This post doesn’t really have anything to do with guns, but I do live in Texas, and I wanted to go with the triple-G alliteration. I know I can come across too strongly at times, so I apologize in advance if you’re quick to be offended. Nevertheless, consider this your invitation to offer feedback. If you can do that constructively, then read on.
Climate Change and Climbing Trips
Several years ago, I was on a climbing trip with some friends when the topic of climate change surfaced. To be specific, we were talking about diminished snowfall in the Colorado Rockies as it concerned skiing/ snowboarding and spring climbing conditions. Never mind that a single weather season cannot be proof for or against global climate change, one of my more politically conservative friends stated that he just didn’t think that God would allow humans to impact the world in such a manner. I was puzzled by the comment and wondered how my friend had come to such faith. It begs the question as to why some of us believe that humans are incapable of impacting our biosphere’s climate. But that was in the early 2000’s when there was at least a modicum of reasonable doubt as to whether or not our planet’s aggregate temperature was rising. Today, however, even many previous doubters (but not all) have come to recognize that our global climate IS shifting towards greater extremes, both warmer and colder, and being wackier in general, but many still refuse to acknowledge or even consider that humanity has had any hand in the changes whatsoever. Again I have to ask,”Why?”
Free-Will & Its Limits
Perhaps a more unsettling question on this issue is my friend’s understanding of free-will and the limits God has set for his creatures. Did my friend think that God was untroubled or had a very permissive, boys-will-be-boys attitude when it came to destroying other parts of our ecosystem or rape and murder, genocide, abusing, oppressing and general warmongering? Would my friend have us believe that all those things were not enough cause for God to step in and say “enough is enough,” but as soon as it comes to our economic systems and industrial byproducts unintentionally causing the global climate balance to wobble, God is so dismayed that he rolls his sleeves up and puts his foot down? To be honest, I wasn’t sharp enough to say all that when my friend offered his opinion, and I am sure that he would not support the disparity between God’s reaction to rape vs. global warming as I just painted it. Nevertheless, the attitude he displayed is not uncommon among evangelical Christians in the United States, and I think it deserves to be questioned.
I was recently reminded of the polarizing divide that discussing climate change can have when some devout Christian family members and I were watching weather reports about the rash of killer tornados that our nation had seen in just a few weeks’ time in different states with different storms. One family member stated that she wondered “if God is trying to get our attention with all this [wacky] weather.” I responded by expressing my conclusion that our climate is in trouble. Just for the record, I don’t believe that God throws lightening bolts as the Greeks believed Zeus did, but I certainly believe that God does not shield us from the consequences of our follies, even on a global scale. In that sense, human-caused climate change and God’s ‘getting our attention’ may well go hand in hand. Nevertheless, as soon as I voiced my opinion, the other family member present asked me if I thought humankind was impacting global warming. I responded that I did, and immediately his arms folded, he ceased looking at me and flatly stated that humanity couldn’t change this sort of thing even if it wanted to. From the body language, and out of respect for this relationship, I heeded these unequivocal “stop” signs and let it go. But again I have to wonder why this attitude is so prevalent.
Why is Global Climate Change Disputed?
The answer of course, is not that perplexing. Just like evolutionary biology, global climate change has been plucked out of the scientific realm and thrust directly into the political arena where it is secretly wed to a panoply of other philosophical and religious platforms and ideologies. The truth of the issue is often completely obscured or confused by its use as a political football/ hand-grenade. For full disclosure, I usually lean a little bit left of center when it comes to many (but not all) political issues. Nevertheless, my concern over global climate change and environmental destruction has more to do with my faith in Christ than it does with a particular political platform.
From a biblical perspective, I am convinced that humanity is responsible for the stewardship of the earth, and that respect for our Creator can easily be shown by respecting the creation and resources he has given us (including our own bodies). This is not some new-age spirituality where I confuse creation with creator, but rather conviction that when God gave us these resources, he did so for our use, but not our abuse, and that lasting destruction of them for short-term economic goals does not qualify as responsible stewardship. It really is that simple for me.
