Friday, July 08, 2011

Can Christians ignore climate change?

"It is well past time for those of us still at the carnival of climate denial to exit the gates and allow the love of God to help us see and face the truth about climate change or global warming and the need to act. Once we do, we will discover that overcoming global warming presents us with tremendous opportunities to love God back and create a better world. Let me clarify things right up front: climate inaction is no longer an option for those who have the love of God in their hearts."

- Rev Jim Ball, Leaving the Carnival of Climate Change Denial
to Join the Next Great Cause of Freedom
H/T Liz.

Inaction on climate change is no longer an option for faithful Christians. So says Jim Ball in this brief and polemic piece addressing various barriers to action that rich Christians may face. While somewhat simplified (it is only a short piece), identifying such barriers is a good exercise. Where are you stuck at?

Perhaps we could even suggest a few more: ignorance of what actions to take; distraction by other good things; despair over the inadequacy of our possible actions. Indeed, back here I considered nine such barriers and suggested ways in which faith in God, love for Jesus and hope from the Holy Spirit open new paths for us through them.

It is encouraging to see a Christian leader in the US publish such an article in a widely-read forum. Ball has also written a book that I haven't got to yet, called Global Warming and the Risen LORD: Christian discipleship and climate change. He is not a lonely voice; an increasing number of books have come out in the last couple of years offering Christian accounts of ecological responsibility. Yet there are still plenty of Christian leaders all too willing to speak up on behalf of the fossil fuel companies, and too many followers of Jesus who haven't yet heard the good news of Jesus applied to an increasingly damaged world.


Josh Luton said...

I agree wholeheartedly. I do not think Christians can go on ignoring climate change. One of the main barriers I have come up against is the belief that Christianity is all about what happens after you die. When that narrative is embedded it is very difficult for people to care at all about the earth or what will become of it; especially since their conception of what will happen when they die is that they will all go up to heaven.

Another barrier is simply ignorance. I am currently interning in a rural UMC in North Carolina. I was amazed at the agricultural diversity in the area when I first moved here. Unfortunately, I was even more amazed at the rural communities' lack of support for the local agricultural economy. Most people are happy to drive to Wal-Mart or some other big box store to pick up their produce when there is an abundance of fresh local produce right in their community. I think they have bought into the idea that a tomato is a tomato. They have definitely not considered a need to respond in faith to any crisis, climate, food, or otherwise. Again, I think the barrier here is ignorance and lack of awareness rather than intentional neglect and I hope they will begin to reflect and act on these issues more and more.

byron smith said...

Thanks Josh, and I agree wholeheartedly with your point about the narrowness of Christian hope for many believers. "Going to heaven when you die" is a distortion of the Christian good news leading to quietism and the abrogation of responsibility towards our neighbours.

Ignorance is a complex phenomenon and you are right to draw attention to it. There is some part of it that is excusable for some people, and learning what our world is actually like remains an indispensable part of Christian discipleship, but much ignorance can also be a deliberate closing of the eyes in order to not see what is going on.

Liz said...

Here's another one. My pastor says that climate change isn't happening. Many people are inclined to accept what their pastor believes - and will only reject what he says if there is good reason to. So if the pastor doesn't believe in climate change, his church members will likely dismiss it as well.

And the fact that many scientists say climate change is happening is not a good reason for some Christians who may have a distrust of scientists because of their belief in a youth earth and literal six-day creation.

And I still get many people telling me that the media is biased and only shows the scientists who believe in climate change, not those who don't. It wouldn't matter what I said - they would say it's not the whole story. Saying the science is settled is not likely to convince any of them.


byron smith said...

Liz- Yes, these too are formidable barriers. I don't have any quick fix answers, but here are a few thoughts. I'd love to hear if you have further suggestions.

I suspect that teaching pastors to understand the place of the sciences in an appropriate way without resort to simplistic shortcuts (including both universal suspicion and blind faith) is a long term task with many benefits.

As for whether Christians pay attention when their pastors are not, I wonder whether some might find reason to pause when they get a sense of just how many respected scientific institutions (whose lifeblood is their reputation) take these things very seriously (see for instance here). And then ask them if they know of any scientific institutions of national or international standing (not think-tanks with shady funding arrangements or individual scientists given prominence by the media) which deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change.

(BTW, I think that a very healthy scepticism towards the media is generally a good thing).

Sometimes, people might also be moved by considering analogies such as this.

