How can people can still deny climate change and humanity’s culpability for it? Why are Christians so heavily represented in that group of denialists? There is no legitimate debate over what is happening. The greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, a has increased exponentially in our atmosphere over the last 200 years to almost 400 parts per million, a level not recorded since at least 10,000 years ago. There is only one viable explanation for these elevated levels: human activities. Simultaneously, our planet’s carbon-sinks, or those features like healthy oceans and rain forests that absorb carbon dioxide, have been polluted, deforested and generally damaged at an unprecedented rate and scale (also by human activities). The only things we don’t know about climate change are: 1) how quick and disruptive the effects will be, and 2) what, if anything, humanity is going to do about the problem they created.
In a particularly troubling move, I have noticed that those who have long rejected science (at least when it suits their political allegiances) have jumped from denying climate change altogether to claiming that there’s nothing we can do about it now, so don’t bother trying. It is pretty clear that these folks’ pretext has ALWAYS been: We’re never going to do anything about climate change, and we’ll find whatever excuse is most convenient to avoid taking any responsible action on it.
Even more troubling is that some of my fellow Christians deny science and refuse to support action on climate change because they’ve allowed it to be dictated in political terms. Since Democrats (in general) accept what our atmosphere and science is telling us about climate change, and Republicans (in general) deny it, respective supporters of these political parties often fall in-line with those partisan positions. This isn’t particularly unique. It happens all the time, but the atmosphere (and science) don’t give a damn about our political or religious beliefs. We desperately need a reality check. We cannot continue to plod along blindly because of our political dogma.
What About God?
Speaking of dogma, can we talk about some of the wacky religious ideology on this issue? Perhaps it would be more accurate for me to say, “the wacky dogma of some religious people.” It’s a subtle but important difference. What I mean is that we don’t have to look too far to find some Christians professing faith that God won’t let humans wreak havoc on the climate. In a not-too-distant disagreement with one of my old friends from elementary school, he vehemently denied climate change (because he couldn’t see it with his own eyes), and subtly accused me of some type of apostasy when he asked me, “Are you going to believe man, or God on this issue?!?!”
I didn’t realize God had spoken on climate change. Oh. Wait. He didn’t. I don’t precisely know where this “logic” comes from, but it’s not the Bible. I suspect it’s linked to the belief that only God will destroy the Earth/ Universe, but this fails to be applicable to climate change.1 Let’s not blow things out of proportion. Climate change won’t destroy the celestial mass we call Earth, nor the universe. However, it will accelerate the already-happening mass extinction rate on Earth, as well as general destruction of natural habitat, biodiversity, and stable sea-levels. Climate change will also aid in the spread of disease, pestilence, forest fires, floods, droughts, and extreme weather in general. It will also disproportionately and negatively affect impoverished individuals and nations who have not the means to relocate or adequately cope with the effects of climate change. Continued belief that God won’t let these sorts of things happen is disconnected from both human history AND Scripture. God seems quite comfortable letting humanity deal with the deadly consequences of its own stupidity. There is no reason to believe this time will be any different.
It All Comes Down to the Dollar (doesn’t it always?)
In its most insane form, anti-climate folks proclaim that climate change is a money making scheme perpetrated by the likes of Al Gore to make mountains of money off of gullible types (as if the fossil-fuel industry doesn’t see us as cash-cows and has no interest whatsoever in maintaining our addiction to dirty energy). Right. My own mother-in-law claims to remember in the 1970’s that, “all the scientists were saying the planet was in a horrible cooling period and that we were well on our way into another ice age.” She then declares this was just a money-maker for “those people” and a way to manipulate the political landscape.2 The end result is that she now uses this a pretext to casually dismiss anything that scientists say about the reality of climate change. Anything that she doesn’t like, that is. Fail.
In its slightly more plausible form, the money argument against taking on climate change is that acting ethically will be expensive and damaging to our oh-so-fragile economy. I understand the sentiment. Transitioning away from dirty fuels and towards alternative, clean renewables certainly comes with a price tag. Nevertheless, this fails to consider that if we screw the climate, our global economy gets screwed too (not to mention your beach house).
The Economics Protest fails to consider the following:
1) The true cost of NOT doing anything to mitigate and reduce climate change is likely to FAR exceed the costs of transitioning away from fossil fuels. We are simply messing with forces we do not understand on an unprecedented scale, the consequences of which are not fully known. The exacerbation of super storm Sandy by climate change/ risen sea levels is but a foretaste of the kind and cost of costal damages that our nation (and world) are in for. Considering that dirty fuels are going to be depleted at some point anyway, transitioning to clean, sustainable alternatives sooner rather than later makes the most sense. It’s not a matter of IF we must transition away from dirty fuels, but when. Citing economics as a reason for refusing to act on climate change is both short-sighted and stupid.
2) Transitioning to alternative, renewable, clean means of power creation/ consumption will mean the exponential and sustainable growth of new jobs and industries. The first nation(s) to make this transition and sell it to others will be a global game-changer. Transitioning away from fossil fuels like oil will also put many nations and groups who hate the United States out of business. Believing that transitioning to clean, renewable power will cost us jobs and security is plainly wrong.
And please, for the love of God, stop throwing Solyndra into this argument. Using that failed solar company to try and make a point is like saying that we should have given up flight after the first few attempts to build airplanes came to nothing. Or that we should have given up fighting polio when the first efforts at inoculation foundered. Or the moon. Or the computer. Or… I think you get the idea.
3) Finally, and with particular regard to Christians, it ought to be considered that, as per the Bible, God cares infinitely more about his creatures (all of creation) than he does about fickle human wealth and political allegiances. If we were to ask Christ, “What we should focus on, economic development that permanently damages creation OR a sustainable economy that seeks balance between human activities and the rest of his creation?” I think we can predict what he would say, and all the more so when we consider that our present economic systems favor the wealthy at the expense, subjugation, and desolation of impoverished nations and people. Favoring destructive environmental practices for micro-term wealth creation is not just stupid, it’s unChristian.
I could go on, but it’s unnecessary. Chances are that if you understand the reality and threat of climate change, you don’t need me to tell you about it. Similarly, if you deny the reality of climate change, you probably wouldn’t read this blog-post in the first place. I hope I am wrong on both counts, but even if I’m not, I hope whoever reads this found some part of it helpful or at least mildly interesting.
Thanks for reading me,
1: The popular Christian conception that the entire cosmos will ultimately be destroyed by fire is grounded in a particular interpretation of 2Peter 3:10-12. All too often, the resulting attitude is that we shouldn’t be so concerned with conservation or limiting our destructive activities because it’s all going to burn anyway. This is stupid. Even if this interpretation of the verse were accurate (and there is reason to believe that it is not), we simply have no idea when Christ will return. To use an analogy, sound financial planning posits that retirement be constructed to reduce the possibility of running deficits before a person’s body becomes worm food. From a self-preservation and care-for-our-progeny perspective, I think we should at least consider treating our planet in the same way until the truly unpredictable moment of THE END. Put another way, when we consider that we have no idea when history will end, we had better take care of what we have for as long as we can.
2: A Brief Review of the peripheral 70’s cooling fear can be found here: http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2014/01/the_myth_of_the_global_cooling_consensus.html
And just for a little extra reading: Climate Change Skeptic Sees the Light, Changes Mind