Isn’t the Earth Going to Burn Anyway?
As per 2Peter 3:10-12, the popular Christian conception that the entire cosmos will ultimately be destroyed by fire is perhaps given some credibility, but 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. It is difficult for me not to smack my forehead at the conclusion even if the interpretation of the verse happened to be accurate for the mere fact that we have no idea when Christ will return. To use an analogy, sound financial planning argues that retirement be constructed to reduce the possibility of running deficits before one kicks the bucket. 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 Jesus’ return crashes in. 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.
Secondly, we should consider the possibility that the author of these verses may be using fire as a metaphor consistent with its usage in other biblical passages, namely, that fire is means for refining (destroying the corrupt and imperfect while purifying the best of the best). When the idea of the earth’s coming refinement is coupled to verses like Romans 8:19-23, we might doubly consider that creation is not likely to be waiting with “eager expectation” just so it can be burned to a crisp, but rather so it can be restored and perfected in a way not completely dissimilar to the resurrection of Jesus’ followers. It is not too difficult to think that humanity as it was originally intended might well live in creation as IT was originally intended. After all, the old (imperfect) humans are resurrected and made imperishable, but they are not re-created from scratch. There is reason to believe that the old creation itself will experience a similarly glorious transformation.
Partnering with God… Now.
Among other reasons, if the cosmos will be restored rather than merely destroyed, then Christians should take environmental stewardship seriously, just as they do in other areas of service, for we are called to recognize not just what God will do at some undisclosed point in the future, but also to partner with him in what he IS DOING now. Even as our hope is drawn into eternity, Christians are still called to join Christ in making our present world a little less like hell and a little more like heaven. If the new heaven/ earth mark the absence of everything rotten and evil, then why would we not resist those things here and now wherever we find them? The abuse and destruction of our planet and its creatures via pollution and unsustainable consumption is one category among many evils that Jesus-followers are called to resist and fight.
God and Global Warming (Guns Optional)
So back to climate change, where does that issue intersect with our charge to be stewards and Kingdom partners in our present situations? I believe that global climate change is an issue directly related to our responsibilities as trustees of creation, not just because of the specific activities and industries that release greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, but also because of all the ancillary toxic waste that is pumped into the air, land and sea that accompanies these ventures. I do not deny that it has been made a political football, nor that its implications are not without legitimate connections to other ideologies we hold dear. But we must nevertheless move forward with our eyes open. If anything, I would urge my skeptical friends (and family members) merely to reconsider their position on the issue. Has God really ordained that humanity cannot influence the environment on a global scale? And if we believe that he has set this limit, what has lead us to such a conclusion? Could it be that our political and economic allegiances have clouded the picture? Could it be that our over-inflated sense of entitlement has warped our self-perception and what we understand to be needs vs. wants? I argue that if we could divest ourselves from some of these things, we would easily see that humans have been given the capacity to impact our biosphere in significant ways, both positively and negatively, and that in our great numbers we have done just that, even if unintentionally.
Letting the Facts be the Facts
Of course it might be said that I am merely passing off my perceptions and opinions as fact. I recognize that this is a possibility, so I would like to remind readers of what few undisputed facts there are regarding what is called global climate change: 1) Ever since humans have started keeping records, the last two decades have been the hottest in aggregate global temperatures. Extending even farther into the past are temperature indicators like those found in ice-cores drilled from glaciers and in tree-ring dating samplings from forests around the globe. Although there are debates over how accurate these other temperature indicators are, there is corroboration with human records that the earth’s climate is destabilizing. 2) From those same ice-cores, scientists can examine the air found within them and measure their carbon-dioxide content. There is undisputed consensus that for approximately 10,000 years prior to 1850, the parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere hovered around 280 ppm. Today, that ppm value is about 390, and it continues to rise at about 2 ppm per year. 3) Carbon dioxide and methane are incontestable in their capacity to amplify heating and complicate cooling in the atmosphere. 4) Human activities produce copious amounts of carbon dioxide (and other poisonous gasses) ever since the early 1800’s, and 5) we have simultaneously engaged in activities (and accidents) that limit our oceans’ and land masses’ abilities to absorb those gasses. Those are the undisputed facts. This is not complicated science in the least, and it should lead any reasonable adult to ask, “What has caused this spike?” That the observable, testable data proves that CO2 levels started elevating at the same time as the Industrial Revolution got underway should garner our attention. It is not an incomprehensible coincidence.
