Climate Change for Christians

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Not a week goes by that I don’t read one or two letters to the editor of our local newspaper decrying the supposed effects of man-made climate change.  The fear is palpable, the proposals sincere, but the misunderstanding hurtful.  Writing as a retired pastor, I would like to address this issue from a biblical perspective.

Presently, a naturalistic worldview dominates public policy on climate change, both in Washington and in many blue states.  Modern naturalism posits that the universe evolved through random physical processes.  This hypothesis entails that our Earth is extremely fragile and that man, often viewed as a clumsy Johnny-come-lately, could completely destroy it if he’s not careful.  Therefore, an observed trend toward global warming, possibly caused by us humans, generates existential alarm in naturalistic scientists and the people who listen to them.

The biblical worldview (BWV) posits that God is the creator, sustainer, and ruler of all things, including the weather.  It also posits that man is his vice-regent on Earth, specially appointed to develop and care for the home he has given us.  Because of man’s fall into sin, God has temporarily burdened his originally perfect creation with various natural evils such as extremes of heat and cold, drought, storm, earthquake, etc.  Ultimately, these “severe mercies” are wake-up calls designed to discourage nature-worship and bring the wanderers home.

Sinful man can and does damage his environment, but the Bible assures us he can never destroy the Earth.  That prerogative is reserved for God alone, who has explicitly said he will preserve the Earth in its regular cycles until the return of Christ (Gen. 8:22).  Only then will he destroy it, after which he will create new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed (2 Pet. 3).  Knowing all this, Christian citizens are indeed concerned about environmental abuse, but also confident that man can never “destroy the planet.”

With these thoughts in mind, let’s look at climate change.

Christians acknowledge that for the last 100–150 years, there has been a modest warming trend.  They point out, however, that within this time frame, and also throughout prior centuries, there have always been climatic fluctuations.  Following the Medieval Warm Period, there came the Little Ice Age.  Back in the 1970s, a brief cooling trend engendered fears of a new Ice Age.  A few winters back, a Polar Vortex clobbered the Midwest with record cold.  Polar ice caps wax and wane.  The BWV predicts such changes.  They are normal for a world under divine care and discipline.  Good and bad weather happen.  We should try to hear what God is telling us in both.

Christians go on to emphasize what all honest scientists admit: it is difficult to ascertain the precise causes of climate change.  To say the recent warming trend is caused solely by man-made CO2 is simplistic and highly improbable.  Ninety percent of greenhouse warming — so vital for life on Earth — is due to water vapor and clouds.  As one scientist puts it, “CO2 is a bit player.”  Furthermore, most CO2 is generated by sunlight interacting with the oceans.  Human activity accounts for a minuscule 5%.  If our contribution were truly significant, why the constant fluctuations of the last 150 years?

Knowing all this, researchers now look elsewhere for the causes of climate change.  Many cite a demonstrable correlation connecting sunspots, solar radiation, oceanic warming, and patterns in the weather.  Others ponder the effects of natural weather cycles (e.g., El Niño), clouds, and volcanic emissions.  Dr. Roy Spencer thinks climate change is normal, the result of “the climate system itself.”  Christians conclude: whatever the complex causes of climate change, they are in God’s hands, not ours.

Such considerations will shape our response to climate change.  Here are a few policy suggestions I think would serve us well.

First, let’s lay aside all the climate alarmism and doomsaying.  According to the Bible, they are not based in reality (or on faith), but only terrify the Greta Thunbergs of the world.  God has said to the proud waves of the sea, “Thus far, and no further” (Job 38:11).  They will obey.

Secondly, let’s keep in mind the upside of global warming: increased global greening and decreased desertification, relief from deadly winter cold, reduced energy consumption, and greatly improved quality and quantity of agricultural products.  The folks at the CO2 Coalition invite us to see global warming as a blessing.  Imagine.

Finally, and most importantly, let’s swiftly rethink our current attitude toward fossil fuels.  In biblical perspective, they are a fabulous gift of God, laden with manifold benefits.  If we turn our back on them, we will increase the cost of energy; curtail technological advances; and condemn the 2 billion people living in undeveloped countries to poverty, disease, injury, environmental degradation, and death.  Oh, and one more benefit of using fossil fuels: we can get rid of those horrid windmills that blight our landscape and kill millions of our birds!

Here is a solemn tautology: our worldview has a profound influence on the way we view the world.  It determines how we see, think, feel, love, fear, hope, choose, and live together in our precious home.  As we think about climate change, let’s think carefully about our worldview as well.

Image via Max Pixel.

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