This post is a response to the fact that, from my limited perspective (which may be reflective of just the Christian circles I’m in), it seems that denial, down-playing, defeatism and, perhaps overwhelmingly, silence, are the main reactions to climate change that you’ll see from Christians.
There are some great exceptions to this, however, and I’d like to join my voice to those. Christians should be taking the climate crisis at least as seriously as others are, if not far more so.
Rather than write in essay form (or a series of essays!), I decided to condense this into a list of reasons, roughly grouped into categories, to make it more digestible. But this article is not meant to be an easy read. If you are already convinced of the seriousness of this issue, and suffering from anxiety, I hope the reasons in the last section on God’s character will be helpful to you.
So why should Christian take climate change very seriously?
Because climate change is real, and it is happening at a rate unprecedented in history to our knowledge.
Because it is, according to our best estimates, likely to have devastating consequences on the environment if we do not take action, including “untold human suffering”, the loss of millions of human lives and hundreds of millions in poverty, as conservative estimates.
Because the science behind this is not some newly invented fad - it has been known since the late 1800’s, and there have been warnings for over 100 years. For example, this 1912 article:
Because we have every reason to believe the predictions of experts on this — recent predictions from mainstream scientists have turned out to be accurate, even those made long before we had the computational power we do today. Prediction failures have typically been underestimates.
Because responses to date have been entirely inadequate — we cannot simply act as if someone else will sort this out:
- Few countries are meeting even the modest targets set at the Paris agreement. This should not surprise Christians, because we understand that the primary obstacles we face are those rooted in the human condition — namely, human fear, greed, selfishness, pride and folly — and so change will naturally be far too slow.
- It is looking increasingly like that we are facing a situation as bad as hundreds of millions flooded by 3⁰C warming or even global warming’s worst-case projections.
- In 2018 we broke all previous records in carbon emissions, and again in 2019.
It’s like we are driving the world’s population in a giant bus towards a cliff edge, and, at the global level, we’ve still got our foot pressing on the accelerator.
- Because we follow the One who is the truth, and so Christians should be people of the truth, and therefore all of the above should be more strongly persuasive for us than for unbelievers.
- Because ‘science’, in Christian terminology, is part of ‘general revelation’, and part of how God is speaking to us. Those who refuse to listen to it where it speaks clearly are guilty of ignoring God himself.
- Because God holds people accountable for their response to general revelation. (For example, in Romans 1:18-19 and Acts 14:17)
- Because “judgement begins with God’s household”. This means that we as Christians will be held even more responsible than unbelievers for failing to listen to what God is saying via general revelation.
- Because, unlike with other branches of science, especially the science of origins (Darwinism etc.), we do not have foundational differences in approach and epistemology that allow us to disregard the findings of experts in climate science.
Because looking after the planet is part of the original job that God gave mankind, and this has never been revoked. For example, Genesis 2:15:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
Because the Christian understands that planet earth is not our property — it belongs in its entirety to God:The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,the world, and all who live in it;
Because, unlike the deist, for a Christian the owner of this planet is not a stranger, but a Father, a Friend, and a Saviour. So when we trample on and destroy His property it is a very personal matter.
Because there is a place in hell reserved for those who destroy God’s world:The nations were angry,and your wrath has come.The time has come for judging the dead,and for rewarding your servants the prophetsand your people who revere your name,both great and small –and for destroying those who destroy the earth.
- Because the first and greatest command is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength, and love to God means that we should take great care of the wonderful world He created for His own glory.
- Because the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbour as ourselves, and love to neighbours requires that we look after the planet they depend on.
- Because the poor, as always, are most likely to be worst affected. In arguments based on economics and GDP, the people in the world’s poorest countries are hundreds of times less valuable than those in the richest. But that should never be the case with anyone who understands God’s concern for the poor, as portrayed in the Bible.
Because wisdom combined with simple self-interest says that we should look after the planet that sustains us physically.My son, do not forget my teaching,but keep my commands in your heart,for they will prolong your life many yearsand bring you peace and prosperity.
