Responding to climate action opposition
Climate change polarises Christians. Many are passionate about minimising its harmful impacts on the poor and on God’s groaning creation. I was in Paris in late 2015 for the COP21 Climate talks, praying and campaigning along with colleagues from A Rocha, Tearfund, the Lausanne Movement and the World Evangelical Alliance. Yet, less than a year later, 75% of US white evangelicals elected a President who has called climate change a Chinese hoax and has now withdrawn the USA from the Paris agreement.
The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 6, 2012
Professor Katharine Hayhoe, a leading climate scientist who has been listed as one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People and Fortune’s 50 World’s Greatest Leaders, is also an evangelical pastor’s wife and spends much of her time explaining climate science to sceptical Christian audiences. She was in London recently to give the annual John Stott London Lecture, and told The Guardian: “Oh, I’ve been called … some really disgusting stuff. Most of it is just hateful, hateful language, a lot of it anonymous.” If you want to read more about Katharine’s work, here’s an excellent article from Texas Monthly.
So, why does climate change action divide Christians? Why do some believe it is a dangerous distraction whilst others see it as a crucial moral issue? Why do so many more simply ignore it as irrelevant to their faith and daily lives?
In the end it’s about theology. Is Christianity a purely spiritual battle or does it impact how we treat the earth and the poorest? Which matters more to God, economic growth or justice and the integrity of God’s creation? What biblical themes and passages have relevance to an issue that simply wasn’t in the thinking of people in biblical times? In the rest of this article I want to look some questions often raised by Christians who oppose involvement in climate action.
Isn’t it humanist arrogance to think we could have changed the climate?
Ironically, the opposite is true! Biblical prophets saw a clear and direct link between human sin and environmental chaos. Hosea 4:1–3 is one of several passages that speak of climatic change leading to collapsing harvests and wildlife extinctions when God’s people’s fail to keep God’s laws.
“There is no faithfulness, no love,
no acknowledgment of God in the land. […]
Because of this the land dries up,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky
and the fish in the sea are swept away.” Hosea 4:1b,3, NIV
It was the secular thinking of Bacon, Descartes and the Enlightenment which separated the spheres of nature and culture, and placed humanity above and separate from nature. Today we need to recover the biblical worldview that humanity and the earth’s systems are deeply interconnected and interdependent.
Can we trust science?
There’s a strong correlation between Christian scepticism of climate science and rejection of ‘mainstream’ science on issues such as evolution. Yet, committed Bible-believing Christians including Katharine Hayhoe and Sir John Houghton are leading climate scientists. Science, carried out honestly, carefully, and with peer review is a friend, not an enemy, of biblical faith. It is simply thinking God’s thoughts after him, as Johannes Kepler observed. The first scientist was Adam, who in naming the creatures exercised the curiosity, discernment and careful classification essential to the scientific method. Every single national scientific academy accepts the global consensus that burning fossil fuels is adversely affecting the global climate.
Isn’t the climate God’s problem, not ours?
Some argue that since Jesus — not the disciples — calmed the storm (Mark 4:35–41) all our climate action is pointless: We should pray and leave it to God! Yet, whilst human action won’t save the planet, God chooses to work through people. God’s saving plans in the climate catastrophe of Noah’s flood involved human action. As those called to reflect God’s image we’re tasked to reflect God’s character in servant leadership (‘dominion’) towards the earth and its creatures. Romans 8:19 reminds us that creation is waiting for God’s children to be revealed — in other words for the Church to stand up and take action. Both climate scepticism and the more widespread apathy and inaction in many churches, are denials of our biblical call to serve and preserve the goodness of God’s world.
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. Romans 8:19, NIV
Is the UN climate process part of an anti-Christian conspiracy?
Some allege an occult elite is behind the UN’s climate process. They’re right that climate change is a spiritual battle but they’re wrong about the enemy. As the many Christians involved in the UN will affirm, there is no secret agenda. The dangerous spiritual forces that Jesus repeatedly warned about — addiction to greed and wealth — are at work in the lies that protect powerful vested interests in fossil fuels, polluting industry, and unbridled consumerism. Political leaders need our prayers for God’s Spirit to break through the deadlock and for climate action that will reduce rising temperature, address climate injustice, and serve and preserve the creatures God declared ‘very good’ in Genesis 1:31.
So, as Christian students what can we do? Three things: pray, study, act! Pray for God to give you his heart that groans with the groaning of creation (Romans 8:18–28). Study the Bible’s teaching on caring for creation — my book Planetwise may be a useful start — and study the facts on climate change and its impacts. Then, take action. That might involve writing to politicians, campaigning, volunteering with A Rocha, and making changes to reflect the Lordship of Jesus in your own lifestyle.
Dave Bookless, Director of Theology, A Rocha