people who will not be adversely affected by climate disruption since they are under divine protection.

Whether you call them religious believers or just fanatics, their very obvious contempt for the poor and downtrodden, and their willingness to consign the majority of us to oblivion doesn’t say much for their understanding of the teachings of the man they profess to follow, Jesus. They are in the same camp as those American religious fundamentalists who are convinced that when Jesus returns – an event they deem to be imminent – they and all the others who have been “saved” will simply be plucked up from their cars and their jobs and float up to Heaven, leaving all the rest of us to face the cataclysm.

For those of us with a scientific view of the universe and of life on Earth, we know that that is merely a construct formulated by people trying to make sense of life and the world around them, and seeking to explain what they didn’t understand by resorting to magic and mysticism, which may have been comforting but only made it more mysterious. The laws of science are surely sufficiently amazing that they do not need magical embellishment. In the meantime, we need to seriously tackle climate disruption free from the distractions of religious bigotry.

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