“We spend a lot of time trying to make people understand that the climate crisis is real”

An interview with Argentinian climate scientist Fernando Primo Forgioni, a committed Christian. “My generation was the last to be brought up with conceptions of an infinite world in which environmental problems were a secondary issue”.

Joel Forster

Córdoba (ARGENTINA) · 24 JULY 2023 · 16:18 CET

Pedestrians on a street in Nice, France. / Photo: <a target="_blank" href="https://unsplash.com/@jweckschmied">Jonas Weckschmied</a>, Unsplash, CC0.,
Pedestrians on a street in Nice, France. / Photo: Jonas Weckschmied, Unsplash, CC0.

Europe is going through yet another summer of record high temperatures.

The northern hemisphere suffers six times more heat waves than in the 1980s. This comes after a difficult year 2022, in which large forest fires and the melting of glaciers in the Alps worried many.

Researchers also say the temperatures are also unusually high in the Western part of the Mediterranean, where an increase of 4 degrees by the end of this century could lead to the extinction of certain species and unwanted changes in the flora.

Evangelical Focus asked a Christian climate scientist about the effects of this global warming and some of the questions that some citizens in Europe raise. Fernando Primo Forgioni is Professor of Climatology at the National University of Villa María, in Argnetina. He is a researcher at the Centro de Estudios de Variabilidad y Cambio Climático (Centre for the Study of Climate Variability and Change).

“We spend a lot of time trying to make people understand that the climate crisis is real”

  University Professor and climate researcher Fernando Primo Forgioni.

Question. In July, the global temperature had record high two days in a row (with over 17 Cº). If we look at the trend of the last years, noting indicates that this global warming will stop in the years ahead. Why is this a problem?

Answer. Yes, we have broken global average temperature records these past weeks. To many this may sound like a passing fad, but it is not. Let’s think of these as average values, that is to say that they are in the middle of a sample (they are the central value within that bag of values so to speak: some are way above and some are way below).

The problem with temperature increases is that in this distribution of values it increases the minima and makes the maxima higher. What I mean by all this is that the problem for people is that this increase amplifies the extreme events that we can experience, for example, the famous heat waves.

And of course, humans do not live only on this planet, and whether we like it or not, we are dependent on the ecosystem around us. Temperature increases can trigger ecological impacts or even the extinction of thousands of species, impacts on crop yields that endanger food security (e.g. due to droughts or intense, persistent and more recurrent heat waves).

Q. We often see a resistance to accept major “degrowth” changes  such as producing fewer cars, decrease the industrial production, or promoting renewable energy production that could not be accessible to the poorest… What is being done wrong in communicating the ‘climate emergency’ so that so many are not convinced by the proposed solutions?

A. I will answer this question from my point of view, which may be incomplete because I am not a sociologist. Climate change is a problem that is changing the way we think about any other issue, because it literally involves all human beings, none of us is alien to this.

We can argue that there are countries, states, or even individuals that contribute more to expanding this problem. I think we scientists have been very clear many times, of course we can always improve the way we communicate about this emergency. But the main problem is the system we live under, the excessive capitalism and consumption we have been educated in, where everything is disposable, resources are infinite, and the problems will soon disappear on their own.

“Climate change is a problem that is changing the way we think about any other issue”

This is a fantasy that we can no longer stand up to. I think the main resistance comes because the world sees a very marked inequality between those who have most and those who have nothing. Also, there is an apology for waste and opulence. I understand that none of us wants to sacrifice what little or much we have while others are there wasting or living in a very unrealistic way.

But it is very impressive the money flows coming from the oil/mining sector to install the argument that these changes are cyclical or natural. This also combines with what I mentioned above to make the discussion very biased or difficult, because we spend a lot of time trying to make people understand that the climate crisis is real.

Q. As a climate researcher, what do you think will have a greater effect on curbing the effects of climate change, the small daily decisions of millions of people around the world or the big decisions of governments and major multinational corporations?

A. I believe that one cannot exist without the other. Climate change is a global problem, involving all of us, we can’t expect the system to change if we don’t all make the effort.

The patterns we have as a society must be changed at the root so that we can save the world we have, and that is up to all of us.

What I do want to clarify is that many times some play with people’s guilt, to shift the blame to people of lower middle classes. For example, suggesting that leaving a light bulb on is the cause of climate change. This kind of pressure from governments makes us lose the focus of the discussion and we must advocate for structural solutions to curb this debacle instead of just blaming small inactions.

