The World’s Oceans – Should We Worry? (RJS)

Scot put up a post last Saturday You Might be an Evangelical Reject if you … that received a fair bit of attention and comment. Much of the comment centered on the sentiment, rare but not unheard of, that connects Christian eschatology with resistance to environmentalism … the end is coming so we should concentrate on evangelism not environmentalism. Certainly there is a connection made, both within parts of evangelicalism and in the broader culture. Environmentalism or “creation care”  is a rather abstract concept though – so I would like to put up a specific example from a recent article for consideration and comment. From the BBC: World’s oceans in ‘shocking’ decline:

The oceans are in a worse state than previously suspected, according to an expert panel of scientists.

In a new report, they warn that ocean life is “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction of marine species unprecedented in human history”.

This is a pretty devastating report … accelerated melting of arctic and antarctic ice sheets, sea level rise, over fishing, pollution. A little later:

But more worrying than this, the team noted, are the ways in which different issues act synergistically to increase threats to marine life.

Some pollutants, for example, stick to the surfaces of tiny plastic particles that are now found in the ocean bed.

This increases the amounts of these pollutants that are consumed by bottom-feeding fish.

Plastic particles also assist the transport of algae from place to place, increasing the occurrence of toxic algal blooms – which are also caused by the influx of nutrient-rich pollution from agricultural land.

In a wider sense, ocean acidification, warming, local pollution and overfishing are acting together to increase the threat to coral reefs – so much so that three-quarters of the world’s reefs are at risk of severe decline.

The story is picked up as well in the Huffington Post State Of The Ocean: ‘Shocking’ Report Warns Of Mass Extinction From Current Rate Of Marine Distress.

How do you evaluate claims such as this?

Assuming that it is true, how should we respond?

Among the recommendations arising from the report:

  1. Immediate reduction of CO2 emissions.
  2. Urgent actions to restore the structure and function of marine ecosystems.
  3. Proper and universal implementation of the precautionary principle so “activities proceed only if they are shown not to harm the ocean singly or in combination with other activities.”
  4. Urgent introduction by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly of effective governance of the High Seas beyond the jurisdiction of any individual

Do these recommendations seem reasonable?

Does your faith in God or your understanding of eschatology play any role in your position?

How should Christians respond?

This report comes from the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), from a meeting that brought together experts from different disciplines, including coral reef ecologists, toxicologists, and fisheries scientists. You can find the preliminary reports here. IPSO was established by people, scientists and others, because they believe that there is a serious threat to the health of the world’s oceans.

Does the “bias” of IPSO cause you to question their report? If so what kind of group would you believe? Why?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]

If interested you can subscribe to a full text feed of my posts at Musings on Science and Theology.

  • Watchman

    There will always be fear-mongers from both sides of the spectrum. 30 years ago the earth was in a cooling stage with some of coldest temperatures in recorded history. 10-15 years ago it moved to a global warming crisis with some regions recording the highest temps in recorded history. 30 years ago there was a hole in the ozone. Today, the oceans are in decline. Where is Chicken Little when you need him the most?

    “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (1 Colossians 1:16-17)

    I believe God is in control of the earth and all of its resources, including nature, oceans, land, people, and all living things. He is sovereign and holds all things together. This is why I do not believe the earth is falling apart as many fear mongers want you to believe. The polar ice caps are not melting, the oceans are not dwindling, and the rain forests still exist. Because, I believe in a God who holds this earth together and will always continue to replenish our natural resources. It’s part of His divine plane for humans to subdue the earth, be fruitful, and multiply. Yes, He created the earth for us and He is taking caring of us.

    I digress and acknowledge there are certainly some cases where there is abuse of earth’s natural resources. And, there are some people who are not good stewards of what God has created for us. But, I believe in most part people are very appreciative of these resources and take good care of them.

  • rjs


    Thanks – I think you have hit on the real bone of contention here. It isn’t rapture eschatology, it is a God in control.

    The scripture contains a story. A story of repeated human failure where God let humans mess up royally. Why don’t you think he will let us mes up on this scale?

    Frankly I think he will – just as he does on a smaller scale.

  • DanS

    For another view on the whole climate change issue:

    The author, critical of the American Meteorological Society, weites:

    “Many of us AMS members believe that the modest global warming we have observed is of natural origin and due to multi-decadal and multi-century changes in the globe’s deep ocean circulation resulting from salinity variations. These changes are not associated with CO2 increases. Most of the GCM modelers have little experience in practical meteorology. They do not realize that the strongly chaotic nature of the atmosphere-ocean climate system does not allow for skillful initial value numerical climate prediction. The GCM simulations are badly flawed in at least two fundamental ways:

    Their upper tropospheric water vapor feedback loop is grossly wrong. They assume that increases in atmospheric CO2 will cause large upper-tropospheric water vapor increases which are very unrealistic. Most of their model warming follows from these invalid water vapor assumptions. Their handlings of rainfall processes are quite inadequate.

