Understanding Christianity and Global Climate Change

This is a guest post by Lisa. [Personal information has been removed.]

I used to believe global climate change wasn’t real.

Raised in a conservative, orthodox Christian church, denial went with the territory. Along with evolution and dinosaurs, climate change fell into the camp of liberal lies.

For many, it is unfathomable that people still deny the existence of global climate change and the human contribution. Unfathomable — but true. In fact, the denial of climate change is still common enough that GOP candidates across the board appeal to it.

Republican Michele Bachmann has told crowds that CO2 emissions primarily “come from the oceans” and “human activity is a fraction of a fraction of a percent.”

Mitt Romney has said that he’s “a skeptic on global warming science” and that we’ll figure out man’s actual contribution “10, 20, 50 years from now.”

I vividly remember sitting in a politics class years ago at the small, conservative Christian college I attended. The professor told us that the Kyoto Protocol was a socialist scheme. He told us that science couldn’t provide any evidence for the existence of climate change.

Many Christians deny the reality of climate change because God is supposed to take care of us. If we’re not running the show, then why do we need to do anything? Of course, this isn’t to say that every Christian denies climate change or is environmentally unfriendly. I may come from a religiously conservative family, but we were always recycling freaks by Midwest standards.

Still, the fact remains: Christianity tells followers to trust in God. The various ways this is acted on cross the spectrum, from prayer to refusing a child needed health care. And of course, somewhere in that spectrum is the denial of global climate change.

All this denial is interesting in light of the fact that science actually can prove the existence of climate change. A group of scientists in Iowa presented a statement on November 15th affirming the reality of global climate change and urging GOP candidates to present their policy responses.

What is even more interesting is that, according to a recent poll (PDF), it looks like more Christians are beginning to agree.

A new University of Maryland poll finds that 76 percent of Catholics and evangelicals support a global pact reducing the pollution that causes global warming, much like the one on the table in Durban, South Africa.

It’s doubtful that any of the candidates will soften their skeptical stance, but how much longer can evidence be denied?

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Silo Mowbray

    Isn’t “a fraction of a fraction of a percent” the same as “a fraction of a percent”?

    • loopsyel

      Yeah, perhaps she doesn’t understand math either.  

      Either way, she’s wrong on both counts, as the land surface (plant and animal life) is actually the greatest source of atmospheric CO2 on the planet, with the oceans as a close second, and human emissions a distant third (just over 3%, not a fraction of a fraction, of the total atmospheric source).  

      The bitch of it is, the land and oceans have achieved an equilibrium with the atmosphere over the last >6000 (ya know, at least) years, and the only thing causing a problem is that pesky unnatural human contribution.

      • Jim [the other Jim]

        Correlation does not necessarily mean causation. The world may be warming but there is no real evidence that humans were the cause. And the “equilibrium” has not been THAT constant over written history. Heating and cooling periods have often happened thru written history.
        Just saying.

  • m1kesa1m0ns

    Letting God just sort it out doesn’t even make sense from a Christian point of view.  I am told by Christian acquaintances that if we weren’t allowed to make huge screw-ups, we wouldn’t have free will, and apparently that’s something that divides some religious groups, the whole free will vs. determinism thing. So, here is my question for Christian free will types: why would God NOT want us to improve our lot on earth? Isn’t that what turkey fryers and remote controls are all about? I don’t hear any Christians (other than the luddite sects, of course) complaining about those. Combating climate change is exactly the same thing. Why wouldn’t Christians want clean air and water? It’s already dirty. Why not clean it up, you know, just to … clean it up?
     
    Here’s my other thought: Isn’t combating climate change the compassionate things to do? Christians will spend billions and send thousands from their congregation to help the less privileged. What a gift combating climate change would be for them!! Those who live on the margins will be, as usual, affected by climate change the worst. They should stop questioning it and help fight it as an act of compassion for the poor.

    I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but man, I read stuff like this and then I just need to vent.

    • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

      As a former fundamentalist, allow me to put on my Fundie Hat and take a stab at that for you.

      The real point of missions is not to alleviate their earthly suffering. It’s to alleviate their immortal suffering, using physical aid as the vehicle to earn their trust and attention. To give a man medical help, a safe home, and an education profits him nothing if you don’t convert him to Christianity. Once his immortal soul is secured, further physical aid is to the glory of God, not to the pleasure of the man.

      It is a belief among most  fundamentalists that the world is going to implode Very Soon Now and that trying to fix it up is a fool’s errand against God’s will. (It does not matter that Christians have been waiting with baited breath for literally two thousand years for the Very Soon Now. It’s DEFINITELY Very Very Very Soon.) Hence, the devastation about to be unleashed on marginalized peoples is, if anything, an opportunity to send in the missionaries to mop up the frightened and desperate souls. People are a lot more likely to cling to a metaphorical life raft of the afterlife when they see their own death looming by literal floods and plagues.

      *takes off the Fundie Hat*

      … it hurts when I do that.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=23430830 Matthew Shepherd

        I’d often wondered about this myself. Greatly appreciated.

  • http://twitter.com/0xabad1dea Melissa E

    To be super pedantic, 6/1 of a percent is still a fraction of a percent. But the way people actually use the saying, I would assume that “a fraction of a percent” is 0.X% and a fraction of a fraction would be 0.0X%

  • Jess

    Religion is a means to control the masses. Suffer on earth in order to achieve a glorious afterlife. Why would religious minded people want to eliminate the fear of famine, natural disasters, wars, etc when that’s the fuel that powers a good majority of prayer?

  • Forrest Cahoon

    I’m reminded of this directly anti-environmentalist Evangelical propaganda campaign: http://www.rightwingwatch.org/content/introducing-resisting-green-dragon-book

    From the summary I gather that thinking of the Earth as an interdependent living system of which we just play a part offends their notion that we humans are special to God.

    • SeniorSkeptik

      Re:Evangelical propaganda campaign video. That is scary as hell.

  • Shanti

    Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your first hand perspective. It is something I would never have had the opportunity to hear of any other way.

  • Why Hello There!

    What I have never understood is why climate change deniers are so against efforts to prevent it when all the efforts just involve eliminating pollution.  Why would pollution reduction be a bad thing regardless of any impact on climate.   Less smog, cleaner water, lower rates of asthma are just a few benefits.   Makes no sense to me.

    • Corey

      Because they are selfish a-holes. Hence the reason why conservatism and fundie Christianity were so easily combined into the Religious Right, a group of conservative Christians who really don’t care, because the “big picture” is to get as many folks converted as possible, regardless of how it is done. Seeing as we cant, at least not in the USA, yet, run around and murder anyone who wont convert (like the good old days in many of these folks minds), they must follow the law, so they change the “message” infiltrate, US Congress and school boards, to get as many people as possible to follow them. They know their religion teaches that mankind is flawed, selfish and cruel and they feed on that to show the people the only way things will get better, in their minds, that nothing else matters, other than the spreading of the belief and blind faith in their god.

      • Brian Macker

        Keep telling yourself such nonsense.   Kinda contradicted by data on charitable donations.

        • Corey

          The reason why it looks like religious folk give more is because they make it publicly known via tax deductions. I have probably given more money to human rights, animal welfare, interfaith groups, secular groups, etc.. than most religious folks in my socioeconomic class. Yet, you don’t see me trying to get public notoriety or acknowledgment or trying to prove I am a good person to the world, I’ll leave that up to those with the need to be lead around by their leader, like those in cults, those who followed Hitler and those who believe religious dogma.

          • Brian Macker

            Relative giving compared to atheists is immaterial to what I just did to your claims. I falsified them. It does matter what atheists, or any other group does. It is clear that Christian conservatives give to others and are therefore not selfish.

            Your comment was extremely bigoted and ignorant. If it was said about any other group then the other commenters would be up in arms. Imagine if someone said all Muslims were selfish a-holes.

