Five reasons to care about climate change

Should evangelicals have anything to say about climate change?  I was asked this by Lausanne World Pulse and so I provided the following five reasons why evangelicals should be involved in what is said and done with regard to climate change.They were originally are published by Lausanne World Pulse: providing evangelism and missions news, information and articles.

Here are five reasons why Christians should be involved in what is said and done with regard to climate change.

1.  Climate change has a significant theological dimension of interest to evangelicals

Christians worship the Creator God who made all things ‘good’. They believe that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24:1) and also know that God not only entered into a special relationship with humanity, but also with the creatures of the world as well (Genesis 9:8-13).  Consequently, Christians have a fundamental theological reason for caring about the effects of climate change which is reinforced by the fact that God gave humanity a particular responsibility to tend and care for animals and the rest of the world. Christians also are keenly aware that God’s love for the whole world is seen in the fact that he will redeem it through Jesus Christ. The expectation of a renewed creation is an encouragement to Christians to actively care for the present world, its people and natural environment.  Not to care about the world which God loves is an offense to God and his far-reaching purposes.  Christians, who are especially concerned about redemption ought to be clearly aware of the value which God attributes to his world.

2. Climate change has a moral dimension which calls for repentance and change.

Christians should be aware very aware of the need for faith and they are opposed to any sort of nominalism. They preach the biblical notion that ‘faith without works is dead’ and are strong on calling for repentance.  Consequently, as inhabitants of God’s world we all need to seek forgiveness for the occasions that we have treated it as our own and for the times we have inappropriately exploited and polluted the world without thought for others both present and future.  Repentance involves turning away from those things that have un-necessarily contributed to global warming.

Loving our neighbour means taking a global focus and recognising that those who are wealthier bear more responsibility for producing greenhouse gases while those who are poorer suffer more from the effects – due to their lesser ability to deal with them.  Christians in wealthier countries should note that they are creating a pollution which is hurting their brothers and sisters in poorer counties. Can Christians in countries like the USA (the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases) or Australia (the highest per capita emitter of greenhouse gases) or Europe not give a thought to their brethren in Tuvalu (the first climate change refugees) or East Africa (where malaria will increase)?   ‘If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet does not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.’ (James 2:15-17).  Evangelical faith without practical action is dead.

3. The evangelical witness concerns the whole of life.

If Christians believe that helping people to follow Jesus is central to life then it is important to follow him in everything, and he was involved in people’s lives as a whole. We do not find him ignoring the fact that a man was blind because he wanted to save his soul. Nor does he neglect the hungry or refuse to speak about money and economics or matters of state.  He took a holistic view of life, and climate change is about life on earth.

Christians can make a significant contribution to societies which have become narrow and self-centred in their life focus. Recent debate about climate change in Australia, for instance, has not centred on the validity of the scientific assessment (which is broadly accepted) but on an apparent conflict between the needs of the environment and our global neighbours on the one hand, and the preservation of the strength of the economy on the other.  For many, an increasing concern for economic growth means a diminished concern for the good of others. But a narrow, economic view of life which is focussed upon national economic interests, or which views the natural world in a purely utilitarian way is morally and theologically deficient.

As it turns out, addressing climate change issues with greater energy and efficiency could actually be economically beneficial. As it has been said, the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.  In addition, operating from a global perspective will certainly be advantageous in terms of security issues (allowing climate change to develop could be one of the most diplomatically de-stablising events in history).  Evangelical witness in the world needs the credibility of a church which demonstrates concern for the world and for people with integrity and passion.

4. Christians are part of the global community.

It is possible to argue a case for involvement in action on climate change by evangelicals simply on the basis of our common humanity.  Christians are human beings, a part of the global community with commonly accepted rights and responsibilities.  It is foolish to leave the issue to someone else to fix.  Developing countries sometimes say ‘leave it to the developed world who caused most of the problems’; small nations say ‘it’s no use us doing anything, it has to be left to the highly populated countries’; others will say it is the responsibility of those that have the highest rate of pollution; community groups want governments to act, governments can blame business and many businesses would rather the focus of attention fell on the responsibility of individuals. All attempts to avoid responsibility for what is a matter of universal concern lack integrity. Christians cannot say, ‘this does not concern us’.    It is an issue which requires a whole-of-society response.

