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Presbyterians for Earth Care webinar explores what it will take to slow the devastating effects of climate change

Dr. Colin Evans of the Northeast Regional Climate Center makes a return appearance to deliver a sober assessment

April 10, 2024

Photo by Mika Baumeister via Unsplash

Dr. Colin Evans helped the 70 or so participants attending a recent Presbyterians for Earth Care webinar to connect the dots between the extreme global weather patterns that make headlines and the world’s worsening climate crisis. Watch the 64-minute webinar here.

Evans, a postdoctoral research associate with the Northeast Regional Climate Center at Cornell University, began by going back to basics: Weather is not climate. Weather is short-term, and climate has a 30-year window.

Divide one day by the 10,957 days contained in 30 years and you come up with 0.009%. “You can’t make conclusions about climate on such a small sample,” Evans said.

Last year, the average Major League Baseball game took 2 hours and 25 minutes. Multiply that by 0.009% and you have 0.783 seconds. Determining climate by the weather outside right now is like predicting the outcome of a baseball game by watching it for less than a second.

Here’s a real-life example: Many in the audience remembered the polar vortex that froze the upper Midwest in January 2019. “It was beyond frigid, and it was like that for several days,” Evans said. But despite those record-breaking days, the average temperature for the month was right at the climate normal because the rest of the month was warmer than normal.

Climate change is making the polar vortex unstable, bifurcating it into a pair of rings. Now the Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth, nearly four times faster than the globe has since 1979. But how do we know the climate is changing?

One indication is that multiple meteorological agencies around the world “have all come across the same information. These are independent observations,” Evans said.

We’ve known about global warming “for a really long time,” he said. The greenhouse gas effect first entered the scientific literature in 1863. Carbon in the atmosphere and its effect on temperatures appeared in 1896. “We have watched it happen in real time,” Evans said, and energy companies began their own internal research back in the 1970s.

Dr. Colin Evans

Last year was the hottest year on record, but if you’d asked climate scientists last May if that would be the case, “we would have said no,” Evans said. But beginning in June and lasting through December, record hot months piled up, one after the other.

Sea ice continues to decline, and we may see an ice-free Arctic summer in the next two decades, he said. The cause of it all is the greenhouse effect, with carbon dioxide concentrations sharply up over the past five years. “The rate of change is incredibly unprecedented and entirely unnatural,” Evans said. Methane is 25 times stronger than C02, and nitrous oxide 250 times stronger than carbon dioxide. More and more billion-dollar climate disasters “hit us every year.”

So, what do we do?

Awareness of our carbon footprints and efforts to recycle are good starts, but “we need to fully understand the problem, and it comes down to energy use,” Evans said. “Fundamental, systemic change must happen through legislation.” He offered up four imperatives:

  • All cars sold must be hybrid or electric or meet stringent miles-per-gallon standards.
  • An “immense” investment in public and commercial transportation, especially in railroads. “We need an alternative to flying,” Evans said. “We fly way too much.”
  • All consumer plastics must come from recycled plastics.
  • A “massive investment” in retrofitting for increased energy efficiency in our buildings.

Our individual action “means something to Generation Z, the climate activists working hard for a livable planet,” Evans said. “We owe it to every young person to right the ship.”

But “it’s going to be tough,” he said. Last year, 62,000 people died from record-breaking heat in Europe. “This will continue, and it will get worse, but we have to do it because there’s no alternative,” he said.

Then he displayed a slide comparing the 66-year span between the first flight by the Wright brothers and the first walk on the moon by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

“That’s a short time for technological achievement,” Evans said. “We need the will and the investment, and the leaders to step up and do it.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Presbyterians for Earth Care webinar

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Mari Evans, Digital and Marketing Manager, Communications, Office of the General Assembly 
Michael Fallon, Executive Vice President & Chief Financial Officer & Treasurer, Board of Pensions  

Let us pray

Gracious God, pour out your Spirit on all your servants, that as we reach out in your name with love and justice you will deepen our understanding of your holy purpose and strengthen our commitment to one another and to you. Amen.