By Mitch Hescox
My wife had a co-worker walk into her area some time ago and proclaimed, “Christians are idiots!” Certainly, the claim smacked of prejudice, extremely poor taste, and perhaps even harassment as the colleague knows my wife’s faith. Notwithstanding the negatives, part of me understands the comments and the damage many Christian brothers and sisters pile on those outside the Church with ideologies that go beyond what God intended. We are called to be different – in the world but not of it. Radical discipleship means loving the least, hilarious giving, and self-denial in following our Risen Lord. However, Christian leaders making misstatements to serve their own ends, attacking other believers for not agreeing with their worldview, and misusing science turn people away from the good news in Jesus. As Paul reminds us I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).
A couple of weeks ago, I shared radio airtime with Dr. Cal Biesner, Cornwall Alliance, on Moody Radio to discuss Hurricane Sandy and climate change. While Dr. Biesner and I agree that climate change didn’t cause Sandy, we both believe climate change made Sandy more intense. In Dr. Biesner’s view, climate change made Sandy fractionally worse This is a view that he has held for some time even in the face of mounting studies and evidence that shows that changes to our global system are happening faster than we could have imagined a decade ago.
According to meteorologist Scott Mandia, coauthor of the new book Rising Sea Levels: An Introduction to Cause and Impact, for every one inch of the 8 – 9 inches of total sea-level rise 6,000 more people were impacted in New York City alone. Almost 50,000 more people and additional billions of dollars in destruction isn’t just a fraction and this only accounts for New York City, not including New Jersey, Connecticut, or Rhode Island. More detailed research will appear in the coming weeks and months that more accurately determines Sandy’s increased force and destruction from climate change caused sea-level rise, but let’s not downplay the human impacts that we are already facing in the United States. Eight inches of sea level rise contained in a 9 feet storm urge is significant, along with a two degree Fahrenheit warmer ocean temperature, and a left turn into the eastern seaboard only happening once before. They are unusual to say the least.
Another misuse of the evidence made by Dr. Biesner’s on Moody Radio, “There is no correlation between rising carbon dioxide levels and the increase in the earth temperature.” The graph on the left taken from the National Academy of Sciences Climate Change Website clearly shows the relationship over time. Carbon Dioxide levels and temperature track identically. Now look at temperature and carbon dioxide record from Biblical times to the present. Notice the unprecedented rapid temperature rise in the last 150 years. With the beginning of the industrial age, we started burning more and more fossil fuels and thus changing the delicate balance God created for sustaining life on His creation.
Without the normal 285 ppm of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, our earth would be a chilly place with an average 70oF colder climate. One of the true miracles of creation is the greenhouse gas effects that make this earth habitable for humanity. Take a look into the sky some evening or early morning to get a glimpse of Mars or Venus our nearest planet neighbors. While there is a difference between the energy the other planets receive from the sun, the largest factor single factor in freezing to death on Mars or burning-up on Venus are the greenhouse gases. Small amounts of carbon dioxide make a difference. Dr. Biesner often states that changes in CO2 couldn’t have a significant impact on temperature. The “natural” 285 ppm of CO2 or new record levels set in 2011 of 390.1 ppm CO(that translates to 412 billion tons of carbon pollution since the beginning of the industrial revolution) are very significant. Perhaps an easy way to understand that small amounts of gas are deadly requires a quick look at carbon monoxide. At levels below 100 ppm, carbon monoxide causes headaches, dizziness, and nausea but at exposure of 150-200 ppm for approximately one hour may be deadly. At concentration levels less than half the current carbon dioxide levels, carbon monoxide kills. Small percentages upset the created balance and put human life at risk. No one is saying the earth will be destroyed, but climate change already impacts millions around the world, especially the poor, and some estimates place climate deaths over 300,000 annually.
Before going any further, I invite you to look at the world around you. The past two years resulted in record droughts, massive forest fires, high temperatures, floods, and even a superstorm in the United States. Extreme weather is the new normal and here’s a simple example for every 1 record low temperature there are 10 record highs just in the United States. In Pennsylvania where I live, 2012 was the year without winter. However, go beyond all the recent extreme weather and remember twenty years ago. My home in South Central Pennsylvania now has same climate as Richmond, VA twenty years ago. Trees and flowers bloom sooner; the grass requires cutting earlier in the spring and later in the autumn. Just last week, my 86 year old Dad said, “This climate change stuff is real. We have nowhere near the snow or winter cold temperatures we once had.” My Dad gets it, and so do the vast majority of the world’s scientists. As the graphic at the beginning of this post illustrates, at least 97% of the scientists who study climate agree that our climate is changing and humanity is the cause, not the sun, not natural cycles, but the burning of fossil fuels.
It’s not just the climate scientists who form the world-wide consensus; it’s every national academy of science including our National Academy of Sciences. Dr. Beisner, of course, offers a different take. Real science, according to Cal, doesn’t take place in consensus meetings, but in the work of skeptics. This is where I believe his contrarian worldview has blinded him on the science. He over relies on the skeptics despite the real stakes not just to the economy but also to the global poor.
Watch this video, from the PBS series, Earth: The Instruction Manual. The video offers a look inside our National Academy of Sciences. The NAS formed by President Abraham Lincoln to advise our government on the best scientific evidence without profit or political agendas to distort their conclusions. When charged with a task, the Academy gathers the best scientific minds, reviews all the current research, proposes new research when the evidence remains uncertain, and offers recommendations based on rigorous debate. The National Academy of Sciences conclusions on climate change are summarized on their video, America’s Climate Choices or by reading the full report of Advancing the Science of Climate Change.
Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.
However, much more importantly than correcting misstatements on science is that climate change hurts God’s children now and will have greater impact in the coming years. Currently harvests here at home and around the world are impacted by extreme weather and it will get worst.
We are beginning to live in the new normal as far as weather goes. Evangelical Christians represented through both the World Evangelical Alliance and the Lausanne Movement are crying for us to take action on climate change. The poor across Africa now face shortfalls in rain leading to food and water shortages. Flooding resulting from glacier melt and sea level rise force migration, diseases spread more rapidly as temperature warms, and the struggle for resources will result in more conflict. Climate change is not the end of the world, but human life will be radically effected. We must come together under the leadership of our Risen Lord and take action that will reduce the human suffering. God gave us a sustainable planet, providing for our needs. Seeking our own good over others destroys God’s creation. Trusting in the Christ will transform us to develop clean energy, sustainable food production, and care for all creation.
Christians aren’t idiots, but misleading statements, or claims based on ideologies rather Biblically truth hurts the Church’s efforts in sharing the gospel and living life as faithful stewards. Creation care is a biblical imperative, and we remained committed to being a missional ministry proclaiming God’s love for all, telling the good news in Jesus, and caring for the least of these. Although he is out of favor for some in our evangelical community, Tony Campolo once wrote, Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God. Too often, the church embarrasses God, by denying the physical laws ordained by Our Creator, and replacing God’s precepts with our political and economic human desires. Believe in God, listen to His creation suffering groans, and act to help humanity by understanding creation care as a matter of life.
 National Academy of Sciences, Advancing The Science of Climate Change, National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2010.