    They lack an understanding and treatment of the fundamental role of the deep ocean circulation (i.e. Meridional Overturning Circulation – MOC) and how the changing ocean circulation (driven by salinity variations) can bring about wind, rainfall, and surface temperature changes independent of radiation and greenhouse gas changes. These ocean processes are not properly incorporated in their models. They assume the physics of global warming is entirely a product of radiation changes and radiation feedback processes. They neglect variations in global evaporation which is more related to surface wind speed and ocean minus surface and air temperature differences. These are major deficiencies.”

    and “My interaction (over the years) with a broad segment of AMS members (that I have met as a result of my seasonal hurricane forecasting and other activities) who have spent a sizable portion of their careers down in the meteorological trenches of observations and forecasting, have indicated that a majority of them do not agree that humans are the primary cause of global warming. These working meteorologists are too experienced and too sophisticated to be hoodwinked by the lobby of global climate modelers and their associated propagandists. I suggest that the AMS conduct a survey of its members who are actually working with real time weather-climate data to see how many agree that humans have been the main cause of global warming and that there was justification for the AMS’s 2009 Rossby Research Medal (highest AMS award) going to James Hansen.

    Umm. Not a word about eschatology. Scientists, skeptical of the science and the influence of politics.

  • Tad

    As much as I appreciate the above discussion, talking only about climate change leaves out immediate effects of our activities on the environment. Over irrigation is causing salt intrusion of the soil and ruining arable land. Also, groundwater mining is decreasing the level of the Ogallala aquifer faster than it is replenished. The Sahara is growing in size due to desertification. I personally have pulled a water sample from a test well where there was approximately 4 inches of PCE floating on top of the sample. Whether or not you think its getting warmer or cooler does not change the fact our activities are adversely affecting the environment. And yes, eschatology can and does play a role in how we view “creation care.”
    I feel the “God is in control” argument fails Jeff Cook’s “We need better answers” rebuttal.
    Yes, God is in control, but He gave us free will and so relinquished some control. If we ignore caring for our surroundings, how can we care about others. How you treat the creation reflects what you believe about the Creator.

  • Jason Lee

    #2’s analysis of #1 … interesting. I wonder if there’s any ethnographic collection out there of the theological views of those who accept or reject the reality of processes like, for example, climate change.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    I’m sensitive to what scientists say are the challenges. I’m deeply suspicious of the policy recommendations.

    Why not the following recommendation:

    “Determine changes that can be made to the global economy that will incorporate the negative externalities of pollution into global trade decisions, thus reducing the “Tragedy of the Commons” effect.”

    No. Instead what we get are recommendations that are top down, command-and-control policies that seem to envision a scientific expertocracy running the planet. Economic freedom is nowhere in view and without economic freedom there is no political freedom. This is a recipe for global totalitarianism.

    Furthermore, innovation is critical to solving these types of problems. Innovation is radically curtailed without economic freedom because the market feedback loop is taken out of human decision-making. Entrepreneurs can not readily and accurately identify needs and they can’t reap rewards from providing solutions to needs should they find them.

    The issues are largely ones of risk management. The precautionary principle is a policy of extreme risk aversion. How does one prove a negative, that their actions will not cause harm? Instead, it should be demonstrated that reasonable measures have been taken to prevent harm.

    Privatization of public resources should also be explored.

  • normbv

    First, in my opinion eschatology does drive some of the negativity concerning our stewardship; however it is tied in together with the origins ideas of a literal 6000 year old earth. These formulations are based upon a literalizing of analogical intended scripture and create the climate for a mistrust of the sciences which becomes detrimental to ones accepting science as authoritative about planet earth.

    It becomes quite clear from a systematic study of ancient messiah oriented literature that Christ would usher in a never ending period establishing forever His kingdom. This would be a period of time without number and so the mischaracterization of the end of the world relates to the ending of Walton’s idea of “functional” creation which was essentially renewed/rebuilt through Christ. There is essentially nothing there about the physical planet although the language may appear so to a cursory and unaware reading.

    We are riding a bucking bronco of an earth which is going to be difficult to control, yet we need good scientific and economic minds evaluating what is possible to manage and what may be beyond our scope.

