Global Change: It’s not Just the Climate

Issue Date: 
July - August 2001
Volume and Number: 
Volume 1, No 2
PDF Version: 
Information and Action Addressing Public Policy for an Ecologically Sustainable World
Volume 1, Number 2                                                                                                                               July/August 2001
Global Change: It’s not Just the Climate
by Kim Carlyle & Ed Dreby
The Science.  Our planet’s early atmosphere was largely
Since 1988, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel
carbon dioxide (CO ). Over eons, much of the CO  was ab-
on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of about 2500 of the
sorbed into the oceans and, as life developed, was photosyn-
world’s leading climate scientists, has reviewed research and
thesized into vegetation. Some was buried and transformed
provided periodic reports. The IPCC’s most recent report
into coal, oil, and natural gas. As plants released oxygen (O ),
projects warming of 2.5 to 10.4°F between 1990 and 2100.
animal life evolved and a balanced carbon/oxygen cycle de-
The range in this projection is due mainly to three uncertain-
veloped, stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide at a low level,
ties: 1) The ability of a warming ocean to remove carbon
around 300 parts per million by volume (ppmv).
from the atmosphere, 2)  the effects of an increase in clouds
A very important quality of atmospheric CO  is that it
— cooling as light is reflected back to space, or  further warm-
traps heat. While sunlight passes through its molecules unim-
ing as more heat is absorbed, and 3) the  human response to
peded, some of the heat reflected back from the earth’s sur-
climate change.
face is absorbed by the carbon dioxide and reflected back to
While the rate of warming is unknown, warming is cer-
the earth. This “greenhouse effect” provides for tempera-
tain. Recently, the National Academy of Sciences reaffirmed
tures in which life can thrive; without it our planet’s average
the mainstream scientific view that the earth’s
temperature would be about 0°F, and almost all water would
atmosphere was getting warmer and that human activity was
be frozen. The earth’s temperature over the last several hun-
largely responsible. The report of the NAS is very significant
dred thousand years has deviated within a range of less than
since the panel of atmospheric scientists who prepared it in-
10 degrees. These minor fluctuations, the effects of periodic
cludes several former climate change skeptics.
changes in solar activity and the earth’s tilt and orbit, have
been enough to cause warm periods and ice ages. For the
More than Climate. Global warming is just the first in
past 10,000 years, the earth’s average temperature has been
a chain of potentially disastrous disturbances that are apt to
relatively stable at about 60°F, but during the past 150 years,
occur because of the increase of greenhouse gases (GHG).
there has been an increase of about 1.5°F.  This cannot be
Among the potential consequences:
explained by natural mechanisms, and can be explained as a
• Water expands as it heats, and thus sea levels are rising.
result of human activities.
• Glaciers are melting, which will cause sea levels to rise
Since the 1700’s, two human developments have been
even more.
responsible for increasing atmospheric CO : deforestation and
• Melting arctic permafrost releases trapped methane, a
fossil fuel combustion. First, as forests are cut and burned,
GHG, creating positive feedback — more GHG causes
large quantities of carbon stored in the trunks, limbs, and roots
more warming cause more GHG.
of trees are released, and their potential for carbon storage is
• Warmer air holds more water vapor, and water vapor also
greatly reduced. Second, as coal, oil, and natural gas are ex-
traps heat — more positive feedback.
tracted and burned, carbon that has been stored within the
• Warming and expanding oceans  could cause a  shift in
earth for millions of years is released into the air. These pro-
currents, with totally unpredictable effects on climate.
cesses have increased atmospheric CO  by about 30% —
• Increased water vapor leads to more extreme weather
from 280 to 370 ppmv — a level greater than at any other
events. There have already been more storms, floods and
time in the last 400,00 years.
Climate warming and increased CO  are not new dis-
• Higher nighttime and winter temperatures are allowing in-
coveries. That burning fossil fuels would increase the earth’s
sects carrying tropical diseases to move into areas where
temperature was predicted more than a hundred years ago
and the increase of carbon in the atmosphere was detected
they were previously unknown.
more than forty years ago. Since about 1960, increasing CO
•    Changes in temperature and rainfall may occur too rapidly
concentrations and temperatures have been carefully mea-
for animals, and especially plants, to adapt or migrate.
sured, and climate scientists have developed sophisticated
Extinctions have been attributed at least in part to climate
modeling procedures to try to predict the future effect of in-
change. Widespread forest decline and accelerating
creasing in CO  concentrations.
desertification may occur.
Quaker Eco-Bulletin      May/June 2001

