Christians and Climate Change

I was saddened and frustrated by this article about global warm… er… I mean climate change written in the name of Christianity. This is exactly the problem I see among Christians on the right and the left. Their ends are laudable but their analysis and policy recommendations are wrong or misguided.

Now, I agree with their concern about the health of the environment. All things being equal, polluting, wasting, and destroying natural resources and ecosystems does not honor God and is not wise. All things are not equal, however, so we need to be realistic in how we apply this. For example, we pollute every time we drive our cars or fly in an airplane. Is that dishonoring to God? If not, why not? That is a question we need to address. But first I want to look at the claims of this article one point at a time.

Claim 1: Human-Induced Climate Change is Real I am no expert on the scientific studies and disputes here. All I will say is that I think there is more dissent over whether global warming is happening or not than the article suggests. You can check out alternative views on the global warming issue here, here, and here.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the earth is getting warmer. Is it caused by human beings? The authors claim scientists say so. True or not, let’s accept that claim, too, but only for the sake of the argument.

Claim 2: The Consequences of Climate Change Will Be Significant, and Will Hit the Poor the Hardest

If we accept claim 1, claim 2 is certainly plausible—if the world continues to heat slowly (very slowly, mind you, and sporadically), over time we will see shifts in weather and ecosystems. However, I am skeptical of the claim that “millions of people could die” because of the changes. By their very nature, the changes are slow and relatively predictable. I would like to see the science (not on the fringe) that demonstrates that if the world is getting hotter, natural disasters are becoming more frequent. That’s the only case I can really see for this.

Also, notice the negative focus; what about the positive that a warmer globe will open up literally millions of acres of frozen tundra to farming in Canada and Russia? And what about the fact that in the northern hemisphere more people die from cold than from the heat?

I agree that the poor will be less well equipped to deal with the changes than the rich; however, I think our best solution is not to try to change the climate, but to increase the wealth of the poor (and of society in general) so that they are better equipped to deal with any changes that occur.

Below is an excerpt describing this phenomenon:

“Skidmore and Hideki Toya from Nagoya City University in Japan have examined data for 151 countries over the period 1960-2003 and found that countries with higher levels of income, education and financial development suffer fewer losses from a natural disaster. Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

‘As incomes rise in a society, you can devote more resources to safety. So economies that have relatively high exposure to earthquakes or hurricanes start taking the precautions they need. Japan is among the best prepared in the world because they have high exposure and high income,’ Skidmore said.”

Claim 3: Christian Moral Convictions Demand Our Response to the Climate Change Problem Yes, it demands a response; a response to care for the welfare of the poor and look to their well being. We can accept that the climate is changing, that humans are causing it, that there will be negative consequences to it, and still disagree that our focus should be on stopping climate change. What evidence do we have that the U.S. cutting back heavily on the amount of CO2 it produces in a year, through cap-and-trade or some such legislation, will reduce climate change in a meaningful way? None, even if we made huge cuts at the cost of billions of dollars (trillions if you look at the effect over several years), we would still be producing a lot of pollution and China, Russia, and the rest of the developing world will continue increasing the amount of CO2 they produce. Huge cost, with little to no benefit. Perhaps it’s time to think of a different approach.

Claim 4: The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change—starting now.

Let’s consider how effective the government has been in trying to fix this “problem.”  Is cap-and-trade efficient? Is losing 2.2 regular jobs for every green job good for the country? Is it good for the poor? Many would agree that it is not.

It is foolish to say that Christians need to respond to this issue in one particular way. Those that do are missing the bigger picture. While looking at the potential future costs of climate change, they are ignoring the immediate economic (and therefore human) costs of addressing this problem through legislation to restrict business. Does this mean we shouldn’t try to conserve or recycle?

Does it mean we should let factories dump waste into rivers or debris into the air at a whim? Of course not! I agree that we are stewards of the environment, and that there should be rules enforcing the true costs of pollution on those who engage in it.

But as a policy recommendation, this article is simply not rigorous—it’s why I think Christian leaders, on the right or the left, should be wary of signing onto petitions or calls to action in the name of Christ when there is a lot more at work than a single moral principle. What does honor God is exercising wisdom and discernment by using biblical principles to weigh all the various alternatives. We need to be extra careful as Christians to make moral decisions based on scripture and our convictions, but we also need to be careful not to use (or encourage) the government to take away the people’s right to make their own good or bad decisions.

