Global Warming and the Christian Conscience

I do not claim to be an expert on global warming or to have mastered the scientific literature on the subject. But I do think that it is important for Christians to consider the claims of certain evangelicals concerning global climate change. The “Evangelical Climate Initiative” (endorsed by evangelical luminaries such as Rick Warren) says that,

The same love for God and neighbor that compels us to preach salvation through Jesus Christ, protect the unborn, preserve the family and the sanctity of marriage, and take the whole Gospel to a hurting world, also compels us to recognize that human-induced climate change is a serious Christian issue requiring action now.

Is global warming really the threat that some people are claiming that it is? Do Christians really have a duty to support public policies and politicians who endeavor to stem that tide of global warming?

I’m still working through these questions, but here’s where I am right now. It seems fairly clear that global temperatures are rising and that there will be consequences for the environment and sea levels in the not-too-distant future. Yet two important issues remain unresolved in my mind.

First, it is not clear to me the extent to which humans are the cause of global climate change. Even the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change qualifies its assertion that humans are the cause with the phrase “very likely” (page 3). To be sure, human activity has played a role (especially in the last 50 years), but the jury is still out on how significant its role was.

Second, whatever the cause, it is not clear to me the extent to which modifying human behavior (e.g., reducing fossil fuel emissions) will prevent the negative consequences of future warming. The adverse economic impact of modifying global energy use may be worse for the world’s poor than rising sea levels.

There are enough unresolved questions in my mind that I do not feel as urgent about global climate change as other Evangelicals do. Even so, I do not mind that some Evangelicals are taking up this cause as an expression of their Christian stewardship over creation (Genesis 1:28). But I do question giving this issue an equal or greater priority than the other issues mentioned by the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Even the worst case scenario consequences of global warming are still decades away. How can the evangelical conscience take on global climate change as its signature issue when the unborn continue to die by the millions right now?

To my mind, abortion-on-demand remains the central human rights crisis of our time, and I think the Christian conscience should focus its priorities accordingly.

Sources:

“Science Panel Calls Global Warming ‘Unequivocal'” – New York Times

“Climate of Opinion” – Wall Street Journal

“Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative” – New York Times

“Inconvenient Kyoto Truths” – George Will, Newsweek

Websites:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Evangelical Climate Initiative

11 Responses to Global Warming and the Christian Conscience

  1. Peter Head February 7, 2007 at 5:57 am #

    Denny,

    a) “very likely” means a greater than 90% likelihood (if you read the notes). This is a scientific statement, not a political one. It does not seem grounds for complacency.
    b) stewardship of the creation must inevitably mean modifying our elitist consumptionist assumptions about fuel mustn’t it?
    c) “the worst case scenario consequences of global warming are still decades away” – yes but action is required now if the worst-case scenarios are not to be fulfilled. That action can be personal, local, national and global.
    d) It seems to me that the statement you quoted was not attempting to give this issue priority over other issues, simply to recognise that it is an important issue (theological, pastoral, eschatological, and evangelical).

  2. John Divito February 7, 2007 at 8:05 am #

    Denny,

    I agree with you, and thought you might be interested in a debate that took place at Union University between Dr. David P. Gushee (one of the drafters of the ECI) and Dr. E. Calvin Beisner (one of the authors of “A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming”). You can get the DVD through the Apologetics Group.

  3. dennyrburk February 7, 2007 at 8:11 am #

    Peter,

    Thanks for reading and for taking time to comment. You make good points; let me respond to each one in turn.

    a) Yes, 90% means very likely, and I don’t dispute that at all.

    b) Yes, and that is why I support President Bush’s programs for the development of alternative fuels (like the development of hydrogen powered cars). This to me seems like the best long term strategy for big consumers like the U.S.

    c) The worst case scenario as I understand it would be a rise in sea-levels that could displace millions and that could have a particularly devastating effect on the world’s poor. But no one has been able to show that reducing fossil fuel emmissions will stop warming and rising sea levels. The amount of resources that it will take to reduce emmissions may be far more costly than putting resources towards helping humans to deal with what looks to be inevitable over the next 100 years or so.

    d) In the U.S., the effect of statements like these is the marginalization of pro-life issues as a priority among evangelicals. I can’t speak for what is happening in Great Britain or elsewhere, but there is a concerted effort on the political left in this country to get “religious voters” to vote Democrat in the next election. The only way to do that is to somehow make abortion a less important issue than it has been in the past. The strategy so far has been to make abortion just one issue among many.

    Thanks,
    Denny Burk

  4. Jim Hamilton February 7, 2007 at 9:42 am #

    Greetings all,

    I heard a snippet on the radio yesterday about this book DO AS I SAY (NOT AS I DO): PROFILES IN LIBERAL HYPOCRISY (http://www.amazon.com/Do-As-Say-Not-Hypocrisy/dp/0385513496/sr=8-1/qid=1170862223/ref=pd_bbs_1/102-1820271-5552918?ie=UTF8&s=books).