Or you could also try pointing out prominent Christian leaders who think that climate change is a big deal (which leaders are considered trustworthy may vary between situations).

Finally, as in most things, personal example is often more powerful than anything else. Living a life that shows you take these things seriously and that you consider them to be serious ethical matters of how we love our neighbour and express trust in God is not something that is easily ignored over the long term in a relationship of trust.

byron smith said...

Another thought, after just coming across an old email from a teacher of mine: the goal is for an expansion of vision, an inclusion into their love of God of all kinds of other loves that serve and express it, including love for truth, love for neighbour (especially the vulnerable: the young/unborn, the poor, other species), love for the created order. So rather than starting a fight (as perhaps the post I linked to may do), it may be more fruitful to finds areas of shared love and seek to expand that common ground one step at a time, building trust and a shared sense of concern as you go.

I'm not expert at this, but having seen others do it effectively, I admit that it works much better than trying to beat people over the head (though the latter can be more satisfying in the short term).

Liz said...

Hi Byron,

Thank you for all your suggestions.

I thought the idea of mentioning Christian leaders that believe we need to act on climate change to be an excellent one. My friends are more likely to pay attention to Christian leaders than they are to scientists - even if it is a scientific issue. The flipside to this is there are Christian leaders like Dr James Dobson and the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance telling evangelicals that 'global warming is not a consensus issue.' So I might need to do a bit of digging to find enough Evangelical leaders that think differently. But even if I can mention a few, that's a start.

I'm afraid the scientific institutions and the medical analogy aren't going to sway them much. For one, there are no reputable scientific institutions that believe in a young earth or a literal six-day creation. Yet my friends believe the scientific institutions are wrong - and biased. Also, many teachings on Creationism say that there are utilitarian views of science (such as doctors), which are good, but then there are theories which aren't proven. So they accept the utilitarian science, but not the theories.

I like what you said though about living by example and expanding their vision to include different kinds of love - and it's probably the best approach of all. And it also made me think that another approach might be to share stories of people who are already suffering.

Another approach I've sometimes used is to say, 'Okay, let's say the science isn't settled.' Then I talk about how the vast number of scientists who think climate change is happening means there's at least a chance it might be happening. And the Good Samaritan didn't have all the facts before he helped the person at the side of the road. For all he knew, the person may not have been injured, he may have already been dead, there may have been someone else getting help, he might have even been trying to trick someone so he could rob them. But despite not knowing all the details, the Good Samaritan went and helped him anyway. And I think the same applies for climate change. Even if the science wasn't settled, surely Christians should do something now - just in case.

As the carbon tax is being announced today, I know there's a good chance climate change will be talked about after church tonight. So it was good to read your suggestions and think about it some more before I have those conversations later today.


byron smith said...

Yes, I suspect that for those who are highly suspicious, then simply opening a small possibility of climate change being real can be a useful first step. As you say, it is quite appropriate that we act in all kinds of situations in which we don't have complete knowledge (which was one of the main goals in my medical analogy).

I'm a little puzzled by the distinction between theoretical and utilitarian sciences. Surely nearly all sciences (certainly the ones we're discussing here: medicine and climate science) are both? Though perhaps some people do not realise the amount of theory in medical science nor the amount of hard data in climate science.

I like your reference to the Good Samaritan: it is a Christian principle of action to be quick to help those who appear to be in trouble or need, and surely there is at least a prima facie case for this regarding climate change's affects on the world's poor, the young and unborn and other species.

Liz said...

Sorry for taking up so much room on your blog. But just quickly, I looked up Creation Ministries to see what they said. And they actually had operational science versus origins science. But whenever I've heard it explained, it seems to be pointing out the difference between science we actually use (eg. cars, electricity and medicine) and theories (eg. evolution). It may not be a good understanding of science. But it is what many people in my church are taught - sometimes from a very young age - and it makes it easier for them to dismiss any science that sounds just like a theory (regardless of how much evidence is actually there.)

byron smith said...

Yes, I understand, though it could be worth pointing out that we use climate science all the time, in all kinds of ways. The basic tenets of radiative transfer lie behind everything from lasers and missiles to weather forecasting. The basic equations on which ocean acidification concerns are based lie behind everything from soil management to blood tests. We could of course go on, and that is before we consider the ways that climate science directly informs a wide range of human activities from which crops to plant to how strong bridges need to be to how much we allocate to building flood defences to how much you pay on your insurance premium (to pick a few random things off the top of my head).