It is a curious social phenomenon, this climate change debate. In all the writing I have done over the years about Christianity, Islam, the Bible and other topics, none produces so much reaction as writing about climate change. What is it, I wonder, that makes this such a controversial topic?
It should be straightforward. Scientists go and measure the world, test their theories that adequately explain what they observe, and report back to the rest of us. Once the cause and the effects are understood, people calmly and purposefully work together for the common good, and all is then well.
Instead, we have wild and emotionally charged responses that seem to range all the way from ‘Climate emergency! Turn everything off right now!’ to ‘The science is a big Hoax to take away our freedom and wealth! It all lies!’ and somewhere, somehow, the truth gets buried.
It seems Jesus knew this, for his words, recorded in Luke 21:25-26, in his ‘end of the age’ discourse, seem to capture the zeitgeist perfectly. (I am using a literal translation because it makes the point more clearly):
‘And there shall be signs in sun, and moon, and stars, and on the land distress of nations with perplexity, sea and billow roaring; men fainting at heart from fear and expectation of the things coming on the world, for the powers of the heavens shall be shaken.’
The scriptures also speak of the world being scorched (Revelation 16):
‘And the fourth messenger did pour out his vial upon the sun, and there was given to him to scorch men with fire, and men were scorched with great heat’
When I wrote about this topic last year, I was criticised by readers, accusing me of being anti-science, because they recognised that, were climate change true, we would have to change our technological way of life, a life made possible by scientific knowledge, which has brought so many material benefits. I found it an odd argument, that, dismissing the results of scientific investigation because its conclusions would be ‘anti-science’.
I think there is something going on. I can smell it – it’s fear. On the one hand, people fear the destruction of the planet, future generations eking out a diminished, miserable existence of the parts of the planet still habitable, diminished and impoverished by a world scorched by the hand of their forebears.
On the other hand, people fear the loss of their income, incomes that barely cover their indebted lifestyles, working hard just to cover the bills and little more. Most people are ‘two pay cheques away from homelessness’ and any systemic threat to that is more than they can contemplate – life is hard enough already.
And so, their hearts faint. Many times does the Bible speaks of people’s hearts fainting from fear, loosing their courage, their presence of mind, the ability to purposefully act for what is good and instead being paralysed into inaction or mere mindless flight, even at the possibility of threat.
What causes this loss of courage?
Let me continue the earlier quotation from Revelation 16:8-9:
‘And the fourth messenger did pour out his vial upon the sun, and there was given to him to scorch men with fire, and men were scorched with great heat, and they did speak evil of the name of God, who hath authority over these plagues, and they did not reform — to give to Him glory’
God in his authority has made the earth work according to a set of laws. The truth of these laws are not negotiable nor can they be wished, or prayed, away. In the case of climate change the science, i.e. God’s physical and chemical laws, contrary to what many say, is actually quite straightforward: more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reduces the radiation of heat from the Earth’s surface into the coldness of outer space, so the planet warms. As it does so, and in particular as the sea warms, more water vapour is held in the atmosphere, which further reduces the radiation into space. The combined effect is called ‘forcing’.
What is not clear yet is the role of clouds – will they amplify or diminish this warming effect and by how much?
Some may say how very inconsiderate of God to have set up the Earth this way – this limits our enjoyment of the fruits of our technological lifestyle. Others, suffering rather more directly from extreme temperatures, which in some places have already become so severe that people have recently been dying in their thousands from heat stress (many of them Muslims, which is why I include this topic on the JCM website), may wonder why God has allowed this world to generate such suffering for them.
In either case – it seems we are slow to conclude what God wants us to conclude – we need to ‘reform’, or to use the more common translation, ‘repent’. What is it we need to repent of, and how will our repenting give to God glory?
I would like to suggest the following:
- Climate change, and damaging climate change, isn’t a freak accident of nature and isn’t something we should blame God for. We are the cause of this, not God. He has set up the Earth in the way he has. Scientists have known since around the year 1900 this would happen and had a fairly good understanding of the sensitivity of the Earth’s temperature to rising carbon dioxide levels, even back then. We must first understand the responsibility for this belongs to us.
