Colson Verdonk, 22, examines why climate change is real, and why it may be the most important issue of his generation. To mark World Environment Day on 5 June, this is the first in a two-part series.
I remember my history teacher in Year 11 discussing the importance of climate change, stating that it was the issue of my generation—and encouraged me to dedicate my career to it. At the time, I knew it was important, but didn’t think it was the most important issue.
Six years later, my view has changed. My urgency for action has grown exponentially, and this series looks into why yours should too. This two-part series on climate change delves into what climate change actually is, what it means for people of faith, and what we can do about it.
I encourage the skeptics to engage with the discussion, and to think deeper into their ideas and ask why—this series is for you as much as the climate activist.
Climate Change and Faith
The evidence for climate change is overwhelming and substantive,* while studies used to disprove climate change are often outliers—and some are funded from the fossil fuel industry. Looking at the evidence as a whole tells us that climate change is real and that we need to act.
There are many Christian climate activists—those on the frontline of climate action. But there has been a large portion of Christianity that have pushed back against climate change and continue to be skeptical, advocating against action.
But faith and action on climate change, I believe, are intimately linked. We are called to be stewards who protect and look after the gift that is the planet.
What Causes Climate Change?
Climate change is caused by greenhouse gas emissions. When the sun’s energy reaches the earth’s atmosphere, some of it is reflected back to space, and the rest is absorbed and re-radiated by greenhouse gases—including carbon dioxide, methane and water vapor.
The absorbed energy warms the atmosphere and the surface of the earth. This process maintains the earth’s temperature at around 33°C, allowing life on earth to exist. However, when greenhouse gases increase, this process results in more insulation—and, therefore,
Since the industrial revolution, humans have released more and more greenhouse gas emissions, due to the burning of fossil fuels and coal, intensive farming and the expansion of manufacturing processes.
The causes of climate change are complex and multi-layered. But at the core of the issue is the current system putting profit over people—from the sweat shops in Calcutta to big oil drilling off the coast of Australia. For too long, the bottom line has been profit. One hundred corporations are responsible for 30 percent of global carbon emissions.
To fight climate change, we need to do more than reduce plastic and start using Keep Cups (although these are both good things). We need to look at the system as a whole and work for a world where profit isn’t the bottom line—but where the environment and people are.
Who Will be Affected by Climate Change?
The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) Report was released at the end of 2018, detailing the issue of climate change. The report gathered the extensive environmental research of the previous year, to predict climate change and its impact.
It showed that if we don’t drastically reduce carbon emissions, we are on track for a catastrophic temperature rise. If current commitments to international climate agreements are adhered to, we are still tracking for a 3.5 degree increase. This means we have 12 years at the current rate of emissions, before we need to become carbon neutral.
I often talk about climate change disproportionately affecting the poor and vulnerable, and it does. But the conversation needs to change. Climate change has and will affect people across borders, cultures, socio-economic groups and nations. The choice has become simple: join in the effort to minimise catastrophic climate change or feel its effects—not in 50 years, but more and more with each day.
Economics Before Environment?
The governments of our country have often taken an economy-before-environment approach—meaning action is supported, but only if there is limited economic cost.
There is a fundamental problem with this thinking. The environment and climate contribute significantly to our economy. People visit Aotearoa from around the world for its natural beauty, rivers, lakes and mountains. Tourism is our largest export industry, employing 7.5 percent of the workforce and contributing $34.7 billion to our GDP.
Our second largest export industry is agriculture—an industry reliant on climate for successful outcomes. Last summer, we saw severe droughts in Nelson and the Bay of Plenty, and this impacts on production and has significant stress on stock and farmers.
The impact of the climate changing on our economy is vital to consider. Recently, Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) stated the cost to council infrastructure due to a 1.5 metre sea level rise would be a minimum of $8 billion; while the cost to the private sector could run into tens of billions, according to insurers.
The reality is that climate change will affect us all financially, socially and politically.
A Grass Roots Movement
The climate movement has to be built from the ground up. Government and corporations will not listen without people mobilising. We have to be serious about action, because the fossil fuel industry, and corporations benefiting from too-loose environmental impact regulations, are serious about keeping their profits and power.
Climate change doesn’t need discussion—like most global issues it needs decisive and forceful action.
Companies and governments—driven by their stakeholders, supporters and those who finance their dealings—are not currently taking responsibility for the planet and the people within it. Action on climate change has been painfully slow. Targets are one thing, but legislation that ensures that they are met, is another.
Even our current government, led by Jacinda Ardern, who called climate change ‘our nuclear free moment’, has so far failed to take meaningful action beyond targets.
The time for dialogue has passed, we need to make substantial changes to our system of government, business and personal lives. It is a moment which ensures that cooperation and togetherness is our only option.
We are all in this together—no matter what creed or race or country. And ensuring that legislation, regulation and policy is passed within Aotearoa, and within every nation, is the most important thing of my generation.
* See evidence from NASA, Ministry of Business Innovation and Enterprise, the research coming from universities in New Zealand and abroad, and the IPCC 2018 report.