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Religion and the Environmental Apocalypse
Terry Leahy (2013)
One of the most common things that people say about environmentalists is that their warnings of ‘doom and gloom’ are just a new version of Christian eschatology. It is hard to establish that the most likely outcome of our present course of action is a crisis of ‘biblical’ proportions. It is as though religion has already pre-empted the space in which to make such a claim. Surely such a thing cannot be real, it is clearly filched from the book of Revelations or the accounts of the plagues visited on Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs.
There is no doubt that environmentalists invite such comments. James Hansen, from NASA (the US space agency) is one of many cogent scientific writers explaining the risks to a popular audience. In Storms of My Grandchildren (2009) he forecasts an apocalypse in no uncertain terms. The most likely scenario if we do not engage drastic action is something similar to that which took place 55 million years ago at the boundary of the Paloecene and Eocene periods. According to Hansen, a warming of several degrees tipped off a cycle in which methane was released from deposits of organic matter on the ocean shelves and in the permafrost, creating a feedback loop which raised temperatures by up to nine degrees, poisoned oceans with acidity, redirected currents, and killed off half of all marine species living at the time. Sea levels were 70 metres higher than now and the polar regions were tropical, with much of the rest of the world a desert. That seems bad enough to be called “biblical”. Unfortunately he does not stop there. He argues that earth has since then accumulated much greater deposits of frozen organic matter than could have been possible 55 million years ago. So today we risk such a serious warming as to evaporate all water and send it into space, as probably happened on Venus. Clearly he is not the only scientist arguing along these lines and even the predictions of the IPCC, regarded as mild by many environmentalists, are seriously worrying – with up to a third of species extinct by the end of the century and a large part of the world’s best agricultural sites destroyed by changes in climate of one kind or another. Other authors such as Gwyn Dyer (2008) concentrate on the likely human impacts of these changes – for example a nuclear war between India and Pakistan, fought over water rights. All this is quite apocalyptic enough.
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