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June 9, 2017 Column

It’s Not About Paris, It’s About Our Planet

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

It came as no surprise. But I was still dismayed by Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement. He claims that this is part of his “America First!” campaign, and that this will save jobs in the US. His decision, however, is short–sighted and potentially the most tragic decision he has made yet. It is also just plain dumb.

Care for the environment is not a nationalist concern. It’s a planetary concern. The recognition of the looming and very real planetary crisis is why leaders from 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Trump, however, has decided that climate change is a hoax. He chooses to ignore the work of leading scientists, and the general consensus among them, that our actions are slowly destroying the climate on our planet.

The primary goal of the Paris Agreement, which represents a broad consensus of the leaders of nations in the world, is stated in Article 2 of the Agreement:

  1. To pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre–industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;
  2. Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production;
  3. Moving [towards] low greenhouse gas emissions and climate–resilient development.

Willis Jenkins, associate professor of religious studies and knowledgeable about climate change writes in his book The Future of Ethics: Sustainability, Social Justice, and Religious Creativity:

“Decades of observation show that global average temperatures are rising, and that, consistent with temperature rise, the ice cover is retreating while average sea level is rising. Temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere during the late 20th century were likely ‘the highest in at least the past 1300 years,’ and the warming has already begun to affect basic biological rhythms like leaf unfolding, animal migrations, and reproductive cycles. On this there is no doubt: the climate system is steadily absorbing more thermal energy in ways that affect systems of life.”

It’s difficult for scientists to predict with complete accuracy the extent to which air pollution and other factors will directly impact global average temperatures. They agree on the severity of the crisis. The  Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that “a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide equivalent concentration (from a preindustrial 280 ppm to 560 ppm) would lead to a 3°C rise in temperature, although it could be as low as 1.5°C or higher than 4.5°C.”

So which will it be? 3°C warmer? 4°C? or 1.5°C? And does it really matter?

Here’s how Jenkins describes potential scenarios, with the impacts of sea–level rise, stress on agriculture, water shortage, etc., that will be the results of warmer average global temperatures:

“The difference between a rise of 2°C and 4°C over the coming century may represent the difference between the capacity for grain agriculture maintained or lost in some regions, or the difference between an extinction event of one quarter of life’s species and one in which more than half of species are lost. ‘Impact’ may be the wrong metaphor for changes that would necessitate a different from of human society altogether, but the World Bank has begun to consider how to help societies meet the impacts of 4°C warming.”

That is the logic behind the Paris Agreement. World leaders have resolved to do everything humanly possible to stay under a 2°C rise–and to aim for 1.5°C. The consequences of warming are real.

Our planet cannot afford people who want to sit around waiting for more data to come in. All nations have to work together to resolve the issue. The Paris Agreement is but one step.

And in the meantime, polar ice is melting, sea levels are rising, people living in coastal regions are being displaced, species are becoming extinct, water is warming, barrier reefs are fading and habitats are dramatically changing.

And Donald Trump is pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, because “I was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Here’s the thing. The Paris Agreement isn’t about Paris. It’s about the planet.

Sallie McFague, an environmental theologian, reminds us that God cares about nature. God’s urgent call to followers of Jesus is that we also must care about creation. The earth is vulnerable as never before. The wealthy have exploited it, instrumentalized it, and colonialized it.

Inevitably, climate change will affect the poor most acutely. Eventually, it will affect us—and all of earth’s creatures.

In the story of creation, Christians affirm that God has entrusted creation to our care. We have done a terrible job of it. Creation matters to God. It should matter to us—because it is our home.

And our home isn’t just Pittsburgh, or Paris, or Peterborough, or Penticton or Prince George. Our home is the planet.