Ten Commandments for a Climate-Threatened World: The Second Five

March 6, 2015

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From flickr.com/photos/51519468@N06/5304492399/: The 10 Commandments
The 10 Commandments
(image by @jbtaylor)

In “Ten Commandments for a Climate-Threatened World: The First Five,” I suggested these commandments for our time: (1) Thou Shalt Not Ruin Civilization’s Climate. (2) Thou Shalt Not Impose Hotter Weather on People. (3) Thou Shalt Not Impose Drought on People. (4) Thou Shat Not Increase Destructive Storms. (5) Thou Shalt Not Deprive People of Clean Water. This second essay suggests five more:

6. Thou Shalt Not Deprive People of Food


In a 2012 book, Full Planet, Empty Plates, Lester Brown said: “The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity.”[1]

As to why, there are two main causes. Whereas one is the continued growth of the world’s population, the other was indicated by a 2012 statement by Oxfam: “Increased hunger is likely to be one of climate change’s most savage impacts on humanity,” so “the food security outlook in a future of unchecked climate change is bleak.”[2]

As to how climate change is contributing to this bleak outlook, Brown said: “Of all the environmental trends that are shrinking the world’s food supplies, the most immediate is water shortages” [as discussed in the fifth commandment]. [3]

But climate change has also reduced food availability by means of heat, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes, sea-level rise, and the destruction mentioned in the next two commandments: ocean acidification and sea-level rise.

7. Thou Shalt Not Ruin People’s Seas


For food, the ocean is as important as fertile land. But the CO2 spewed into the world over the past century is threatening seafood even more than land-based food.

Part of the reason is that about “90 percent of the warming of the planet is absorbed in heating the oceans.”[4] and the ocean has been warming quickly, much more than scientists had realized, with the result that waters are becoming too warm for many sea animals. For example, Maine has had to cancel its shrimp season the past two years because the water in the Gulf of Maine had become too warm for the plankton on which shrimp feed.[5]

The other major problem, resulting from the fact that “[a]bout 30 percent of the carbon dioxide that people have put into the atmosphere has diffused into the ocean,”[6] is ocean acidification, sometimes called global warming’s “equally evil twin.”[7] This greater acidity, which has increased “a whopping 30 percent” since the beginning of the Industrial Age, is making it increasingly difficult for sea animals such as plankton, corals, crabs, and mussels to produce enough calcium to make their skeletons. [8]

This is already having effects. “In the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia, the waters have become so acidic that the once-thriving shellfish industry there is on life support.” And scallops near Vancouver reportedly have had a mortality rate of 95 to 100 percent over the past two years. [9]

If phytoplankton and corals disappear, this will mean the disappearance of all sea animals, which have served as the primary source of food for 3.5 billion people. [10] And yet fossil-fuel companies are still being allowed to put increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, 30 percent of which will be added to the ocean’s acidity.

8. Thou Shalt Not Flood People’s Lands


During the 20th century, the ocean rose about 8 inches on average, due to the expansion from the warming ocean plus run-off from melting glaciers. If the burning of fossil fuels continues, scientists expect the ocean to rise from 3 to 7 feet during the 21stcentury, and even a three-foot (one-meter) rise will be devastating. [11]

According to the IPCC, “Bangladesh is slated to lose the largest amount of cultivated land globally due to rising sea levels. A one-meter rise in sea level would inundate 20 percent of the country’s landmass.”[12]

Vietnam is presently one of the world’s leading producers of rice, but “a three-foot sea level rise will eliminate half of the rice production of Vietnam.” Because almost three-fourths of the country’s population lives in areas that are threatened by sea-level rise, “Vietnam could face the most devastating consequences of global sea level rise.”[13]

In Egypt, half of the country’s agriculture takes place in the delta, but farmers there “are losing crops to the rising water table as the salty seawater contaminates the groundwater and makes the soil infertile.”[14]

These are merely three examples of the devastation that sea-level rise is starting to cause to coastal regions around the world, where almost one-fourth of the world’s population lives. [15]

9. Thou Shalt Not Force People to Migrate


Climate refugees, meaning people who have been forced by climate change to migrate to another country, or another part of their own country, can be produced by many features of climate change, such as heat, drought, and shortage of food or water. But the main cause is, and will increasingly be, sea-level rise.

