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Christians and Climate Change

I was saddened and frustrated by this article about global warm… er… I mean climate change written in the name of Christianity. This is exactly the problem I see among Christians on the right and the left. Their ends are laudable but their analysis and policy recommendations are wrong or misguided.

Now, I agree with their concern about the health of the environment. All things being equal, polluting, wasting, and destroying natural resources and ecosystems does not honor God and is not wise. All things are not equal, however, so we need to be realistic in how we apply this. For example, we pollute every time we drive our cars or fly in an airplane. Is that dishonoring to God? If not, why not? That is a question we need to address. But first I want to look at the claims of this article one point at a time.

Claim 1: Human-Induced Climate Change is Real I am no expert on the scientific studies and disputes here. All I will say is that I think there is more dissent over whether global warming is happening or not than the article suggests. You can check out alternative views on the global warming issue here, here, and here.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that the earth is getting warmer. Is it caused by human beings? The authors claim scientists say so. True or not, let’s accept that claim, too, but only for the sake of the argument.

Claim 2: The Consequences of Climate Change Will Be Significant, and Will Hit the Poor the Hardest

If we accept claim 1, claim 2 is certainly plausible—if the world continues to heat slowly (very slowly, mind you, and sporadically), over time we will see shifts in weather and ecosystems. However, I am skeptical of the claim that “millions of people could die” because of the changes. By their very nature, the changes are slow and relatively predictable. I would like to see the science (not on the fringe) that demonstrates that if the world is getting hotter, natural disasters are becoming more frequent. That’s the only case I can really see for this.

Also, notice the negative focus; what about the positive that a warmer globe will open up literally millions of acres of frozen tundra to farming in Canada and Russia? And what about the fact that in the northern hemisphere more people die from cold than from the heat?

I agree that the poor will be less well equipped to deal with the changes than the rich; however, I think our best solution is not to try to change the climate, but to increase the wealth of the poor (and of society in general) so that they are better equipped to deal with any changes that occur.

Below is an excerpt describing this phenomenon:

“Skidmore and Hideki Toya from Nagoya City University in Japan have examined data for 151 countries over the period 1960-2003 and found that countries with higher levels of income, education and financial development suffer fewer losses from a natural disaster. Other researchers have reached similar conclusions.

‘As incomes rise in a society, you can devote more resources to safety. So economies that have relatively high exposure to earthquakes or hurricanes start taking the precautions they need. Japan is among the best prepared in the world because they have high exposure and high income,’ Skidmore said.”

Claim 3: Christian Moral Convictions Demand Our Response to the Climate Change Problem Yes, it demands a response; a response to care for the welfare of the poor and look to their well being. We can accept that the climate is changing, that humans are causing it, that there will be negative consequences to it, and still disagree that our focus should be on stopping climate change. What evidence do we have that the U.S. cutting back heavily on the amount of CO2 it produces in a year, through cap-and-trade or some such legislation, will reduce climate change in a meaningful way? None, even if we made huge cuts at the cost of billions of dollars (trillions if you look at the effect over several years), we would still be producing a lot of pollution and China, Russia, and the rest of the developing world will continue increasing the amount of CO2 they produce. Huge cost, with little to no benefit. Perhaps it’s time to think of a different approach.

Claim 4: The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change—starting now.

Let’s consider how effective the government has been in trying to fix this “problem.”  Is cap-and-trade efficient? Is losing 2.2 regular jobs for every green job good for the country? Is it good for the poor? Many would agree that it is not.

It is foolish to say that Christians need to respond to this issue in one particular way. Those that do are missing the bigger picture. While looking at the potential future costs of climate change, they are ignoring the immediate economic (and therefore human) costs of addressing this problem through legislation to restrict business. Does this mean we shouldn’t try to conserve or recycle?

Does it mean we should let factories dump waste into rivers or debris into the air at a whim? Of course not! I agree that we are stewards of the environment, and that there should be rules enforcing the true costs of pollution on those who engage in it.

But as a policy recommendation, this article is simply not rigorous—it’s why I think Christian leaders, on the right or the left, should be wary of signing onto petitions or calls to action in the name of Christ when there is a lot more at work than a single moral principle. What does honor God is exercising wisdom and discernment by using biblical principles to weigh all the various alternatives. We need to be extra careful as Christians to make moral decisions based on scripture and our convictions, but we also need to be careful not to use (or encourage) the government to take away the people’s right to make their own good or bad decisions.