Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

"Hastening the Day" When the Earth Will Burn? Global Warming, Revelation and 2 Peter 3 (Advent 2, Year B)

Academic journal article Currents in Theology and Mission

"Hastening the Day" When the Earth Will Burn? Global Warming, Revelation and 2 Peter 3 (Advent 2, Year B)

Article excerpt

Vice President A1 Gore compares the terrifying prospect of global warming's effects on the world to "taking a nature hike through the book of Revelation." Gore's nature hike could also include 2 Peter 3-the epistle text assigned for the Second Sunday of Advent this year in the lectionary. For Christians seeking biblical counsel on the environment, 2 Peter 3 poses particular problems because it consigns the earth to burning up by fire.

We are well on our way to that burning. Three scientific reports from the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in 2007 read more like Revelation's plague sequences than like typical scientific reports--with predictions of higher sea levels, more acidic oceans, fiercer storms, deadlier forest fires, more heat-related deaths, longer dry seasons, declining water supplies, catastrophic floods, and increasing infectious diseases around the world. In an ironic coincidence, one of those reports was released Good Friday--fitting, perhaps, since the report narrates the future passion and suffering, even death, of hundreds of millions of the world's poorest and most vulnerable people, even if temperatures rise only as much as 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit or 2 degrees Centigrade.

The suffering was underscored for me at a 2007 conference in Tromso, Norway, above the Arctic Circle, launching a United Nations report on "Global Outlook for Ice and Snow." Ice is melting everywhere--whether glaciers, sea ice, ice sheets, or permafrost. The effects of this melting on communities worldwide will be catastrophic. In India and Peru, millions of people who depend upon meltwater from glaciers in the Himalayas or Andes will lose their sole source of drinking water. In Alaska, loss of protective sea ice is forcing numerous native villages, such as the historic Lutheran village of Shishmaref, to relocate inland. News reports that whole islands in Bangladesh have already disappeared due to sea level rise bear eerie resemblance to Rev 16:20, with its description that "every island fled away."

A few fundamentalist Christians may welcome the prospect of calamitous global Warming events as if they were signs of the end-times and Jesus' return. But for most Christians, the urgent question is whether and how the Bible might provide guidance for addressing our new situation of living at the "end."

It is becoming clear that we do face the prospect of some kind of an "end" in the coming years. At the present rate of fossil fuel consumption, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide will double, from 280 parts per million before the industrial revolution to more than 500 parts per million--by the middle of this century. Moreover, scientists now think the IPCC forecasts of sea level rise are too low, because they do not take into consideration new data regarding the faster-than-expected melting of both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets nor mounting evidence of irreversible feedback loops or "tipping points," such as the "ice-albedo effect," by which melting Arctic sea ice itself accelerates further warming because ice is white and reflects heat back to the sun, whereas sea water is dark in color and absorbs more heat.

America's premier climatologist, James Hansen of NASA's Goddard Space Institute, believes there is still time to avert dangerous sea level rise, but he warns that we have less than ten years to drastically reduce carbon emissions or it will be too late to save the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets. He argues for a 90 percent reduction in emissions by the year 2050, with the goal of stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations at a level of 350 parts per million. (1) Even the more conservative IPCC says that global carbon emissions must peak and begin declining within the next seven years, by the year 2015, if the world wants to have any chance of limiting the expected temperature rise to 2 degrees Centigrade (3. …

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