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16th April, 2007

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Global warming and the fourth horseman

What's the climate like where you live? Chances are that it is changing so strongly that you have noticed it without the help of meteorologists. In a few days we residents of Tasmania, Australia, will be “celebrating” the beginning of a second year of drought that is having a serious impact on our economy, not to mention our spirits. We are losing bushes in the garden as our good earth has turned feral. Much of mainland Australia is worse off; many areas have experienced drought or near-drought conditions since 2002! Water supplies in all the big cities are perilously low, with Brisbane down to below 20% of capacity.

A visit to the “US Drought Monitor” website shows that much of the US is suffering abnormally dry to extreme drought conditions. In 2005 we were treated to images of broad Amazonian rivers reduced to a trickle due to an unprecedented dry spell. The land remained parched into 2006 but has now begun to return to normal. A few years earlier and hundreds of miles south, by contrast, a huge swathe of Argentina's pampas was turned into a lake. "We don't have any record of such a flood in recent memory," said Felipe Sola, lieutenant governor of Buenos Aires, at the time. Just a couple of months ago, the sprawling Indonesian capital, Jakarta, was devastated by the worst floods ever seen there. Hundreds of miles to the west, vast tracts of India are suffering moderate to severe dry conditions. The year 2002 saw one of the wettest summers on record in northern Europe from the Black Sea to Germany. That came two years after the Munich Re Group of insurers in Europe announced that natural disasters had increased by a factor of three in the last decades of the 20th century.

Except for some diehard skeptics, everybody acknowledges that the world is warming. Its cause remains debated. The Natural Resource Defense Council puts its position simply: “The cause? A thickening layer of carbon dioxide pollution, mostly from power plants and automobiles, that traps heat in the atmosphere.” Others disagree, attributing the increase to a natural, 1500-year cycle tied in with varying solar flux. Those who hold to this theory as the cause of global warming are quick to quote reputable journals such as Science:

… the climate of the northern North Atlantic has warmed and cooled nine times in the past 12,000 years in step with the waxing and waning of the sun (Richard Kerr 16 November 2001, Vol 294, p. 1431).

In an earlier issue of the same journal, Kerr, speaking of colder conditions 200 plus years ago, said, “… new evidence appears to confirm that the long cold snap was nothing exceptional. Instead, it was only the most recent swing in a climate oscillation that has been alternately warming and cooling the North Atlantic region, if not the globe, for ages upon ages” (25 June 1999, Vol. 284, p. 2069).

Contra skeptics' use of such articles to prove that we have nothing to worry about from rising atmospheric CO2 levels, Kerr continues, “It also suggests that the world will be warming naturally, as part of this roughly 1500-year climate cycle, on top of any human-induced greenhouse effect… It's not a plausible explanation of the rapid warming we're having today …”

Opinion remains lop-sidedly divided, too, as to whether the changes will prove a blessing or a curse. In spite of the statistics showing increased natural disasters in Europe, in spite of the unquestioned trend over huge areas of the world towards withering droughts or devastating floods, some argue that mankind as a whole will thank global warming for the good it will bring, such as opening up vast areas of Siberia to agriculture. But the restrained opinion of the majority of scientists should have us all shaking at the knees. Hunker down, they say, for the onset of a “hotter world, dirtier air and water, more severe floods and droughts, and more wildfires”.

Against such a backdrop, one could be forgiven for taking biblical insights about conditions in the world towards the end of this age seriously. Although many passages foretell relatively balmy, salubrious climatic and environmental conditions immediately prior to the worldwide “hour of trial” (Rev. 3:10) ushered in by evil men, other passages suggest that these end-time benign conditions will be preceded by horrific upheavals in nature. Jesus spoke of the “beginning of sorrows” marked by famines, pestilences, and geological upheavals, as well as warfare (Matt. 24:7). The notorious fourth horseman of the Apocalypse (Rev. 6:7-8) speaks of the death of one quarter of earth's population from “sword, hunger, and the beasts of the earth”. Hunger and “death by beasts” can most likely be attributed to environmental disasters; these in turn lead to armed conflicts over diminishing resources. These natural upheavals all occur in prophetic sequence before the military-driven Great Tribulation (Matt. 24:21). May future decades see a catastrophic intensification of climatic bullying culminating in the fourth horseman's malicious ride? Time will tell.

See the related editorial "Global Warming: good news: bad news"

For a thorough and helpful article on the difficulties involved in understanding climate and climate change, see "Simple Models of Climate"

For a disturbing report on the future of Africa see "Africa — Up in Smoke" available for download as a pdf file at the Oxfam site.


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