  • Anonymous
    Interesting but ultimatly misleading article. To describe 2000 of the world leading scientists as ‘fringe’ is a ridiculous assertion…http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2011/oct/20/global-warming-study-climate-sceptics
  • Anonymous
    I was drawn to this site as a Christian and environmentally conscious engineer, and I applaud the creators of the site for framing this as a dialogue.
    To that end, I’d like to add to the dialogue.
    I am no expert by any means, but I do consider myself a professional with some experience in these areas (graduated with mechanical engineering degree in 2008, studied sustainability and environmental issues, and I’ve worked in the power and energy sectors since then). In addition, and ultimately, I believe only in Jesus Christ crucified for our sins, and that is what drives my life.
    All that to say, I have found that Christians have difficulty with environmental and ecological issues. Whether it comes to political leanings or just looking at the science, there always seems to be an extra layer of skepticism for Christians that doesn’t apply elsewhere (national defense, etc), and I’m afraid this article proves my point. I’ll go through the claims below:
    Claim 1: Human Induced (Anthropogenic) Climate Change is Real
    While scientific data are not facts or proofs, they are all God has given us in order to know and understand his world, in addition of course to what the Bible has to say. The author links to three fringe and semi-fringe blogs/websites for “alternative views” on global warming, while untold journal publications and the vast majority of academia agree that the data only points to the earth warming in the last century, whether human caused or not. In addition, while not fact or proof as Al Gore might like us to believe, the data between warming and C02 concentrations (which exploded in 20th century) strongly correlates (two matching hockey-stick curves): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Carbon_History_and_Flux_Rev.png
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:2000_Year_Temperature_Comparison.png
    To deny or even question this requires very rigorous science and data, none of which the author pointed to.

    Claim 2: Climate change will affect the poor the hardest
    I agree with the authors skepticism at claims of “millions of deaths.” The claim, especially made popular by Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth links natural disasters as strongly to global warming as human released c02. The science isn’t as strong, simply put. However, some of the data we do have
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NSFmonsoonsandclimatesince200AD.jpg)
    points in this direction, so we should still be cautious and certainly not suggest that there will be some fringe benefits to warming the northern hemisphere, especially if we agree with Claim 1 that humans are causing this. To think we know what’s better for the earth, saying that we should welcome the changes in ecology and climate in the northern hemisphere as it warms several degrees and we lose the arctic sea ice is quite arrogant.

    Claim 3: Christian moral convictions demand a response
    I’m glad the author agrees in part with this, that at least we need to care for the poor. But like Jesus showed us, it isn’t enough to help the symptoms, people need a lasting solution. Again, forgiveness of sins is always ultimate, after all Jesus showed us that he’s the true water of life that we all need. However, imbedded in his great truth is the simple lesson that we need to look at the cause of the problems, not just the symptoms. Interestingly, as Christians, we can point to our sinful nature as a cause for much of the ecological problems we’re facing, and point to the cross for a solution. Aside from that, and back to the Claim, we DO need to look at our role in global warming, because the data points towards our role in it. Again, it’s not fact, but it’s the best information we have. We need to explore the options we have to mitigate C02 releases, but lame economic excuses for the U.S. cannot outweigh the long-term consequences that will be experienced by those in the developing world. I think God would like to see us try to figure out economically and ecologically sound solutions to this problem, not dismiss them.

    Claim 4: We need to act now
    A bit redundant with Claim 3, so I’ll just agree with the author here, “What does honor God is exercising wisdom and discernment by using biblical principles to weigh all the various alternatives.”
    Unfortunately, the author’s conclusion does not lead us to weigh all the various alternatives. Instead it leaves me feeling like I just need to decide for myself what I think is the right thing to do, and that at least I should refrain from pollution and be sure to conserve and recycle. Unfortunately, that’s just not going to cut it if we are going to make a dent in this problem. If we agree that humans play a role in climate change, and that the consequences will be more dire than just gradual and welcome change to our ecosystems, the whole world needs to take action. The UK has come up with a nice tool to see what it will take to bring our C02 output back in line with what the experts think is sustainable (again, the data point this direction, it’s not fact). Here’s the website:
    http://www.decc.gov.uk/en/content/cms/tackling/2050/calculator_on/calculator_on.aspx

    In short, the task of looking into our available options for solving the energy/climate/ecological problem is not going to be easy, and requires much debate and discussion, not dismissal of major groups of experts.

    I would have appreciated it if the author spent some time researching what almost every scientist and academic center believes before downplaying them in an article like this. From Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming#Views_on_global_warming
    “In the scientific literature, there is a strong consensus that global surface temperatures have increased in recent decades and that the trend is caused mainly by human-induced emissions of greenhouse gases. No scientific body of national or international standing disagrees with this view,[128][129] though a few organisations hold non-committal positions.”

    The Bible tells us that Christians are called to work hard at what they do, looking into the data available, and not pander to the popular masses, which, I’m afraid, is what this article has done.

  • Anonymous
    Jared said it better
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