    Growing up in west central Oklahoma during the 50’s and 60’s on farmland that had been denuded and stripped bare I have seen firsthand the consequence of taking more from the earth than she can give. It wasn’t a pretty sight to see rolling hills that sustain grass land gullied and ruined because of the pressures of people to eke a living from roll cropping clay hills. Many have now responded and farmers by and large have recognized the need to properly tend their land for sustainability. We can learn from our mistakes and take the responsibility that God has given to us seriously for the long haul.

  • Watchman

    #2 RJS – God does a pretty good job of destroying the earth both during the Great Flood and during the unleashing of the seven seals in Revelation. Maybe God isn’t concerned with the physical/natural earth as much as He is concerned with the moral and spiritual plight of those who inhabit it.

  • Ron Spross

    Watchman, the notion that 30 years ago climate scientists were convinced that the earth was heading into another ice age and concerns about global warming are more recent that that is a fiction. Those who propagate source a news article or two on the subject in the 70s. But news articles are not reliable indicators of contemporary science. The scientific literature concerned with the possibility of global warming due to the enhancement of the natural greenhouse effect (the existence of which is demanded by fundamental physics and which is clearly visible in high altitude spectra of the infrared radiation of the earth) has been a scientific issue for nearly two centuries, and a matter of increasing concern since before 1950. Several seminal papers on the topic were written well before the 1970. The most long term data set we have on the topic is the continuous measurement of atmospheric CO2 concentration in Hawaii that was begun in the 1950s. This did not happen because no one had thought of global warming yet.

    An excellent source on both the history and the science is the history of the discovery of global warming maintained at the site of the American Institute of Physics:

    You can get some idea of the history of the technical papers on the subject by checking out the table of contents of “The Global Warming Papers” by David Archer at Amazon.

    DanS, most meteorologists, who aren’t climate scientists and often have minimal physics background, don’t understand the fundamentals of the energy balance of the earth. The figure at this reference shows the IR radiation from the earth
    Spectra like this are IMO the most definitive single demonstration of the greenhouse effect, and consequently global warming, that can be presented. The dashed lines are calculated spectra based on the Planck equation (RJS knows quantum mechanics; she can probably describe what is going on in the spectrum herself). The broad dip in the center is due to CO2 and it is exactly what it should be based on laboratory measurements of the absorption properties of CO2 and knowledge of its atmospheric concentration. The width of the dip increases with increasing CO2 concentration. This means the radiant heat from the earth that was trying to get out at these wavelengths no longer can do so, and the temperature of the earth must increase in order that the required amount of energy can get out at other wavelengths.

    The models you refer to, which are mischaracterized in your quote (WhatUP is much more issue and advocacy site than a scientific one), are efforts to understand how the change in energy flux and temperature will drive the weather. Climate scientists use models to try to understand how the climate will change due to the energy imbalance, but they do NOT believe in global warming because of the models; rather they believe in global warming because of fundamental physics which is part of every textbook on quantum mechanics, thermodynamics, and atmospheric or planetary science.

  • Jason Lee

    “without economic freedom there is no political freedom”

    This is a belief that is highly debatable. Don’t some freedoms sometimes negate other freedoms? Some might say that too much economic freedom makes political freedom unlikely. This is because too much economic freedom places too much power in certain peoples’ and organizations’ hands. These powerful groups find ways to buy political influence.

  • pds

    I have never met an Evangelical who was not for keeping a good, clean, healthy environment. The question comes down to what priority it should be and how much money gov’t should spend on it.

    One study summarized:

    “Good church attendance was found to have positive effects on individual environmental behaviors.”

    Overall, religion has a mixed effect:

  • pds

    BTW, the idea that there is a connection between Christian eschatology and resistance to environmentalism seems to be a myth that is not supported by the evidence. See the link in #10 above.

    Funny how myths persist.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    I’ll also add this. When I was growing up, there was the Club of Rome report and Carter’s Global 2000 report, compiled by scientists and other specialists highlighting the exhaustion of natural resources by 2000 and the collapse of human civilization into famine, disease, and political chaos. Later we heard apocalyptic rhetoric about how nothing would grow in the area around Kuwait and Iraq after the Iraqis ignited the oil fields in 1991. Things started growing soon after. James Hansen acknowledges that he lied to congress in 1988 about the estimated temperature rise from CO2, doubling the expected amount estimated in the literature at the time. More recently we hear of climate models that predict terrible consequences but access to computer code, and to data used in these models is denied to scientists who want to verify conclusions.