Christians can work with other religions in promoting understanding about climate change.  Common Belief: Australia’s Faith Communities on Climate Change (available in pdf form from www.climateinstitute.org.au) is an example of this.  While theological differences make common statements difficult or impossible placing together 9 Christian statements and 7 statements from other religions indicates a high degree of unanimity concerning the moral aspects of dealing with climate change.

5.   Human induced climate change is real, urgent and reversible.

It has not really been possible to deny the overwhelming scientific consensus concerning human induced global warming since the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2001. Thousands of the world’s best scientists from a wide range of disciplines contributed to this finding.  Since then other independent bodies around the world have examined the report and more recent evidence has only accentuated the urgency of the issue.  There is now no reasonable doubt either that climate change is happening or that a large part of global warming is human-induced.

This claim is controversial to some, but to others it is the scepticism which is startling! Some countries have been subject to overly politicised and commercially influenced public debates which have cast doubt over what is a large-scale scientific consensus which cannot be denied by the existence of data which does not fit the consensus paradigm and the persistence of alternative views by some individuals or groups.  Inevitably, given the scope of the research, there will be some contrary evidence and scientists are entitled to debate the way it should be interpreted. And those who dissent from the consensus (perhaps 1-2%, some suggesting the situation has been understated, and other that it has been overstated) fulfil an important role in helping ensure that determinations are made with integrity.  But the overall consensus is striking and it extends to agreement concerning the goals that need to be achieved.

The question of how much of a temperature increase is ‘too much’ is subjective (the people of Tuvalu have a good argument to say it has already been too much!) but the worst scenarios (involving ocean levels rising, increases in tropical diseases, loss of drinking water, alteration to local climates etc) which affect large numbers of people need to be avoided. And the scientific evidence which connects greenhouse gas emissions with climate change is the same evidence which indicates that the goal for developed nations ought to be in the order of a 60% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from year 2000 levels by 2050.  It makes no sense to accept the conclusions about the present reality of climate change and not accept the conclusions about the necessary goals for rectifying it as they are based on the same evidence.

Debate about the methods for achieving this goal is essential and there are a variety of proposals, but the urgency of the matter must be recognised. Early action is imperative.  In environmental matters the Precautionary Principle is well understood. It was developed in Europe where it has been necessary to deal with serious environmental issues across national borders since the 1960’s.  It says that where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing remedial measures.  The evidence in regard to the effects of human induced climate change is extremely strong, but it may not be 100% certain.  But it is critically important to be careful with our environment because it is the only one we have got!  Waiting for 100%, definitive, unambiguous certainty means not operating according to the best evidence but according to some far less likely, unreasonably optimistic scenario.  It means waiting until after decisive and dangerous events have already occurred.  It is a process which risks much and possibly achieves little.

This urgency can be matched with optimism based on the observation that the worst scenarios can be avoided at relatively little or no cost. Changes will have to occur, but some will have other benefits. In any case, it makes no sense to hold back from acting sooner rather than later as a failure to act now will simply mean more cost in the long run. But living standards and income can continue to rise strongly while responding positively to climate change.

Moving forward

These theological, moral and practical arguments all indicate the appropriateness of evangelical action on climate change.  Such action is, for evangelicals,

  • a function of responsible stewardship
  • an expression of respect for God
  • a demonstration of care for the natural world
  • an act of love for our global neighbours
  • an illustration of an authentic Christian lifestyle, and
  • a reflection of our own spiritual life.

If we have no care for God’s world or God’s people we become estranged from our innermost purpose. Each person becomes estranged from their very ‘self’. The destruction of the environment is connected with our own alienation from God.  A failure to care for the world is a lack of care for our own souls.  As it has been said, the new deserts of our world are a reflection of our own souls.

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