Flooding has become all too common worldwide. From the seemingly safe cities of the UK and Thailand, to extremely vulnerable regions of Bangladesh and India, the climate seems to be playing havoc with the lives of thousands of people.
“We used to think that it would take 10,000 years for melting at the surface of an ice sheet to penetrate to the bottom. Now we know it doesn’t take 10,000 years; it takes 10 seconds.”
That quote from comments made by scientists in the University of Pennsylvania, reported in The Guardian ( August 30 th, 2006), illustrates the sheer speed and violence with which many scientists now acknowledge climate change could take hold. It’s becoming clear that the old ideas about gradual change – the smooth lines on graphs showing warming and sea level rise and gradually shifting weather patterns – simply do not represent how the world’s climate system works.
Research has shown that climate change did not happen gradually in the past, and it will not happen that way in the future. Planet Earth does not do gradual change. It does big jumps; it works by tipping points, when gradual changes reach a critical point, after which climate change accelerates rapidly.
Melting glaciers are a case in point. A rise in air temperature starts to melt the surface of the ice, causing large pools of water to form. But when this water drains down to the base of the glacier, it lubricates the whole ice sheet, which then starts to slide faster and faster down to the sea, where it melts completely. As more and more glaciers melt across the globe, so sea levels will rise to dangerous levels.
The rapid melting of ancient glaciers is now happening in many parts of the world. In South America the Andean glaciers are melting so fast that some are expected to disappear within 15-25 years. Not only will this raise sea levels, it will also deny major cities in the region their water supplies and put populations and food supplies at risk in Columbia, Peru, Chile, Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia.
In the short term the melting Andean glaciers will cause reservoirs to overflow and trigger mudslides, and in the long term cut water supplies completely. Rising sea levels will cause people to farm at higher altitudes, in order to grow their crops. This will accelerate deforestation in the region, which will in turn undermine water sources and lead to soil erosion, putting the survival of the Andean culture at risk.
Similarly, in Greenland glaciers are flowing faster. During this summer, lakes several kilometers across formed on the Greenland ice sheet, and drained away to the depths. As a result, more icebergs are breaking off into the Atlantic ocean, causing sea level rise even faster, from 2mm a year in the early 1990s to more than 3mm a year now. According to a top Nasa climate modeler, sea level rise will be ten times faster within a few years, as Greenland destabilizes. Building the ice sheet over Greenland has taken a long time, but destroying it could be explosively rapid.
So the outlook is bleak. Not only is considerable regional damage already being done by melting glaciers, such as in South America, the disastrous effects caused by rising sea levels will soon be felt worldwide. Our complex society relies on our being able to plant crops and build cities, knowing that the rains will come and the cities will not be flooded by incoming tides. When that certainty fails, as when Hurrican Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, even the most sophisticated society is brought to its knees.
Every reason then, based on current observations and scientific predictions, to expect ‘Flood Warnings’ to be a common experience in the not too distant future. Based on the evidence, it is reasonable to expect widespread panic and loss of life among many populations of the world during this century. In the worst case scenario, society will not just be brought to its knees, but will disintegrate entirely as the effects of climate change take hold.
Not so, says the Bible! Believe it or not, the Bible not only records the disastrous consequences of a devastating, world-wide flood that drowned the whole world and most of its population, it also contains God’s promise that he would never let it happen again. In Genesis 7&8 we can read the account of The Flood that happened in Noah’s day and shudder at the thought of such a thing happening again. Fortunately, with the predicted effects of climate change now staring us in the face, we have God’s own reassurance:
“…Neither will I again smite any more every living thing, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”(Genesis 8v21-22)
The destruction caused by The Flood was God’s punishment of the people in those days for totally ignoring his wishes and commands. And although many in the world today are doing just what people were doing in Noah’s day – turning their back on God and doing just as they please – we have his promise that such a dreadful punishment won’t happen again. The Bible tells us that God placed the rainbow in the sky, as a reminder to everyone about his promise.
But even that promise does not tell the whole story. We may have God’s reassurance that the world will not be totally destroyed as it was in the days of Noah, but the Bible does say that there is a time coming when people will be very worried indeed about what’s happening to the world around them:
“…upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth:” (Luke 21v25-26)
Such a description of the near future sounds very appropriate in view of current predictions of the effects of climate change. So it’s good to have God’s reassurance that the dark clouds looming on the world’s horizon have a silver lining!!
Man’s inability (or refusal) to manage the world’s environment in a responsible way may be accelerating climate change. But it’s God’s plan, revealed in the Bible, to change the ‘management’ of this world completely. When he does, climate change and all its consequences will no longer be a problem. God, who created the world in the first place and controls it now, will provide the solution, just as he has promised.