People have already been forced to migrate from many island nations, such as Maldives, the Carteret Islands, and the Sundarbans. At least 200 people were already leaving the Sundarbans back in 2009.[16]

But sea-level rise is forcing, or soon will be forcing, people in bigger countries to move. For example, over a million Bangladeshis had already moved by 2009, and scientists expect there to be 20 million climate refugees from Bangladesh by 2030 and as many as 35 million by 2050. According to Lester Brown, moreover, “The country where rising seas threaten the most people is China, with 144 million potential climate refugees.”[17]

“According to some estimates,” say experts Frank Biermann and Ingrid Boas, “more than 200 million people might have to give up their homes due to climate change by 2050.”[18]

10. Thou Shalt Not Lie to Justify Any Such Acts


The fact that cigarettes cause cancer was repeatedly demonstrated by scientists in the 1960s, and even the tobacco companies agreed: In 1965, the head of research at Brown and Williamson – which makes Marlboro cigarettes – stated that tobacco industry scientists were “unanimous in their opinion that tobacco smoke is carcinogenic.”[19]In 1967, nevertheless, Brown and Williamson, along with the other tobacco companies, claimed: “There is no evidence that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer.”[20] In the coming decades, moreover, these companies spent many millions of dollars to publicize this claim. [21]

In 1989, a committee created to give scientific advice to the oil industry said: “The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied.” The “contrarian theories,” continued the committee, “do not offer convincing arguments against the conventional model of greenhouse gas emission-induced climate change.”[22]Nevertheless, besides continuing to deny the truth of climate science, the oil industry has spent many millions of dollars to fund organizations to promote these contrarian theories. [23]

Turns to Acid,” Daily Impact, 24 March 2014; Randy Shore, “Acidic Water Blamed for BC’s 10-Million Scallop Die-Off,” Green Man Blog, Vancouver Sun, 26 February 2014.

[10] Tom Lewis, “West Coast Marine Ecosystem May Be Crashing,” Daily Impact, 8 May 2014; “Oceans,” Rio+20: The Future We want, United Nations; Save the Sea.

[11] Rob Young and Orrin Pilkey, “How High Will Seas Rise? Get Ready for Seven Feet,” Environment 360, 14 January 2010; Lauren Morello and ClimateWire, “Polar Ice Sheets Melting Faster than Predicted,” Scientific American, March 9, 2011.

[12] “Bangladesh: Rising Sea Levels Threaten Agriculture,” UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks), 1 November 2007.

[13] Rob Young and Orrin Pilkey, “How High Will Seas Rise? Get Ready for Seven Feet,” Environment 360,14 January 2010; Tom Narins et al., “Where Are Rising Sea Levels Threatening Human and Natural Environments?” Association of American Geographers, 2010.

[14] Jonathan Spollen, “Rising Sea Threatens Millions in Egypt,” The National, 20 November 2008.

[15] “Sea Level Rise,” Greenpeace, 4 July, 2012.

[16] “Maldives President: Australia Should Prepare for Climate Refugees,” Responding to Climate Change, 13 February 2012; “Climate Change Displacement Has Begun — But Hardly Anyone Has Noticed,” Guardian, George Monbiot’s Blog, 8 May 2009; Jayanta Basu and Zeeshan Jawed, “Sea Change,” Telegraph (Calcutta), 14 June 2009.

[17] Emily Wax, “In Flood-Prone Bangladesh, a Future That Floats,” Washington Post, 27 September 2007; Pinaki Roy, “Climate Refugees of the Future,” Climate Change Media Partnership, 31 May 2009; Lester Brown, “Raging Storms, Rising Seas Swell Ranks of Climate Refugees,” Grist, 16 August 2011; Al Gore, “Rising Seas from Antarctica to Bangladesh: The Story of Rising Seas,” Climate Reality Project, 31 January 2012.

[18] Frank Biermann and Ingrid Boas, “Protecting Climate Refugees: The Case for a Global Protocol,”Environment Magazine,November-December 2008

[19] Stanton A. Glantz et al., The Cigarette Papers(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 18.

[20] Company Statement on Smoking and Health, 12 May 1967l.

[21] Yussuf Saloojee and Elif Dagli, “Tobacco industry tactics for resisting public policy on health,” Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2008.

[22] Andrew C. Revkin, “Industry Ignored Its Scientists on Climate,” New York Times, 24 April 2009.

[23] “Greenpeace Presents ExxonSecrets.org;Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco’s Tactics to Manufacture Uncertainty on Climate Science (Union of Concerned Scientists, January 2007).

David Ray Griffin is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. He has written 30 books. His most recent book is Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? (Clarity (more…)

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.


According to the Silver Rule, we should not do to others what we would want not done to ourselves. We certainly would not have wanted previous generations to have ruined the climate for us. And yet our generation is in the process of ruining it for all subsequent generations, perhaps even making it impossible for civilization to continue.

[1] Lester R. Brown, Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity(New York: W.W. Norton, 2012), 1.

[2] “Climate Change vs. Food Security: A Bleak Future for the Poor,” Oxfam International, 5 September 2012.

[3] Lester R. Brown, “The Geopolitics of Food Scarcity,” Der Spiegel Online, 11 February 2009.

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