I thought that my father was joking when he told me this story years ago, but it turns out that he was right. Roast pork was not invented by a creative cook, but by a hapless peasant who inadvertently one day burnt his hut down with all his pigs in it. Upon entering the smoldering embers of his former home, he was greeted by an apparently glorious odor (with apologies to those who, like me, don’t eat pork) and, tentatively, put out his fingers to taste. Crackling had been introduced to the world!
Delighted, our farmer secretly burnt down his house again and again, until the neighbors, tired of being assailed by wonderful smells of unknown provenance, demanded that he divulge his culinary secret. Legend has it that all the villagers soon started to burn down everything and this went on for years until a village sage suggested that the smell was caused by roasting the pig, and not the entire house.
Little did I know it, but this was my introduction to the powerful difference between folklore and reason.
Surprisingly, we can still see today this battle between what we believe and what rational logic – or what we today call science – tells us. When it comes to climate change, for example, elements of the U.S. political establishment have relegated scientists to mere fabulists. Consider Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), newly appointed Chair of the Senate Environment Committee, who last Wednesday once again called human-made climate change, “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” against the years of established science study and the opinions of 97 percent of the world’s best climatologists.
He, and others like him, would have us believe that it should be business as usual when it comes to burning fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal, even though science has overwhelmingly concluded that the atmospheric and oceanic temperature has increased today because of the high levels of carbon emitted into the atmosphere two hundred years ago.
We need to keep our global temperature down to two degrees below pre-industrialized levels, scientists say, in order to avoid causing increased weather related disaster and severe disruption to our climatic patterns. In order to do that, the whole world needs to lower its collective carbon footprint, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and start looking at sustainable sources of new energy. For how much longer therefore, will we continue to be led more by story than by fact?
Trouble is, the climate is changing even faster than even scientists originally predicted. Members of the InterGovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the UN body primarily responsible for tracking scientific evidence of Climate Change) in 2013 stated that the pace of change was matching or exceeding their worst case scenario predicted in 2007. This could cause a 19 foot increase in sea levels and the extinction of many species. Trusting in fables, therefore, we really are at risk of burning the whole house down.
If Chairman Inhofe were not in such a powerful position we wouldn’t need to worry. But he is and we do. Indeed, a majority of his party in both the House and the Senate deny that climate change has been caused by human activity.
This year, world leaders will gather in Paris at the end of November to hammer out a deal on just how each country should respond, both in terms of lowering carbon emission and also on how much money should be given to impoverished countries to help them adapt today to the climate that is already changing. Unless pressure is brought to bear on Senator Inhofe and the 114th Congress, they will undermine both the Administration’s efforts to control carbon emissions and the growing call for an international treaty that aims to save the planet and all on it.
CWS must be part of the effort that encourages the U.S. Congress, faith supporters and others to accept what science is telling us. In our work we have already been seeing the signs of severe climate disruption which belie the fable that these changes are part of natural climatic cycles. We have responded to increasing desertification in Africa, typhoons in the Pacific of increasing intensity and frequency, hurricanes of devastating impact in the Caribbean and North America. And much of our well-established development work promoting people’s right to water and food in order to end hunger is now at risk because of failing harvests, increased drought and reduced water supply.
In 2015, CWS will be part of the global movement to address climate change. We will reach out to Congress, work with the ACT Alliance and other U.S.-based partners and try to educate ourselves and our supporter base. We will also share stories of where we are responding to climate disasters and what we are doing to help poor communities adapt. Above all, we will be guided by both established scientific consensus and what our faith tells us – that our actions matter and the creation is worth preserving.
Jasmine Huggins is Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at CWS.