Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Climate Change and Countries in Transition: The Churches' Role in Central and Eastern Europe

Academic journal article The Ecumenical Review

Climate Change and Countries in Transition: The Churches' Role in Central and Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

-- Over the past hundred years global mean surface air temperatures of the earth have risen -- in an accelerating way -- by 0.3-0.6[degrees]C. In Hungary in each of the past five years, the average temperature has been higher than the previous year, with each being the warmest ever recorded. -- Around the globe the frequency and violence of storms increases while their predictability seems to decrease. Hungary in 1995 experienced the first "classic" tornado in its meteorological or historical records. -- Old and new deserts are rapidly spreading in areas all over the earth. Four months of drought is becoming a fact of life in Hungary, and the net water balance is now more and more in the negative. -- Regular, catastrophic floods plague densely populated countries of the South, leaving a spiral of hunger, disease and homelessness in their wake. On Hungarian rivers, dams built to resist water levels expected once in a century have been pushed to their limits in recent winters, bringing the certainty of a flood closer every year.

In the light of facts like these, the people of Central and Eastern Europe(1) have come to realize that serious distortions in the "weather" are taking place. While professionals are slowly coming to speak of "global warming" and the "greenhouse effect", we are very far from having "public concern for accelerated climate change". This paper offers some reflections on the region's responsibility for the development of climate change, on the attitudes of its economists and environmentalists and on the challenge this poses to our churches.

Acting under orders

In terms of total emission of greenhouse gases, about 20 percent of the responsibility for the global problem of climate change can be laid at the door of the countries that constituted the "Soviet bloc". The emissions of the third world account for about 16 percent, those of the highly industrialized countries about 64 percent. If asked what these figures imply for their present responsibility, most people in Central and Eastern Europe would probably give a response much like that often heard in the third world: "Surely we cannot be deprived of the chance of economic development, and if the industrialized countries want us to curb emissions, they should help us with more aid and more technology."

If emissions measured in absolute terms place Central and Eastern Europe in roughly the same category of responsibility for climate change as the third world, in per capita terms they are much closer to Western countries than to the developing ones. Emissions from twelve of these countries (excluding the Baltics) have equalled those of China -- a per capita difference of more than one order of magnitude. But Central and Eastern Europeans will argue that they had nothing to do with this and never saw any benefits from it. Certainly it is true that our emissions were produced by a highly inefficient and wasteful economy. Major industrial enterprises were set up by Soviet command in complete disregard for traditions, infrastructure, availability of raw materials and access to energy. Scarce, low-quality goods were traded in an artificial system at unrealistic prizes. The population had no say in investment or management and realized few if any profits from it. They will understandably ask why they should feel responsible for anything that happened under Soviet rule until 1990.

In addition to this political and economic argument there is an emotional aspect to our classifying ourselves with the third world. People in Central and Eastern Europe consider that our private life-styles until recently have resembled much more closely those of developing countries than Western models. Home-made food, modest accommodation, less than adequate sanitation, repair and use of antique equipment in industry, science and households, shortages of resources and recycling things that would be thrown away in the West are all instinctive symbols of this similarity. …

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