Ice in Greenland is melting at an alarming rate. (Photo: Kristina Gain)
I loathe the cold and love the warmth. Who doesn’t? I grew up in Ireland where spring and winter were always very cold.
In the 1950s central heating was rare. We stayed warm by burning coal in open grates and used kerosene oil in a heater.
Many a night, we children huddled around the coal fire or heater trying to stay warm doing our homework. We suffered painful chilblains, itching and swelling of the toes due to the cold.
We burned coal and oil, fossil fuels and never knew we were adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and warming up the planet. Our family’s contribution to global warming was minuscule, but with millions of homes, factories and furnaces, trains and tractors, power stations and ships and vehicles all over the world burning these fuels, the CO2 accumulated over the past 200 years and the planet got steadily warmer.
Many people refuse to believe the truth of science and continue to burn coal and oil in power stations and vehicles. This pumps more CO2 into the atmosphere that continues to create a thick warm blanket around the earth. The sun beats down and makes the planet like a hot oven or a greenhouse from which the heat cannot escape because of the greenhouse gases. We are, you could say, cooking ourselves to death like lobsters in the cooking pot.
In recent years scorching heatwaves have killed thousands of people. In 2019 alone, 1,500 people died in France from the heat and many more elsewhere. The warm weather is enticing more people to go out of their safe homes to visit the cooler beaches, resorts and parks and they are getting infected with coronavirus.
Plants, birds and nature are responding as the climate gradually warms and changes and more species are in danger of extinction. We humans are destroying nature and changing the planet with our irresponsible lifestyles. We must change to renewable energy sources more quickly and save the planet and ourselves and the next generation.
In the Philippines, where I have been living since 1969, I can really feel and notice how the climate has changed since I first arrived. There are higher temperatures, stronger and more frequent typhoons, landslides, loss of harvests, fewer water resources and the spread of diseases. The deforestation of the past 50 years has left only about 3 percent of the original rain forest. Trees are still being felled by irresponsible mining, palm oil plantations and illegal loggers. That is accelerating global warming.
Those Filipino heroes defending nature and the environment are being killed; 46 have been murdered in recent years. Indigenous people are suffering from land grabbing, are branded subversive criminals and many are killed as they defend their environments and ancestral lands. The multinational corporations are in cahoots with local and national elite politicians. They are behind the environmental injustice and destruction.
Hundreds of Aeta indigenous people were evacuated recently in San Marcelino, Zambales, due to military action against suspected communist rebels. At the Preda Foundation, we responded and hurried to bring food relief packs to 177 people. Eighty of them are members of our Aeta organic farmers association from whom we buy mangos at high Fair Trade prices and share cash bonuses and implement community projects with them. They plant thousands of mango tree saplings annually.
The melting of the ice caps and Greenland is raising sea levels that are sinking islands and will flood coastal communities in the future. Low-lying Manila will be inundated in the future. The inhabitants of the Carteret Islands of Papua New Guinea were evacuated and transferred to Bougainville Island. The same is happening in Micronesia and the Solomon Islands, once Pacific Ocean paradises that have become the watery graves of departed communities.
However, the rapid melting of Greenland is like ice cream in a microwave. The extremely rapid melt there is causing concern around the world, “What we’re seeing in Greenland is exceptional. It’s a wake-up call,” Penn State climatologist Luke Trusel said.
In the latest heatwave in July, it was estimated that as much as 12 billion tons of ice melted in Greenland. This August more than 60 percent of Greenland’s surface ice was calculated to be melting in temperatures of 25 to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. So, we can expect that many more low-lying atolls and islands will meet a watery end.
Global warming is melting the permafrost in Canada and Siberia and that has already released millions of tons of methane gas into the atmosphere.
Methane is a more deadly greenhouse gas than CO2 and has a global warming potential (GWP) 84 times greater.
Add to this the methane released by the billions of cattle in the world and we have a disaster in the making. The most shocking truth is that this warming is almost irreversible. Climate activists are trying to hold it below a two-degree increase. Sea levels will reach unprecedented heights by the end of the century, wiping out beach property and inundating low-lying cities.
It’s not all gloom and doom. We can’t reverse the present trend and damage, but we could halt it. Some say let’s go vegetarian and save the planet. We can pressure governments to replace coal and oil-burning plants with renewable energy power sources like solar and wind, geothermal and wave power to generate electricity.
The introduction of electric cars can be accelerated if governments provide tax breaks and for a set time provide free recharging stations for electric car owners. We can plant millions of trees to absorb the CO2. Here at the Preda Foundation we plant mango tree saplings with the Aeta indigenous people in Zambales every year. Last year we planted 3,968 mango trees. This year we will plant 2,000 as our budget and donations allow.
We can all do something good to save the planet and reduce warming. We can recycle plastic, plant trees and flowers; eat less meat and more vegetables. Make our next vehicle electric and urge governments to change to renewable energy sources. We can save the planet and the low-lying islands for the next generation if we all work together.
Father Shay Cullen is an Irish missionary priest of the Missionary Society of St. Columban working in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, an active charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.