    I found it interesting that the author of the book and the talk show host were discussing the way that chief advocates in the Global Warming Crusade–Michael Moore and Al Gore–both fly private jets which consume unimaginable amounts of fuel. They basically refuse to fly commercial like the rest of us, then they lecture us about our fuel use and complain about SUV’s (for the record, I don’t own an SUV, and the family doesn’t own one either–John Kerry).

    In Gore’s case, the guy has something like 4 or 5 houses, all of which are well over 3,000 square feet–think of the heating and cooling consumption! No kids at home, just him and his wife, with all that space, all those rooms, and all that energy consumption.

    For Al Gore and Michael Moore, Global Warming seems to be an issue that they are urgent about for everyone else, but not for themselves. If they really believed in their Crusade, wouldn’t it affect their own lifestyles?

    I’m sorry, but their hypocrisy makes it a little difficult for me to buy into the Global Warming Crusade.

    For the record, I am not advocating a “scorched earth” approach to life. I just don’t think this issue is anywhere near as significant was what we do about the unborn, Supreme Court Justices, the definition of marriage, and national security (the war on terror).

    For what it’s worth,

    Jim

  5. Peter Head February 7, 2007 at 11:05 am #

    Jim,

    Fair enough to object to hypocrisy. But surely this is no more an argument against environmental stewardship than wealthy tele-evangelists are an argument against the truth of Christianity.

  6. Matthew February 7, 2007 at 2:54 pm #

    Denny,

    Good post. I know a lot of people who think global warming is a conservative-liberal fight and are willing to fight it to the death (they think GW is bunk). I know others on the other side who seem unable to have a respectable conversation with someone who is not completely convinced that it is true.

    I think more people should say, “I don’t know, but here are some things I notice…”

    I did have to chuckle at someone walking in the door from subzero temps and snow outside yesterday and exclaming, “This Global Warming stuff is crap!!”

  7. Don February 7, 2007 at 3:38 pm #

    Maybe a litlle off the main topic but the photo used is a bit of a fake. That photo I learned this week was taken in 2004 of two polar bears who seem to be stranded on a melting ice fixture. In fact {sorry I don’t not recall the name of the guy} but he was on a fixture next to the one in the photo conducting a check on ice thickness. The two bears swam out the the ice fixture and were not stranded.In fact he had a guy with him with a rifle to in case the bears came at them. They can swim over a 100 miles. I had seen the photo last Sunday on the cover of the NY slimes and felt that there was more to the story. Again off topic but the photo is part of the enviro-madness that carries the day.

  8. rf2r2 February 7, 2007 at 4:13 pm #

    Peter Head, if I may,

    a) There is debate surrounding some of the source scientific data the IPCC has used in the past to make its pronouncements concerning global climate change. Which is precisely why I’m not ready to jump on board with doomsayers who think mankind is headed for a disaster of his own making based on the IPCC’s reports. It seems to me that the jury is really still out on whether humans have affected climate change in any exceptional way and it is, as Dr. Burk points out, even less decided what, if any, action(s) on the part of mankind can reverse or dampen any supposed doom, impending or otherwise.

    Just because one organization of scientists with an important, enlightened and unanimous sounding name interprets data one way doesn’t make it scientific canon.

    b) I don’t think I use fuel like an elitest or consume irresponsibly, and I think most people are reasonable with their energy use for a very good reason: capitalism. Wasting energy costs people money, and no one wants to burn money. I use the energy I need to provide a healthy, comfortable life for my family. I travel little because gas costs money, I turn of lights and fix leaky sinks because if base housing becomes too expensive for the Air Force I may wind up paying some of the costs (someone has too) out of my own pocket. Energy efficiency is a natural product of capitalism – people want to spend less on energy without sacrificing their current quality of living, so they are going to naturally demand more efficient means to live their lives. The rush for less dependence on oil as a nation is only urgent to me because it puts money in the coffers of our enemies, not because I think emmissions are destroying the planet. The urgency of the GCC folks seems alarmist and exaggerated to me.

  9. Kris Weinschenker February 7, 2007 at 9:09 pm #

    The case for global warming is becoming stronger but it is not conclusive.

    That being said, Warren makes a good point. Adam was appointted as a caretaker of all creation. If his kin are negligent in that obligation, they face God’s judgement for that sin.

    If CO2 IS responsible for the rise in global temperatures, the easiest way to help alleviate it is to plant more trees.

    I’ve probably planted over 200 in the last 10 years.

  10. Peter Head February 9, 2007 at 8:19 am #

    rf2r2 said (#8): “Energy efficiency is a natural product of capitalism.”
    So if this were true that would make America the most energy efficient country in the world yeah?

  11. rf2r2 February 9, 2007 at 9:12 am #

    Peter Head said,

    rf2r2 said (#8): “Energy efficiency is a natural product of capitalism.”
    So if this were true that would make America the most energy efficient country in the world yeah?

    Not as fast as GCC doomsayers might like, but, yes, eventually those nations where capitalism abounds will naturally see energy efficiency come to fruition. We already see it in America with hybrid vehicles, efficient light bulbs, and a new focus on developing nuclear power.

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