What is the real story about global warming? And what do science, government policy and, particularly, the Bible have to say about it?
Very few people are able to observe a human-caused carbon dioxide molecule in the atmosphere to see if it is indeed trapping heat on the earth’s surface. To determine whether the world is warming because of carbon dioxide emitted by human activity, we have to rely on the observations of scientists.
However, there is no single scientist who has been able to independently and comprehensively test global warming theory in its entirety. Every scientist relies on observed data and established laws that have accumulated over the years through the work of other scientists. Scientific theories are continually being revised and refined through this collaborative effort.
Most Bible-believing Christians are ardent dissenters when it comes to the scientific consensus on human origins. Christians believe God created life and everything else; science teaches that our origins are explained by natural processes involving extemely long periods of time—and chance.
Obviously Christians don’t dismiss everything that science presents them with: they’ve embraced the advances of science, using technologies such as the internet, offset printing and air transport, all of which are built on proven science theory.
But most Christians will place the Bible above science, deviating from science when there is a biblical reason to do so.
There doesn’t appear to be any biblical basis for rejecting a theory of human-caused climate change. In fact, the Bible describes the demise of Planet Earth, saying it will “wear out like a garment,” that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” and that ultimately God will destroy “those who destroy the earth.” So the idea of harmful human-caused climate change may be entirely consistent with both Bible and science.
Climate change theory fits neatly with the biblical view of end times. Trust in the Bible doesn’t rely on global warming being true, but the idea that the world cannot keep going as it is, is consistent with the biblical picture of end-time tumult in the physical, social, religious and political spheres (see Matthew 24).
While climate change theory isn’t perfectly unified and bullet-proof, there remains a broad scientific consensus that there is human-related climate change, with human-related carbon dioxide emissions being key.
Some, Christians among them, also feel uneasy about a “tree-hugging” ideology, which they see as aligned with the left of politics. They therefore find it hard to embrace any left-leaning politician or policy, such as a carbon tax. And regardless of their view of climate change, they see carbon tax as the government’s foot in their door, of unwelcome intervention that may extend to restriction of personal freedoms. These concerns may well be real and warranted, but such policy-oriented concerns shouldn’t be the basis for scepticism in respect to the reality or otherwise of global warming.
That one’s personal contribution to carbon dioxide emissions is comparatively small should not be an excuse for doing nothing at all. All humankind, and most of all Christians, have a responsibility for their environment, for God said so in Genesis (1:26–29).
The precautionary principleIn policy-making, the precautionary principle states that in the absence of full scientific knowledge and consensus regarding the consequence of an action, typically in the area of technological advancement, policy decisions should err on the side of protecting the public and the environment. If this principle had been applied to tobacco use, asbestos and nuclear disasters, it may have averted countless deaths. While this is not necessarily an argument for a carbon tax for example, it is an argument against desiring unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions.
Believing the Bible and being true to it is paramount, thus the obligation to be fair and proactive in environmental protection (see Revelation 11:18) and social justice (see Micah 6:8), while also embracing productivity and creativity (see Ecclesiates 9:10).
An authentic biblical approach to how we should live is attractive and will make sense in every sphere. Not only does the Bible offer spiritual solutions to problems of sin, of which a destroying, profligate and high consumption lifestyle is but one element, it offers a wholistic approach to health, work and lifestyle generally.
Within the current climate change debate, Christians have a great opportunity to demonstrate that a biblical world view has much—even more—to offer than any segment of society, for wholistic, Bible-based Christianity includes care for the planet God created for us and all that is in it. And regardless of our personal standpoint on an obviously devisive issue and its political and economic outcomes, we all should tread more lightly on the earth, as did Jesus some 2000 years ago.
Key contentions against global warming with responses from science
|Observable data||Contention against warming||Response from science|
|Recent temperature record||Surface temperatures in 1998 were the hottest on record and have declined since.||Total global heat is increasing steadily, with the last decade being the hottest on record.|
|Temperature record over many centuries||Global climate has changed before, with ice ages and warm periods.||Climate changes due to a number of driving factors. Recently humans have become an additional, and now driving, factor.|
|Human contribution of CO2||Humans contribute a tiny proportion of CO2.||There was a naturally balanced cycle of CO2 that humans have interrupted.|
|Volcanic emissions of CO2||Volcanoes emit huge quantities of CO2.||Volcanoes contribute about 1 per cent of CO2 emissions and actually are a cooling force through dimming.|
|CO2: good or bad?||CO2 is not a pollutant. Plants thrive on it.||CO2 is beneficial in the right places and in the right quantities, but harmful if the natural balance is tipped.|
|CO2 or temperature first||CO2 increases occur after increases in temperature in the climate record.||There are a number of factors involved. CO2 increases may have lagged temperature in past cases, but still amplify warming.|
|Ice caps||Pictures of Antarctica show the area of ice to be increasing.||While sea ice is increasing, land ice is decreasing at a much faster and alarming rate. Total volume of ice is decreasing.|
|Cold spells||Localised weather seems to be particularly cold.||Local weather variability has little to do with long-term global trends.|
|Cost/benefit of warming||Warmer climates are good for life on earth.||Negative impacts of warming on the environment, agriculture and health outweigh any benefits.|
|Scientific consensus||There is a large petition of 31,000 skeptical scientists who argue against human-caused global warming.||97 per cent of climate experts agree that humans are causing global warming|
|Leaked emails from climate change scientists||Leaked emails suggest a conspiracy and cover-up by climate scientists to hide data or conclusions that undermine global warming theories.||A number of investigations have cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing. There are simple explanations that demonstrate misquoting of the scientists.|
For detailed analysis for all these arguments and many more, go to www.skepticalscience.com
Analysis of broad policy options for addressing global warming
|Do nothing||This only makes sense if there is no significant problem or if an external intervention comes in good time. Some Christians might, at least unconsciously, simply look to the Second Coming for such an external intervention.|
|Technological development||This option relies on continued technological development to respond to whatever climate challenges we may face in the future.|
|Ecological modernisation||This option promotes green technologies now to prevent or limit climate change problems before they become significant.|
|Regulation||Within existing systems, tighter regulatory controls on greenhouse gas emissions can be enforced through strict penalties.|
|Taxes and other economic controls||Within existing systems, taxes, assigning dollar values to environmental assets or services, privatisation, and other economic rationalisations my increase the efficiency of resource use, thus limiting greenhouse gas emissions.|
|Community participation||Involving the public and local communities in decision-making and in mitigating climate change may bring decisions and impacts down to a more personal level, with greater community buy-in to communally proposed solutions.|
|Communal subsistence living||This is a radical shift from consumer capitalism toward communal ecological villages that are self-reliant for energy, food and water, thus drastically reducing emissions.|
|Radical global limits||This is a Draconian response where global production and consumption is forced to return to, say, pre-industrial rates of emission.|