The questions that remain concern how much the human factor has impacted global climate systems and what we are going to do about it. There is no “proof” either way (but there is plenty of evidence that is painting an ever-clearer picture), and there are two main beliefs that people have come to. The first of these is faith that human activities are inconsequential on a global scale, and that the slow but steady rise in global temperatures and extremes are nothing more than coincidence even when considering the spike in greenhouse gasses over the last 150+ years (even though there is no known mechanism currently functioning apart from human activities). The second option is that human activities are indeed having an impact on our planet’s climate and that the destabilization of it is directly correlated to amplified greenhouse gasses that human activities have created. In this second opinion, how much one affects the other is disputed (at least by some), but that is ancillary to the point that humans are indeed exacerbating the problem.
Critics love to accuse those who accept the science behind climate change as gullible “Liberals,” who have not fact, but faith. The problem with this is that it’s akin to going to 100 doctors, 95 of whom say you have cancer and need treatment and to change your lifestyle, and the remaining 5 say that you are fine and can continue to smoke and carry on with business as usual. Unwilling to own up to your past choices or consider the lifestyle change this might require, you choose to label the 95 doctors as faith-heads who aren’t “certain” that something is amiss, and bet the farm on the minority opinion (some of whom own stock in cigarette companies).
Even if you choose to deny the science indicating that something is seriously amiss with our atmosphere, I plead with readers merely to consider the motivation and solutions that those concerned about global climate destabilization are advocating, which is the limitation and reduction of how much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses we pump into the atmosphere, both as individuals and as a global community. There is a wide range of specific strategies that can assist in the effort, but limiting and reducing this type of pollution while concurrently developing viable, alternative, clean and renewable energy sources must be at the core of any serious proposal. Even if human activity is not the direct cause of climate change, it would be reckless for us not to resist it, or at least prevent making it worse. All we can do is precisely what we must do.
The Economy and/or the Environment?
Inevitably, the “economic” argument will be voiced against environmental stewardship, but when I read the Bible, I see that God cares far more about living ethically and responsibly than he does about lining our pockets, especially when that wealth is created at the expense of creation or the less fortunate. In fact, a brief tour through the Hebrew Scriptures reveals that God starts to clinch his fists when humanity’s abuse and oppression become systemic. Additionally, what those of us who care for the creation are proposing on a longer-term scale would actually improve our economic and political situation.
Imagine an economy not beholden to the whims of petrol dictatorships who not only tend to dislike the United States, but have vested interests in our complete failure as well. Imagine a domestic energy production system that does not threaten our greatest wildlife preserves, human life or any other type of life. One that does not line the pockets of big oil companies and poses no chance whatsoever of unleashing irreparable oil spills or other types of pollution. Imagine a set of domestic industries that offer both horizontal and vertical growth and job opportunities from unskilled to skilled to doctoral and other professional-level workers. “Global Warming” aside, the fact is that when we wean ourselves off of oil and coal and reduce or eliminate pollution, everybody wins (except the oil regimes). Jobs, health and national security will be improved, and most importantly, Christians will be able to live consistently with their responsibilities as God’s gardeners.
Finally, even if those of us who are concerned about climate change are completely wrong (a possibility I must be open to), there is simply no long-term downside when it comes to clean renewable energy production, protecting the environment or being good stewards of creation. God has allowed us to be co-authors of history, and if past results are ANY indication of future possibilities, there is no doubt that humans can do amazing good or go catastrophically wrong. For some reason, God has allowed our free-will to operate for good or for unspeakable evil, and there is simply no biblical reason why he would have drawn the line at our subjugation of the environment. It is our responsibility, and indeed should be our joy, to do whatever it takes to move past the outmoded and destructive forms of pollution, energy production and usage that we presently rely on.