- Climate change will have its greatest negative impact on those who live in the hottest parts of the world. Those who live in the coldest parts will probably benefit. Is it fair and just that due to actions of the industrialised societies, the lives of the world’s poorest who generally live in the hottest parts of the world will become harder, even to the point of killing them or forcing their migration, abandoning their ancestral homelands? Is that Christian, in any way? What, I would ask, is the point of world mission to these places, bringing them the eternal benefits of the Gospel, when by our actions, or at least the actions of the societies we live in, and which we are part of and contribute to, we desolate these hot lands. Climate change, unchecked, would make many of these places very hard to live in, if not impossible. We must have a commitment to justice, both international and intergenerational justice. To be unconcerned is shameful.
- Within the eternal covenant of God with humankind there are seven chapters, seven covenants, and all of them are still in force, for there are all eternal. They are God’s covenants with Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Israel at Sinai, the priestly covenant with Levi, the covenant with the House of David and the New Covenant through Christ.
I mention this because God said to Adam when He put him in the Garden, He told him to ‘cultivate and conserve it’, or ‘tend and keep it’. While we might not live in the Garden of Eden anymore, the responsibility to cultivate and conserve has never been rescinded. The only difference now is that this happens ‘by the sweat of our brow’. What kind of conservation of God’s good earth is it to render it harder and harder to cultivate through our own collective actions? We cannot break the eternal covenant of God in any part without their being consequences that are injurious to ourselves, because this covenant was entered into by our Creator for our own benefit. We need to understand the covenant between God and mankind and seek to fulfil the terms he has given us the responsibility to fulfil. To do anything else is to defile His holy name, rather than hallow it.
- Those who argue, as many do, that the scientists are either misguided or lying, had better do a much better job of defending their position rather than throwing wild accusations. Whenever I have crosschecked some so-called ‘fact’ marshalled by a climate-change denier, I have found it wanting. If all is in fact well, there is a lot of explaining to do, and they had better get on with it, because things are happening on the ground and people – yes, people! – in their millions are at risk. We need a renewed commitment to truth, for God is a God of truth. Each of us have a personal responsibility to the truth, whoever we are.
- The solution to climate change involves making three key changes: to reduce and eliminate our dependency on fossil fuels, conserve our forests and improve the carbon holding of our agricultural and marginal land through agroforestry and tree planting by water harvesting the drier places and making our animal husbandry more pasture based rather than grain based, and that means eating a lower meat diet. These changes will require reformation of laws, bylaws and industries, but by far the most powerful reformation will be the individual choices of individual households. It is childish to look at problems, shrug and ask some other grown-up to fix it. It is time to act like mature grown-ups ourselves. Integrity knows no other path to follow.
- Water heating, space heating, cooking and air-conditioning use are the energy using applications that are hardest to reform. But with commitment, they are, in fact, very soluble. It just needs our sustained personal commitment.
- Finally, God has ‘not given us a spirit of fear, but of ability, love and sanity’. It is these resources that in Christ we have in generous measure to enable us to do the practical steps that need to be taken. Let us be filled with the Spirit of God. That comes by asking of Him: ‘Seek and ye shall find’.
Climate change is a serious challenge, one of a number of serious challenges we human face. For each of the seven covenants that God has made, there is an -ism that has arisen to create a counterfeit alternative. Each one of those has had the opportunity to arise because of the human failure to fulfil our side of the agreement God has made with us. In every case, the principle of the solution is the same: fulfil the terms of the covenant. If we humans can grasp this, every single challenge can be met and overcome. Fail to do this, we will be deceived and will suffer the consequences.
But the solution does not lie in merely opposing the counterfeit. The solution lies in meeting the terms of the covenant. The challenge of environmentalism can only be met when we understand that the Adamic covenant is still in force: we have a responsibility to cultivate and converse the land we have been granted by our loving heavenly Father, who is at the same time an awesome consuming fire.
(I define environmentalism as it is only the environment matters, and people exist only to care for the environment. Environmentalisms falsehood lies in its diminished vision of human potential).
The Lord bless you and keep you,
President – Jesus Christ for Muslims