We often refuse to accept change. When the urologist had me strapped to his table and stood over me with scalpel in hand, preparing to alter my internal wiring and change me from someone who was fruitful and could multiply to someone who couldn’t, a part of me was in denial. ‘What am I doing here?’, I thought. I tried to disappear into my happy place, filled with books, musical instruments, friendly cats and fine English ales, but the sting of that auto-injector returned me to stark reality, and there was no turning back.
Lots of people pretend change isn’t happening. Like that ageing actress with the face lift, or that guy with the threadbare combover.
Speaking of change, President Trump recently withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Accord and put the issue of climate change in the news once again. There’s understandable distress about the economy and the future of jobs in the energy sector, especially among workers in the rust belt, and the president cited this as a motivation for his decision.
However, he and many of his supporters have also long decried the idea that humans have a hand in climate change as the clever fabrication of a dark cabal of scientists seeking to control the universe – or something like that. And for reasons I can’t quite work out, a great number of American Christians join him in his dismissive rhetoric.
Why do so many of us utterly reject the notion that the actions of humankind may be adversely impacting the planet? What’s the internal monologue behind our stance? Honestly, I don’t know – but I wouldn’t be writing this if I didn’t have a few theories!:
“We’re ‘subduing the earth’.”
Although we’re some of the Bible’s most avid readers, it doesn’t follow that we’re always its best interpreters. Take the first chapters of Genesis, for example. When God tells humans to “fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over…every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28), we might think that means we can do with this world whatever we like – including exploit it for personal gain.
Yet Genesis’s opening narrative is a temple story. God assigns functions in this ‘temple’ to the various created entities, with humans chosen to bear God’s image. Yes, God gives humanity ‘dominion’ – but in scripture, God’s dominion always brings peace, balance, restoration and order. That’s the awesome responsibility of living as God’s image, of acting on God’s behalf and serving in God’s creation. Would we pump noxious fumes into God’s temple? Would we greedily strip it of its resources? Would we drill into its floor for the prospect of cheaper oil? Apparently, yes.
“God wouldn’t let us destroy something He has made.”
Many of us divest ourselves from the obligation to protect the environment and place that responsibility squarely on God’s shoulders. Surely the Almighty will prevent us from abusing His handiwork.
If only this were true. But like any loving parent, God has granted us freedom to make choices. And free will can be a real bitch. Tragically, we’ve often used our freedom to harm God’s creation. Consider how often we destroy each other! That’s to say nothing of our actions in the natural world, the forests we’ve levelled, the waterways we’ve polluted and the species we’ve driven to the brink – and many over the brink – of extinction.
Considering our history, it’s actually difficult to imagine that we don’t share the blame for a shifting climate.
“It’s a ‘left-wing’ issue.”
A great many Christians in the U.S. wear as a badge of honour their staunch resistance to so-called ‘liberals’ and their political arm, the Democratic Party. Thus, any issue that Democrats appear to champion, these Christians will oppose. To at least some extent, I think this is what has happened in the climate change debate. We fail to take climate change seriously, because “it’s a Democrat issue.”
However, God doesn’t differentiate based on human political affiliations and neither does God’s creation. We should see environmental protection as a ‘people of God’ concern, not a ‘left-wing’ concern.
“Scientists…What do they know?”
American Christianity, especially since the early 20th century, has had an uneasy and often antagonistic relationship with the scientific community – that godless horde of hell-spawned elitists, whose sole purpose is to destroy the faith. The crux of the hostility rests firmly on the question of universal and, most importantly, human origins (which, as I’ve written before, has as much to do with our failure to appreciate the cultural context of Genesis as it does to bravado among scientists).
“Scientists are so blind,” so the thinking goes. “They don’t even believe in a 6-day creation. Why should we trust them when it comes to the climate?”
Funny thing, though: it turns out scientists are pretty switched on. They engage in extensive and thoughtful research and they consider the extensive and thoughtful research done by others. In fact, we rely heavily on findings from many scientific fields. As an example, think of the decisions we make about our health, based on the enormous gains made by medical science in the last hundred years. So when the scientific community suggests that the carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that we produce plays a role in raising earth’s temperature, a wise response may be to hear them out.
“We’re afraid…and we don’t want to change.”
A key plot thread in the Harry Potter series occurs when Voldemort first reappears and begins to wreak havoc on the world. The Minister for Magic in England is gripped with fear – and his reaction is to deny that Voldemort has really returned. He uses his power to vilify and persecute the title character and anyone who dares to speak the truth.
In the end, I wonder if fear explains our refusal to acknowledge the possibility of climate change. We simply don’t want to believe it might be true.
If we admitted that there was merit in the idea of climate change and humankind’s culpability, it would demand changes from us. We might need to change the way we use energy. We might need to change the cars we drive (God forbid, we may even have to use public transport!). In short, we might need to change the way we live, opting for simplicity over convenience.
And change is hard.
Does it Matter?
Now, we may yet discover that the shifting climate has more to do with natural forces than human-made greenhouse gasses. Future research may bring important new evidence to light which contradicts the current prevailing theory. That happens in science and we can remain open to that possibility (though maybe not acting as though that evidence has already been uncovered).
But in the end, aren’t we missing the point? I mean, shouldn’t we want to protect God’s world just because it’s God’s world? Maybe our response to pollution and energy usage shouldn’t turn on whether or not climate change is human driven.
So am I missing anything? Are there any other reasons why Christians rally against the human factor in climate change? Respond in the comments if you have any ideas.
- Feature Image: Visualization of the 2012 Arctic sea ice minimum (https://climate.nasa.gov/evidence/)
- Climate change denial billboard, found at http://www.ruralvotes.com/thebackforty/?p=4710
- Crazy scientist, from http://www.blastr.com/2012/01/8_incredibly_dumb_theorie.php