    I’m not a scientist, so I have to make judgment calls about credibility. Repeated instances of apoplectic apocalyptic doom where none emerges, combined with a culture of secrecy, does not inspire confidence. Furthermore, Michael Hulme, Professor of Climate Change at the University of East Anglica, writes in “Why We Disagree About Climate Change,” about his journey in understanding climate change. He describes an early stage in his journey:

    “… I came to view global climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions as a manifestation of free-market, consumer-driven, capitalist economy – an ideology to which I was opposed. I recollect now that this opposition was an explicit ideological frame I used when teaching my course on contemporary climate change to final-year undergraduate geography students at Salford between 1985-1988. This way of relating to climate change was a formative influence on (or reflection of) my political thinking during the decade of Thatcherite conservatism in the U.K. I subsequently joined the British Labour Party in 1990.
    My Intellectual and emotional relationship with climate change also shaped me in other ways. …”

    He goes on to explain how his journey took him to new places that were more nuanced in how he understands climate change issues.

    What is refreshing is his candor about how ideological and emotional attachments influenced his presentation of information as a scientist. What makes me deeply resistant policy recommendations like these is that these recommendations are “scientific” necessities when there are clearly ideological fingerprints all over them. When the science is twisted to serve prior political ideology it undermines the authority of the science.

  • JohnM

    What would make me more likley to believe? Here’s what DOESN’T help: Another “shocking report” headline. Recommendations (my emphasis added) phrased as

    1.IMMEDIATE reduction of CO2 emissions.
    2.URGENT actions to restore the structure and function of marine ecosystems.
    3.Proper and UNIVERSAL implementation of the precautionary principle so “activities proceed only if they are shown not to harm the ocean singly or in combination with other activities.”
    4.URGENT introduction by the UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly of effective governance of the High Seas beyond the jurisdiction of any individual

    It’s hard to read that and not think
    a)The language sounds a lot like advertisements I hear all the time trying to sell me something – kinda jaded there
    – so
    b)Follow the money
    c) If it’s not alarmist – again (see also Watchman #1) why is alarmist language used?
    d)Looking at recommendations 3&4 – Wow. These people are scarier than any prospect of climate change.

    You don’t have to buy into Left Behind eschatology (I don’t) to have somewhat pessimistic expectations for the near (measured against eternity) future. Indeed, God does let us mess up in the short run, even our solutions create problems, and God fixes things in the long run, we don’t.

    What Christians can do is make choices to not mess up the way the world does, for the time we’re given here. For example, please don’t be a litter bug. I’m serious. A self-centered uncaring world does such things but God’s people should know better. Realizing no solutions minus reductions in consumption will work – consume less. It won’t matter, because everybody else will continue to do what they are doing now, but you’ll be doing the right thing.

  • Robin

    When it comes to scientists my principal understanding is that you don’t get paid for insignificant results. You don’t get grant money for saying “no, there really isn’t any earth-shattering problem occurring right now.” Grant money flows to chicken littles, whether they happen to be right or wrong about the sky falling. So yes, I am as leary of peer-reviewed environmental research as I was of the scientists that worked for big tobacco and churned out study after study showing no linkage between cigarettes and lung cancer.

    That being said, IF THEY ARE RIGHT, what should the response be?

    The first two questions would be (1) Is there any possible response on our part that would make a difference and (2) What level of response would we have to offer and what type of payoff could we expect from that response. Let’s assume that the answer to the first question is yes, but the answer to the second question is “completely eliminate fossil fuel usage immediately and you save 10% of the global fish population.” From a cost benefit perspective that doesn’t sound very appealing. If the scientists are right, and if human intervention can partially stem the problem, we would still have to weigh the positives and negatives.

    That brings me to my third issue, which is what Michael Kruse touched on. Assuming the problem is real and there is a solution in which the benefits exceed the costs, we still have to have a workable means to achieve the solution. Environmentalists fail here spectacularly.

    We’ve heard for years about Kyoto and bemoaned the fact that the US failed to sign on. The only countries covered under Kyoto that actually reduced emissions were eastern bloc European countries who reduced emissions because of the collapse of the soviet union. None of the non-eastern bloc European countries have decreased emissions, and emissions have actually risen less quickly in the US, who wasn’t even a signatory. To top it all off, you have people claiming, simultaneously, that they want to see a reduction in emissions, and also cheering Germany ending its nuclear program. France is the only country to reduce emissions, and that has only happened recently, due to their heavy reliance on NUCLEAR power.

    If countries who sign on to an international treaty like Kyoto can’t keep it then there is no hope for centralized solutions like many people envision. The only real hope is (1) technological advances and (2) decentralized regulations with teeth.