Even some of the stupidest of animals know not to soil their own beds, or how to prepare for the future.
Because Christians understand that all of us are made in God’s image, with far greater intelligence than animals. Therefore to fail to act with wisdom brings disgrace on our Creator.
Because Christians have been re-made in the image of Christ, who is “wisdom from God” to us. To fail to act with wisdom brings further disgrace on the one who is not only our Creator, but our Saviour.
Because even if we would rather be stupid, the Bible commands to at least have a small amount of common sense when it comes to looking after the environment we are going to live in and which we need to sustain us. For example, in Old Testament law:
When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees people, that you should besiege them? However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.
Because the heart of climate change denial is often a “wiser than thou” scepticism, an “everyone else has fallen for this, but not me, I’m smarter than all the experts” attitude, which, according to the Bible, is the very height of folly:Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?There is more hope for a fool than for them.
- Because the Christian knows that they will give account to God for how they have used the resources He has loaned us, which includes the planet itself. (Matthew 25:14-30, Romans 14:12).
- Because on judgement day when we face God’s scrutiny, if we claim a general scepticism of modern science as a justification for our refusal to listen, there will be a thousand witnesses who stand up to expose us — all the times we’ve put our lives in the hands of engineers and scientists, whether it is accepting medical treatment or flying in an aeroplane.
- Because when God examines our actions, he does so according to what we have and not according to what we do not have (2 Corinthians 8:12). This means that if, despite our very best efforts, doing anything to deal with climate change turns out to be impossible, God will not hold us accountable for what we do not achieve. But if the knowledge and power is in our hands, and we fail to act, we will be held responsible.
Because the many fallacious (and increasingly creative) arguments that people often come up with to avoid facing the truth about climate change are, in themselves, sinful abuses of the minds that God has given us. Even if the consequences were not serious, as Christian we should make efforts to avoid such things.
Because to claim, without credible specific evidence, that thousands of climate scientists are involved in some deliberate conspiracy to fool us is slander, which is a sin:
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.
Because to dismiss the testimony of thousands of scientists on the basis that they may be motivated subconsciously by any number of wrong motivations is Bulverism (text version), which is perhaps the greatest intellectual illness of our age. Christians ought not to be prone to Bulverism because they ought to read C.S. Lewis.
Because Christians ought to read their Bibles, and in that way escape from Bulverism. A Christian is someone who knows “the heart is deceitful above all things”, and has learnt to apply this to their own heart before they apply it to anyone else’s.
Because if we insist on playing the Bulverism game, we can just as easily come up with reasons why we Christians might be psychologically predisposed to not believe in climate change or take it seriously, despite the good evidence for it. For example:
- The difficulty we have, just like everyone else, in admitting we’ve been wrong, especially about important things — things we may have even said from a pulpit.
- The difficulty of facing truly terrifying possibilities in the future, and the idea that we may have caused them.
- The lifestyle changes we will have to make once we admit we’re wrong. Including, even, changing who we vote for, and admitting that to friends.
- The ‘religious threat’ that we as Christians feel from environmentalists, in terms of a message that contains moral content, and an existential threat that demands a response, just like our own (the kind of thinking that is evident, for example, in the article Thinking Green — The New Religion).
- The Christian narrative that likes to see Christians as the greatest force for good in the world (William Wilberforce etc.), and therefore struggles to accept a scenario in which Christians are not leading the way — in fact many seem to be doing quite the opposite.
None of these prove climate change is happening, just as none of the inverse motivations we come up with prove it is not. We actually have to look at the evidence.
Because to go and search the internet for the tiny fraction of climate scientists (or very confused economists) who will say something you want to hear is what psychologists call confirmation bias. But, for moral and theological issues such as this, the Bible puts it more starkly - it is gathering round teachers to say what your itching ears want to hear.
- Because, if we cannot show ourselves to be people of truth when it comes to measurable realities in the present, how on earth do we expect people to take seriously the unlikely claims we have about the resurrection of a man two thousand years ago?
