On Sunday September 18th St. Aidan’s begins a four part series on Creation Cares. The first part of the series is on Oceans. The following is an abbreviated version of the homily (which includes many pictures and charts).
Scripture offers many citations of the ocean. Here are two samples: Praise the Lord from the earth, you creatures of the ocean depths (Psalm 148:7) and It is the Lord who created the stars, the Pleiades and Orion. …He draws up water from the oceans and pours it down as rain on the land (Amos 5:8).
This latter statement reflects science pretty accurately; oceans interconnect with climate by the global exchange of water, energy and carbon.
(Much of the science quoted in this commentary comes from the IPCC report of Oceans and Cryosphere, 2019 https://www.ipcc.ch/srocc/ )
Canadians, especially, have reason to care for oceans. They form three of our boundaries. Moreover, Canada has, by far, the longest coastline of any country in the world, 243,000 kilometres, when including the island shorelines …almost five times the length of the next largest country, Indonesia. Our ocean coastlines are significant in many ways.
Globally, oceans make up 71 percent of the earth’s surface and contain about 96 percent of the earth’s water. Yet there are issues.
With melting of sea ice and glaciers, due to climate change, oceans are due to rise between 0.3 and 0.5 metres (about 12 to 18 inches) by 2030. And the pace of melting is accelerating because, with less ice cover to reflect the sun, the sun's rays heat the water and land. One consequence is that low-lying island nations such as Tuvalu risk disappearing. Sea level regions, such as the Mekong Delta, home to more than 21 million people and a major source of rice for Southeast Asia, risk being submerged and rendered unproductive by salination.
The surface temperature of the ocean is warming, leading to more intense hurricanes. Combined with rising seas, these will mean greater erosion, social disruption of the more than a billion people who live along the coastlines of the globe.
Melting sea ice from Greenland is already affecting ocean currents, such as the Gulf Stream. Disruption of the Monsoon Current (in the Indian Ocean) has been partially responsible for the horrendous flooding, destruction of crops, death of livestock and displacement of tens of millions of people in the Indian sub-continent in 2022.
Marshlands that buffer the effects of storms have declined by 50 percent over the past century.
In addition, ocean acidity is increasing and the amount of dissolved oxygen is falling. Along with overfishing and pollution, these factors have reduced fish catches by half in the past four decades. Many coastal people around the world rely on fish for their protein and this collapse of the fisheries threatens them with food insecurity.
Addressing the threats to the ocean faces many obstacles. National and regional governments have refused to adopt environmental plans that will help meet the Paris Accord agreements aimed at containing global warming to 1.5C. (Current commitments will see temperatures rise by 2.7C) The issues holding back agreement are equity, cost and historical contributions to the crisis. Beyond that, ecological systems have lower adaptive capacities and recovery rates.
Faced with crises of flooding, famines, heat waves and refugees from wars, international agencies such as the UNHCR, the Red Cross and the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund are struggling to find the resources to respond to the humanitarian crises.
Despite these situations, science tells us that there is hope. It would be tragic if we despaired at precisely the moment when we most need to act. Hope is and active verb as well as a moral virtue. It is realistic, not fantasy.
At Baptism we promised "to strive to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth." The crisis is moral as much as it is climactic. The least well off will suffer the worst consequences. It is about Justice.
Ocean ecosystems such as marshlands can be restored. And yes! We can stop using plastic straws, eat less meat and travel less, but the real solutions are elsewhere. We need systemic change at ALL levels of government to meet the target of 1.5C, but it is possible.
Governments must subsidize renewable energy, regulate energy efficiency and infrastructure to reduce climate damage. The federal government must stop subsidizing oil sands ….Depending on the source of the estimates, the subsidies range from $4.5B/year to $81B. We must demand that the Ontario government… which REDUCED its carbon emission commitments….reverse this decision. City building codes must set higher levels of insulation and insist on retrofitting.
Models exist for systemic change through moral action. Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu changed a legal, racist, economic, centuries-old system of apartheid based on morality and justice. Our climate challenge is different, but it is equally moral. It is about climate justice. We must demand actions that protect our environment today and save our children’s futures.
An opportunity will come on Sunday Oct. 2nd when you can meet six of the candidates for municipal council at 1 PM in front of St. Aidan’s. They have been asked to address, in brief opening statements, how they would use their role, if they were elected, to move the city towards greater climate responsibility. Given that only 35 percent of eligible voters cast their ballot in our riding in 2018, this is an opportunity to have an impact.