  • Robin

    Further nuclear issue. As of this date, one organic farm is Germany is responsible for more deaths than the Three Mile Island, the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and the gulf oil spill combined. Yet people who post here, as well as our host have been giddy about the prospect of Germany abandoning (green) nuclear power, but have said naught about the dangers of organic farming, much less the scores of deaths that will accompany the energy production used to replace nuclear.

    If they get replace with coal you have to consider the miners. A girl I graduate with lost her husband last year in a coal mining accident and just yesterday three miners were trapped in Eastern Kentucky in a flooded mining shaft. But let’s just say that our optimists are right, that we can abandon proven nuclear technology and embrace the future with things like wind power, solar energy, and rare earth batteries.

    China currently produces about 50% of the world’s steel that would be necessary to produce all these new windmills, and about 90% of the rare earth metals that are used in battery production are also mined from China. Does anyone really want to assume that China records of mine safety for things like iron ore and rare earth metals are superior to the U.S. safety requirements for coal mining?

  • phil_style

    PDS, #11, you said “the idea that there is a connection between Christian eschatology and resistance to environmentalism seems to be a myth that is not supported by the evidence.”

    And I agree. We mostly have a single paper/lectrue to blame for this myth – Lynn White’s 1966/67 publication “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”. White blames (to a great degree) Christianity for the ecological crisis. The idea stuck.

  • phil_style

    Scott, thanks for posting this article. Unfortunately the mere mention of “climate change” in the report has been seen as an excuse by many to ridicule the findings.

    Even without climate change, the oceans are experiencing massive species decline. The main culprit is not CO2 emissions, but fishing.

    Privatisation of resources might be one way to halt this decline. But I prefer proven methods: I know that government intervention is frowned upon the US, but something the government is the only body with the power to enforce what the community wants, and what ecosystems need.

  • R Hampton

    “The Church is open to everyone because, in God, she lives for others! She thus shares deeply in the fortunes of humanity, which in this new year continues to be marked by the dramatic crisis of the global economy and consequently a serious and widespread social instability. In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, I invited everyone to look to the deeper causes of this situation: in the last analysis, they are to be found in a current self-centred and materialistic way of thinking which fails to acknowledge the limitations inherent in every creature.

    “Today I would like to stress that the same way of thinking also endangers creation. Each of us could probably cite an example of the damage that this has caused to the environment the world over. I will offer an example, from any number of others, taken from the recent history of Europe. Twenty years ago, after the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the materialistic and atheistic regimes which had for several decades dominated a part of this continent, was it not easy to assess the great harm which an economic system lacking any reference to the truth about man had done not only to the dignity and freedom of individuals and peoples, but to nature itself, by polluting soil, water and air? The denial of God distorts the freedom of the human person, yet it also devastates creation. It follows that the protection of creation is not principally a response to an aesthetic need, but much more to a moral need, in as much as nature expresses a plan of love and truth which is prior to us and which comes from God.

    “For this reason I share the growing concern caused by economic and political resistance to combatting the degradation of the environment. This problem was evident even recently, during the XV Session of the Conference of the States Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change held in Copenhagen from 7 to 18 December last. I trust that in the course of this year, first in Bonn and later in Mexico City, it will be possible to reach an agreement for effectively dealing with this question. The issue is all the more important in that the very future of some nations is at stake, particularly some island states.

    -Pope Benedict XVI, January 10, 2010

  • AHH

    I think RJS @2 hit upon a BIG underlying issue, which is not the same as the eschatology issue.

    There seem to be many Christians (we have seen some of it on this thread) who say things like “God has made a resilient planet; humans can’t mess up His creation that badly” or “God would never let the Earth get messed up that badly.” I have heard such statements from people in my own church regarding global climate change.
    From the book review that Scot linked over the weekend, apparently that basic idea underlies Wayne Grudem’s anti-environmentalist positions.

    To me, such positions, discounting the possible impact of humans’ bad choices, are presumptious, not unlike when ancient Israel assumed God had given them the land forever, no matter what. Suddenly they find themselves conquered by Babylon.
    I don’t find any Biblical warrant for thinking that God must protect the planet and its inhabitants from bad consequences of human activity, whether it be global warming, or ocean acidification and overfishing, or nuclear war, or overpopulation.
    Nor do I find any warrant for thinking that the Earth is so robust that we can’t mess it up badly — the fact that God has given us “dominion” would suggest the opposite, that we have the power to have a major impact on the planet, preferably for good but also for bad if our stewardship is poor.

  • Jeff L

    How might we “ruin the earth”? The earth as a planet will hum along nicely no matter whether or not we as a species kill ourselves off through nuclear apocalypse, human-caused environmental catastrophe, or a pan-epidemic.