Q. In Europe, last year we saw glaciers in the Alps suffer, forest fires in France ravaged forests and we experienced weeks of scorching nights with lows of 25 degrees in many Mediterranean cities. Is Europe the region of the world most affected by this rise in temperatures?

A. No, the atmosphere is not something we can divide into parcels and fit it to human-created geographical locations and boundaries. But there is some truth to that question, the northern hemisphere has been hardest hit, so to speak, by the impacts of climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions have always been higher in the northern hemisphere.

Bu the latest IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) physical baseline report shows us in one of its first conclusions that there is no place on earth that has not experienced the harmful effects of climate change. Literally the whole world has been heavily impacted by extreme events in recent years. And this trend will continue to increase.

“This is not a whim of the younger generations. Our system of excessive and infinite consumption has truly failed”

Q. What role do schools play in educating the new generations in sustainable living and care for the planet? And, how can we prevent this training at the educational level from being seen as a ‘new religion’?

A. I think my generation was the last one that was educated with the conceptions of an infinite world and where environmental problems were a secondary issue. Undoubtedly the sensitivity of children and adolescents to this problem is a great ally in these times.

Regarding the ‘new religion’, I think it goes hand in hand with what you said earlier, the change in thinking that we must have. This is not a whim of the younger generations. It is truly the water reaching our necks and showing that our system of excessive and infinite consumption has failed.

Q. What Christian initiatives for the care of creation and sustainability of the planet do you identify with? Which ones do you recommend?

A. There are several, I think Tearfund’s Renew Our World is excellent, I’ve worked with them a few times and I really admire them deeply, they run lots of different kinds of campaigns on different environmental issues from a Christian point of view, influencing politicians and demanding change. The work that Ben Niblett and his team do is fabulous. Ben and Paul Cook of Tearfund have been a great inspiration in my life.

Another programme that really changed my life, as it was the one that connected me with a lot of people and contributed to me being able to do this today is the CCOP programme (Christian Climate Observers Program). They are a group of people who train Christians by taking them to climate summits. I travelled with them to Madrid for COP25, thanks to several generous offerings. Lowell Bliss and Brian Webb are people who have changed my life and I really admire their commitment and their work, I always try to imitate their dedication.

Last but not least, everything coming from the WEA Sustainability Center is fantastic. For instance, a new Bible with relation to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be launched soon. They have been kind enough to invite me to be part of their advisory board and the online consultations I have attended have been amazing discussion spaces and a great blessing to my life.

Faith and science hand in hand

For Fernando, his work as a scientist goes hand in hand with a committed Christian faith. “I cannot conceive my life without my faith”, he tells Evangelical Focus, “wherever I go I entrust myself to Him. I believe that each one of us has a calling”.

This is his personal experience. “Since I was a child, I always wanted to be a ‘scientist’. During my life I worked in many places integrating my faith, I was trained (I studied theology, although doing theology is the task of all Christians not only academics!) and even worked in theological academic circles where we conducted studies on what God tells us about environmental care”.

He also had jobs in private consulting sectors, “but I was always looking for something more”, he says. Becoming a climate researcher in the small university where he is, was a “change of my world since “I felt that I had come to that place where God was sending me”.

“I think my work is valuable because understanding a little bit of the climate system does nothing but give glory to God. That encourages me to want to defend this world much more. Also, I feel it is my task to help people reflect on what it means to be a Christian and the divine mandate given to us in Genesis 1 to be stewards of creation”.

“Building bridges between science and the Word of God seems so logical to me that it reaffirms my conviction day by day. On the other hand, I always try to be a light in my context (a difficult environment for any Christian), trying to make people see God through my actions or my reflections”, Primo Forgioni concludes.

Published in: Evangelical Focus - science - “We spend a lot of time trying to make people understand that the climate crisis is real”

Since you are here…

Evangelical Focus is a news and opinion platform that brings together Christians from across Europe and other parts of the world. We need the support of our readers to make this media project sustainable in the long term. You can support our work! Read about Evangelical Focus’s sustainability here.

Would you like to support the work of Evangelical Focus?

Use one of these methods. You can also transfer your donation to “Areópago Protestante / Evangelical Focus” IBAN: ES8521000853530200278394 (Swift / BIC: CAIXESBBXXX). Subject: “Donation Evangelical Focus”

Thank you very much!