Why a Friends Concern?   The developments described above will
Quaker Eco-Bulletin (QEB) is published bi-
cause severe stress on people and governments, first in poorer nations where
monthly as an insert in BeFriending Creation
the majority of the world’s people live.
by  Quaker Eco-Witness , a project of
Rising oceans and storm surges will submerge deltas, coastlines, and
Friends Committee on Unity with Nature
many island nations, creating refugees by the millions, and destroying some
of the earth’s most fertile farm land. Food and water supplies will become
increasingly unreliable and limited. These are the seeds of war. Friends are
Quaker Eco-Witness (QEW) will promote
US government and corporate policies to
advised “to live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occa-
help restore and protect Earth’s biological
sion of all wars.” Activities that cause climate changemust therefore be un-
integrity. It will work within and through the
derstood as directly relevant to the peace testimony.
Religious Society of Friends for policies that
The profligate use of fossil fuel energy by the rich in the highly industri-
enable human communities to relate in mu-
alized countries, especially in the US, is the main source of the climate change
tually enhancing ways to the ecosystems of
problem. Its effects will be most devastating for the poor, particularly those
which they are a part. This witness will seek
living in the least industrialized countries. Therefore, climate change is di-
to be guided by the Spirit and grounded in
reverence for Earth’s communities of life as
rectly relevant to our testimonies on equality, justice, and simplicity. The cam-
God’s creation.
paign by coal and oil interests to distort and discredit the findings of the IPCC
is directly relevant to Friends’ testimony on integrity.
QEB’s purpose is to inform the QEW net-
work to advance Friends’ witness on gov-
U.S. Policy. President Bush has abandoned a pledge to reduce carbon
ernment and corporate policy as it relates to
dioxide emissions from power plants, withdrawn the US from the Kyoto Pro-
the ecosystems that sustains us. Each issue
tocol, and unveiled an energy policy which would increase US greenhouse
is an article about timely legislative or cor-
porate policy issues affecting our society’s
gas emissions by as much as 35%.
relationship to the earth.
What Can Friends Do?  Our testimonies require Friends to address
Friends are invited to contact us about writ-
the causes and consequences of global warming. At home, at work, and in
ing an article for QEB. Submissions are sub-
our Meetings, we must become mindful of the consequences of our use of
ject to editing and should:
energy as John Woolman was mindful of the consequences of his personal
•  Provide background information that re-
flects the complexity of the issue and is
respectful toward other points of view.
As citizens, we must persuade government at all levels:
•  Explain why the issue is a Friends’ con-
• to enact policies to reduce GHG emissions,
• to greatly reduce the use of fossil fuels while providing assistance
•  Describe the positions of other faith-based
those whose livelihoods are affected,
and secular environmental groups on the
• to promote renewable sources of energy, improved energy efficiency
and increased conservation.
•  Relate the issue to legislation or corporate
• to resume international negotiations in good faith toward a treaty that
•  Provide sources for additional informa-
limits the emissions of greenhouse gases.
As Friends, we can encourage our meetings to ask and help enable
QEB Editorial Committee:
Friends Committee on National Legislation to engage in this effort.  And we
Judy Lumb, Sandra Lewis
can participate in interfaith campaigns, such as the National Council of
Churches, and other interfaith activities to lift up climate change as a funda-
To receive QEB:
via email, write
mental moral issue for all human beings and all faith traditions.
via the Internet, visit
via mail, write to QEW c/o FCUN
For More Information:
Contributionsare welcome.
NAS Report:
Union of Concerned Scientists: 0warming.html
Quaker Eco-Witness
Sierra Club:
c/o FCUN,
United Nations Environment Programme:
173-B N Prospect Street
Find your state’s interfaith campaign:
Burlington VT 05401
Quaker Eco-Bulletin      May/June 2001

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