    The question is how do we, as Believers, steward God’s good creation in a way that best accords with the ‘already/not yet’ of inaugurated eschatology. Thousands of scientists (some of them Christians) tell us that, even allowing for the politics of scientific research funding and for past erroneous scientific predictions, the data suggests that we are doing things that will make life for humans far more precarious. It’s worth listening to them.

  • Daniel

    AHH @19, “Wayne Grudem’s anti-environmentalist positions”. Where are you getting this from? In Politics According to the Bible he says, “restoration of the earth need not completely wait until Christ’s return and miraculous renewing of the earth, but that the redeeming work of Christ provides the basis for us even now to work incrementally toward the direction that God shows us to be his future good intention for the earth” (324). He goes on to say, “these commands to subdue the earth and have dominion over it do not mean that we should use the earth in a wasteful or destructive way or intentionally treat animals with cruelty” (325).

    Has Grudem written something that leads you to characterize his position as “anti-environmentalist”? Have you read his Politics According to the Bible or are you simply assuming he is an evil “anti-environmentalist” because you disagree with some of his other theological and/or political positions?

    Is there any possibility that you can be fair to a brother in Christ that you theologically disagree with or is it “all or nothing”?

  • Jason Lee

    On a side note, it’s interesting that some of the strongest negative correlates of environmental concern in the US are the following:

    -being male
    -being politically conservative
    -being wealthy

  • Fish

    Strip mines in Kentucky, flammable well water in Arkansas and a host of other examples illustrate what happens when natural resources are privatized. Privatized resources are exploited immediately to help this quarter’s earnings.

    Did privatizing human beings result in happy, well-fed slaves in a sustainable system? Owning something removes all societal restraint and provides an inherent license for abuse. An ownership society is a self-centered society.

    Privatizing natural resources seems to be an admission that only activities which create a profit are ‘good.’ I find it a very amoral position.

  • normbv

    Israel was under the mistaken idea that the New Jerusalem would be a physical city and Land. When Christ yanked that idea fully out from under them it left them without a home. For those who still hold on to a physical restoration of planet earth you need to be aware that the promise is a spiritual Kingdom and not a physically restored earth. Don’t be caught looking for the physical like Israel mistakenly did. Also it appears the Spiritual Kingdom of Christ has been fully established.

    Just as a side note, there have been several catastrophic events in earth’s long history in which biological life rebounded. The last event 65 my ago has seen cycle after cycle come and go. Thankfully these are typically long periods but they are often interspersed with huge Glacial building and receding occurring in a rhythmic manner. Hopefully we won’t see such an event for a few hundred thousand or million years. Of course humanity has not been around to factor into the physics of life in the past except for possibly the demise of the mega fauna that disappeared with our arrival and growth starting about 70,000 years ago.

  • AHH

    Daniel @21, I chose my wording carefully but maybe not carefully enough since you apparently misunderstood me.
    I said “anti-environmentalist”, not “anti-environmental”. Meaning that Grudem opposes positions normally advocated by “environmentalists”. NOT that he has some agenda to destroy the environment.

    My point had to do with quotes from Grudem’s book (here I cite the review) like:
    Did God create an earth that would run out of essential natural resources because of human development?… There is no hint that mankind will ever exhaust the earth’s resources by developing them and using them wisely.
    Did God design a fragile earth or a resilient one?… should Christians believe that God has actually designed the earth to be this fragile in response to human activity.

    That and other quotes (with some wiggle room given by words like “wisely”) suggest a mindset that I have heard explicitly from others, where God has given us a resilient Earth with abundant resources to develop and use without having to worry much about limits or messing up the Earth.
    And I think that common mindset hinders our stewardship of God’s creation, maybe more so than any impact of left-behind eschatology.

  • Andy H

    If I may contribute a non-American viewpoint: I find this discussion fascinating because I cannot conceive of it taking place anywhere except in America. Certainly here in Europe, while you will get a few outspoken critics of the ‘climate change’ consensus, there is simply nothing like the widespread and apparently ingrained scepticism about the scientific evidence that exists in America.
    Why is America such an exception? I’m not convinced that eschatology or, indeed, evangelicalism generally are primary causes. Instead, I would like to throw out the suggestion that the real reason is that America has most to lose from the climate change agenda. While there are many good things happening, it is still the case that America is the most unsustainable society in the world, in both economic and environmental terms. Therefore she stands to lose most from the kind of changes that the environmental lobby are looking for in response to climate change. So Americans have a strong vested interest in questioning (and denying) the scientific evidence on which the climate change agenda rests. Eschatology and theology may be thrown into the mix to strengthen the argument, but the underlying motivation is the desire to rationalise, justify and preserve the status quo. Or am I being too cynical?