            • TheEcoDude

              If you were talking about Jews instead of Christians then I’d be calling you an anti-Semite, because you would be.

    • http://lisamarigold.blogspot.com Lisa Buchs

      The line that I was often fed in my conservative Christian days was this:
      The way that government goes about reducing pollution is just another ploy for income redistribution and government control/socialist takeover.

      When you’re operating with a “they’re out to get us” mentality, it’s hard to see past that to the real, positive benefit of those actions.

  • Tim Rosenfeldt

    Within minutes of reading this, I saw the following in my FB feed:

    “More evidence as to the hoax/fraud of climate change/gloBULL warming. It’s interesting and obvious as to why most people haven’t heard this news – it doesn’t fit the liberal media template. Climate change is a political concept; a front for socialism, Marxism, excessive taxation and government oppression.”

    He was referring to this article: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/mobile/story.html?id=5847032

    Le sigh…

    • Brian Macker

      End of the earthers had predicted “scientifically” that global warming causes lots of hurricanes and used fear of that to promote their scary stories.   Turns out they were wrong.  Hurricanes way down.  

      At least these guys were honest enough to admit their inability to predict.    Not the climatologists.    They still use their useless climate models.    They are our modern day doomsday prophets and about a credible.

      I don’t respect these chicken littles because they make obvious mistakes all the time.   Like claiming the Himalayan glaciers would all melt by 2035, and even more hilariously that it was causing rivers to dry up.  Yeah, sure melting causes a reduction in meltwater.   What dopes.

      Sure CO2 is a greenhouse gas but there are lots of other considerations that they just haven’t convinced me they’ve figured out.    

      One thing is for sure.   If we stopped using fossil fuels tomorrow then a good prediction of the dead would be close to the current population levels.   The earths carrying capacity for humans without fossil energy sources is nowhere near current levels.

      On the other hand not a single person has died from global warming, sea level rise, or whatever.      Hell the tide comes in faster.    Humans move from one climate to another all the time with no problem.      I moved from Minnesota to NY without dying.  I took a vacation in Jamaica, no problem.   I also get shipments of trees and plants from both the north and south with no problems.   

      Where I live now was under a mile of ice about 20,000 years ago and will be in the same amount of time.    Perhaps some CO2 will help prevent this.

      Warm periods like the MWP and the Roman period were good for agriculture.   CO2 is a fertilizer.      I see no reason to kill billions because people don’t understand the economics.

  • Gunstargreen

    Mitt Romney is kind of right, we will find out what man’s real impact is in 10-50 years from now. Unfortunately the way we’ll find out is by watching New York City become submerged in water among other places.

  • Pseudonym

    I’m curious about the “beginning to agree” bit. Does anyone have some data on how attitudes to climate change amongst whatever relevant target groups there are (evangelicals, non-evangelical Christians and atheists, presumably) have changed over time?

    Just to show that for every anecdote there’s an equal and opposite anecdote: I grew up in a mainline-to-liberal church, the third largest in Australia, and many of the people I knew in the late 70s/early 80s were ex-hippies who were definitely more environmentalist than thou.

  • Efrique

    It’s doubtful that any of the candidates will soften their skeptical stance, but how much longer can evidence be denied?

    Just up until scientists are all completely agreed that it’s now far too late to do anything whatever about (which some say already).

    At which point, they’ll be attacked by the former denialists for not having been less equivocal about it before.

    We saw the same in the collapse of the Northern Cod Fishery. Except the devastation from this one will affect billions.

  • http://twitter.com/questionAGW Russell Cook

    The last two sentences of this article, “”The Case of the Curious Climate Covenant” ( http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/12/the_case_of_the_curious_climat.html ) are a pair of tough questions:  “So which is the bigger sin? 
    Failing to stop a so-called global warming crisis which has increasing
    credibility problems with its underlying science assessments, or
    breaking the 9th Commandment in order to be sure scientists’ criticisms aren’t taken seriously?”


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