Climate Change a Moral Challenge

“If scientists cannot agree on whether climate change is real, how are we supposed to decide?” asked a participant in a rural Nebraska meeting.

It is a fair question, but it should not stop us from fulfilling our responsibility as citizens of conscience to search for the truth. If predictions are accurate, climate change is the most critical environmental and economic challenge confronting our generation and one of the most urgent moral issues.

It is a moral issue because we have responsibilities to future generations. If climate change is happening and we don’t address it, our children and grandchildren will face a lower standard of living and less environmental quality. Shifting weather patterns and more extreme weather events would make farming more unpredictable and risky.

The most severe impacts would be on the world’s poorest places and most vulnerable people. The Secretary General of the International Red Cross said in a Voice of America report: “There is no doubt in my mind that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity today.” He says it is threatening water resources and is likely to seriously damage agriculture in the future.

What about the disagreement among scientists? It is not a narrowly divided debate. Most scientists who study the issue believe human activity is changing the climate.

Last year an international panel of 2,500 scientists concluded it is “unequivocal” that global warming is occurring, and it is more than 90 percent probable that it is caused by humans. A U.S. Academy of Sciences panel reached a similar conclusion and stated it “reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue.”

Not every scientist agrees. And sometimes majority opinion turns out wrong. But based on what we know, is it morally responsible to do nothing?

Uncertainty does not free us of responsibility. When we drive gravel roads we pull over to the right going up hills even though there may not be a car coming. Nine times out of 10 there isn’t. But responsible drivers get over, lest they kill themselves or a neighbor, in the unlikely event that a car is coming. To do otherwise would be foolhardy and irresponsible.

It’s equally irresponsible to drive into catastrophe by assuming that climate change is not happening until it is right in our face and too late to adjust.

One of the greatest strengths of rural people is a conservatism that keeps us from staking the ranch on rosy but uncertain scenarios. And true conservatism is skeptical, rather than ideological. It resists pat answers to any question, no matter who they come from.

True conservatism takes a hard look at the future risks and our obligations to each other and acts responsibly.

Agree or disagree? Send your questions or comments to Chuck Hassebrook at 402.687.2103 x 1018 or chuckh@cfra.org .

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