  • Robin


    When talking about privatization you probably need to think a little more about privatization of resources which are renewable vs. privatization of resources which are not renewable. The incentives surrounding mining (non-renewable resources) and agriculture and aquaculture and forestry (renewable resources) are vastly different.

    Take any mine and mining company for example. There is a fixed amount of coal/gold/diamonds available, and the only incentive is to remove the entire resource, providing the market price is sufficient to justify the extraction. If the land is privatized the company will take everything. If the land is public, they will take as much as the public entity lets them.

    Then consider something else like forestry. Assuming the goal is profit, the companies incentive is to make as much of a profit from their harvest, and management, as possible. If the land has been privatized, then they have an incentive to harvest mature trees which can fetch a premium, but also an incentive to allow non-mature trees (which are presently worth less) to mature so that they can fetch a maximum price. They also have an incentive to do things like rotational plantings, selective cuts, etc.

    What if the resource isn’t privatized? What if every year the government just says “this year we will sell temporary logging rights for X acres of this forest” and every year they sell/auction those rights. Well, the company knows that even if they win the auction, chances are someone else will win it next year. If they let any smaller trees mature, they will just be helping their competitors if they win their bids in the future. Better to harvest every single sapling now, getting pennies on the dollar for some, than to leave good money sitting out there for future loggers.

    Farmers, loggers, hunters, fishermen all have an incentive to manage their resources wisely WHEN THE RESOURCE IS PRIVATIZED and that incentive completely disappears, or at least significantly drops, when the resource is public and we’re just trying to get our share of the public pie.

  • Patrick


    The alternatives have proven even more devastating. Consider the environmental record of the USSR. No private property evils there.

    The ills you detail are from demand for the product, those will occur whether a profit or not happens.

    Check out Venezuela’s environment, Mexico’s, they own the petroleum as a state. Are you sure they do a better job than Exxon or are they cleaner than our state and say Canada who does it our way?

  • Kurt Willems

    Hi RJS, I’m glad that my post led to this discussion. Many of us care about ecology but feel powerless outside of recycling and purchasing products from companies that are known for good environmental stewardship. Thanks for giving us more to consider!

    PS – for those who would like to see my whole article, you can go here:

  • Daniel

    AHH @25, OK, I see your point but it looks like a distinction without a difference. Phrasing things carefully is important. It is good to be careful in the way we phrase things. It looks like you are giving yourself a little “wiggle room.”

    The question I have is this, are you really being fair with Grudem’s position by using carefully chosen words to allow for wiggle room yourself? You do realize that your definition of Grudem’s position ignores the quotes from his book where he explicitly denies living a life “without having to worry much about limits or messing up the Earth”, right? The quotes I offered should make that clear. In addition, he addresses a number of specific environmental issues where he explains his position along with numerous citations.

    It seems to me that this highlights the complaints expressed the other day about the review Kandiah gave on Grudem’s book. Being selective in one’s quotes in a review can lead readers to come to conclusions that are not accurate. Using carefully chosen words to allow for wiggle room can do the same thing.

  • Pam W

    Well done R Hampton #18.

    Andy H – I completely agree. And it goes back to the underlying problem Bob identified yesterday in the ‘reject’ thread: greed. We just need a lot of theology in our majority Christian culture to justify our greed, selfishness with the commons, and desperate attempts to hold on to the lifestyle that is the most destructive of any on the planet.

    This is a systems problem. People saying ‘it’s not that, it’s this’ just makes no sense in systems thinking. It is all of these problems, and we have to surface them and get to the underlying mental models and belief systems that cause many to believe that scientists are spending their lives creating elaborate fabrications!

    Regardless of Global warming, we need healthy ecosystems in putlr oceans to support life for the planet which is fast approaching 9 billion.

    Thank you RJS! Your questions and the conversations are critical!

  • Patrick


    Concerning your point, I think it is more along the theological lines of “who is in control here, God or Man” as opposed to eschatology differences(I think NT Wright is wrong on this one and I admire me some NT Wright)or economic/job concerns.

    For example, I am average wealth and like my job, I do not want to die, I do not want my kids to die, I do not want earth such that more of the uncountable multitude of God’s people CANNOT be brought into the Body of Christ.

    Another element IS political and unique to the Americans and plays a role. American tradition is hostile to the government, was from day 1.

    We do not as readily allow an enhancement of government power. I would guess 50% of us are still like this even today.

    That and the idea of God being sovereign plays the larger role as opposed to greed and false eschatology, IMO.