- Because, if we are unable to act with the basic common sense required to stop our planet from heading into disaster, how on earth do we expect people to believe we are in possession of heavenly wisdom?
- Because if we cannot accept the facts when it comes to climate change, we lose all right to appeal to ‘science’ or ‘reality’ when it comes to abortion or gender issues.
- Because if we are unconcerned about the lives of millions of people, we destroy the credibility of our claim to be pro-life.
- Because if we dismiss the existential threat of a impending climate disaster as ‘nonsense’, we demonstrate that we’ve never taken seriously what the Bible says about judgement day, and we will encourage other people to say ‘nonsense’ about that too.
- Because Christians, especially Christian leaders and preachers, occupy a position of great influence when it comes to this kind of social issue (see 9 Things You Should Know About Global Poverty, point 9), so to fail to speak on this issue is a huge dereliction of duty.
- Because when we deny climate change, we are doing the work of greed-fuelled, lying corporations for them, who have been spending millions to spread misinformation about this for decades. This is not a good look for those who, in everything they do, are representatives of Christ.
- Because the impacts of climate change will likely cause havoc and great setbacks for the worldwide work of the great commission, and we should be doing all we can to solve this problem so that we will have more resources for gospel work. It will be far more expensive if we put this off until later.
- Because, if anyone is able to say “I was wrong” and change their mind, Christians ought to be, because we had to do that about much more important matters when we became Christians.
- Because, if anyone is able to face the lifestyle changes that will be needed to attempt to deal with carbon emissions, Christians ought to be, because we are daily repenting and changing our life to fit with what God wants. (Aren’t we?)
- Because, if anyone is able to make sacrifices for other people’s good, Christians ought to be, since we follow a crucified Saviour and are daily taking up our cross.
- Because there is no Biblical teaching — whether the doctrine of God’s sovereign care over the world, or the doctrine of Christ’s return (to an inhabited planet), or the promise that God won’t flood the whole world — that in any way allows us to ignore the possibility of environmental disasters. History already has many examples of disasters partially or primarily caused by human activity, and if we’ve read the book of Revelation at all, metaphorical language notwithstanding, we cannot escape the conclusion that we should expect physical disasters of huge proportions this side of glory.
- Because the fact that these things may be a part of God’s judgement on the world does not excuse us, nor does it make mitigation attempts futile. For example, when David was clearly under God’s judgement for his sin, he still planned, prayed and fought back against the ungodly attacks he faced. All of us live under God’s judgement on Adam, but that doesn’t mean we give in to the thorns and thistles, to the first signs of human mortality, or indeed to our sinful nature.
- Because the fact that God has given us “all things richly to enjoy” cannot be used as a justification for carelessness towards the planet. We would never use it this way for small matters (e.g. claim it’s fine to litter because cleaning up is such a chore and diminishes our enjoyment); it would be ridiculous to use it for a matter of global proportions.
- Because the fiery end of the universe we expect God to bring does not give us permission to destroy the world. He is the owner of the planet, we are not. The same false logic would argue that our treatment of our bodies doesn’t matter since we’ll get new ones, but the Bible says the opposite — see 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 and 1 Corinthians 15 for example. Our present bodies are likened to a seed of our future ones, and Romans 8:18-25 leads us to think of the rest of creation in the same way.
- Because we believe in a loving God who has promised to be with us even in the worst of circumstances, which means that there is no room for the fear that leads to denial of these issues.
- Because we believe in a God who is bigger than the huge climate problems we face, and therefore there is no room for a defeatist attitude that leads to inaction.
- Because we believe in a God of infinite forgiveness, who has dealt with all our sin at the cross of Jesus Christ. This means as Christians we ought to be able to face the otherwise potentially crushing guilt regarding the many years we have denied or ignored the problem, and the terrible results that may be coming. This does not mean we can say “God has forgiven it, it doesn’t matter”, but rather that we have the courage to face reality.