As good as it sounds, this vision simply does not yet exist, and the reason it does not exist is because we have gotten used to “cheap” energy and built our entire economy and way of life around it. Some people have gotten more than rich from oil and coal, and they are willing to buy as many political action committees and politicians as it takes to preserve their system. Indeed, humans are literally willing to fight and kill for it, prostitute the planet for it and sell-out our own neighbors and health for it. And it “worked” for awhile (at least for some people). I do not dispute that it has produced many benefits in the past, but when viewed as a whole, the entire system creates more damage and death than it does benefits, especially when we consider future generations. It is past time for us to work on something better. That “better” is alternative, clean and renewable energy.
At the moment there is no set of renewable energies that are ready to shoulder the burden that is currently supported by fossil fuels. Renewable, clean energy sources are advancing, but they aren’t “there” just yet. And realistically we shouldn’t expect a technological silver bullet like cold-fusion or flux-capacitors in flying DeLoreans. But on several occasions I have heard people complain that if our nation had taken renewable energy seriously ten years ago, we would not be gas-price gouging and financing petrol dictatorships at the same levels that we are today. I suspect that is true, but we’ll never know. There is no use crying about what we cannot change.
However, what we can change is the future. There is simply no reason why, in ten years from today, that we have to be in this exact same (or worse) situation. Drilling for more oil is not the “solution.” Indeed, the more oil we find, the longer we kick the can down the road, the more we assure a market for greedy oil companies and petrol dictatorships, and the more toxins we pump into our sea, air and land, all while sacrificing some of our world’s most treasured and irreplaceable ecosystems, the health of future generations of people and animals and hamstringing present job-growth opportunities. The old aphorism is true: the more we do what we’ve always done, the more we’re going to get what we’ve always got. When I see the messes that oil has oozed onto the world and how it continues to bring our nation to its knees, we should be appalled at the notion of wanting more of it.
The Big, “So-What?”
So what do we do? There are no easy answers. There are no easy, convenient or cheap fixes no matter what course we choose, either politically, economically or environmentally. Nevertheless, I am convinced that opting for business as usual will be even more costly in the long run. But we are not hapless.
On a macro level, there is little that the individual or family can accomplish on their own. While supporting like-minded agencies, voting and writing our congresspeople is not without merit, these are passive options which basically place our concerns (and future) in the hands of others. We should pursue these means, but on the micro level we should also actively resist the status quo in our personal habits and our conversations. What I suggest is that we take basic steps to reduce our consumption, particularly of gasoline, diesel and other oil-based products by walking or riding our bicycles and through buying local, using public transportation, buying more efficient vehicles, living closer to our places of business, carpooling and consolidating trips or eliminating superfluous excursions altogether. Efforts at recycling also reduce consumption and lessen greenhouse gas emissions. I could go on, but I imagine that most of us have heard these (and other) things before.
The bottom line is that we must think outside the box when it comes to consumption and start to consider the true (environmental and generational) cost of things, rather than just what we pay for them in dollars at the store or gas station. This is an ethical issue as well as an environmental one. And if we have the wherewithal to actually do these things, everybody wins (except the oil companies and petrol-dictatorships around the world who hate us), for it will save us money; it will mitigate our ever-expanding waistlines, it will send a message louder than mere political rhetoric, and it will positively impact our planet. Most importantly, however, it will communicate that we Christians take our commission from God seriously, that we are truly “pro-life” in all its forms, and that we are willing to make our lifestyles of entitlement secondary to our care for our fellow humans and indeed all of God’s creation. Whether humans are solely responsible for altering the global climate may be denied by some, but there is no doubt that human activities which produce greenhouse gasses are making things worse, not better, and it is our responsibility as Christ followers to resist this system while working for its replacement. Join me in this battle to be better stewards of God’s garden-gift to us!
Thanks for reading me.
A special thanks is due to the inspiration supplied by Dr. Dan Brunner of George Fox Seminary in Portland, Oregon and to Thomas Friedman, author of Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution & How it Can Renew America.