    It doesn’t help the AGW advocates that their main players live like royalty while demanding we do with less either. I can do with less easily, not a problem for me, but, telling an average Joe to suck it up while you live in a Castle and fly private jets to Bali weekly doesn’t inspire folks.

  • Dana Ames

    Thanks, Andy, for your viewpoint. It’s good for us to be reminded that there are other views out there, and they don’t always fall along strictly politically partisan lines.

    We can argue all day about whether God will keep the earth together forever, the merits, or lack thereof, of privatization, and a host of other issues. I would hope we could agree to at least clean up what we have dirtied. You know, one of the “things I learned in Kindergarten”. For example, since the oceans have these vast amounts of plastics in them, we should at least “pick up our trash”, and maybe figure out how to keep that from happening again. The same thing for probably the most basic and important thing that keeps us alive: we need to make sure everyone has clean water. I believe God is sovereign; I don’t believe that fact absolves us humans of responsibility.

    I don’t think most people are “appreciative” of the earth’s resources and “take good care of them”. I think we very much take them for granted. An indication of this could be the amount of “disposable” household items we use a few times, or only once, and throw away.

    By the way, Robin: the problem with the food poisoning in Germany was not that the greens came from an organic farm, but that one or more of the workers on the farm likely did not wash their hands after going to the bathroom. This is a potential problem for any aspect of handling food. The cause may be ignorance of hygiene, or failure to provide the workers with sanitary facilities, or some other related situation. The remedy for this, soap and adequate clean water, is simple and inexpensive. Cleaning up after a nuclear meltdown is not.

    If we could develop truly safe and clean nuclear energy, that would be great. I’ve heard of research being done toward that end in terms of safety on the energy production side, but so far the remedy for disposing of nuclear waste, which is not clean and could cause contamination for centuries, is to bury it in a salt mine and hope for the best. Not good enough.


  • Michael W. Kruse

    Jason #9

    Let me be clear again that “economic freedom” does not mean “economic anarchy.” When we talk of “religious freedom” or “freedom to assemble” were are not talking absolute freedom. We are talking about presumptions of normative behavior that may need to be circumscribed at the margins. Same here.

    I don’t know how you can possibly have political freedom if a government has direct control over your livelihood, thus the ability to punish dissenters in profound ways. It inevitably ends up with people working and consuming at the pleasure of the state. How do you envision political freedom without economic freedom?

  • Michael W. Kruse

    #23 Fish

    The issue is what is called the “Tragedy of the Commons.” When a grazing green is held in common, farmers turn the cattle lose to graze on the green. As herds grow, the will eventually outstrip the capacity of the green. Each farmer will race to get there cattle to the green first. There is no incentive to restrict the number of cattle born. There is no incentive to protect and nurture the green because doing so only means someone else will get there first.

    If, however, the green is divided into plots that each own, each owner has a financial incentive to keep the land productive and to raise a sustainable number of cattle. This is exactly what the Pilgrims learned in their first few years at Plymouth. It has how the buffalo were saved in later years.

    Presently, in Africa, Elephant hunting has been permitted with licenses and the proceeds going to African villages. The villagers, who have tended to view elephants as large rats and looked the other way at poachers, now have an incentive to protect and grow the elephant herds. The herds are now growing.

    Far from being amoral, privatization in these cases is a very sound expression of stewardship.

  • Jason Lee

    Michael, #34:
    My point was to push back on the belief that an increase in econ autonomy is associated with an increase in political liberty. As you clearly restated, we should think within parameters. True, but the relationship need also not be curvilinear, that is, there may be a point where lack of accountable structure for corporations becomes negatively associated with political liberty, no? Does such a point exist? When do we cross that point? These are important questions. But my point is simply that its highly debatable that the relationship need be positive. It may be negative. It may already be negative in most cases.

  • Jason Lee

    …may also be curvilinear…

  • Dennis J

    being part of a consumer oriented society i would say that if we, as individuals, do not make an effort to support industry that is environmentally sustainable, and shun non-sustainable industry, we have very little right to demand our governments to take action. as a Christian i believe that God honours those who are willing to do the right thing and will hear our prayers for change. claiming that the government should take action against some abstract idea, is if our daily lives are not directly contributing to this, is hypocritical.

  • johnfouadhanna

    Here’s another opinion that I think offers informed skepticism, especially concerning #1:

  • johnfouadhanna

    The reason I offer the above (#39) is because a part of me is honestly asking what we’re supposed to with a writing such as this in the face of the insistence that carbon emissions pose such a severe environmental threat.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    Jason #36

    Curvilinear might be a helpful way to look at it but I’m not sure.

    I think the challenge with corporatism is the linkage between of business and political interests. Freedom also means the freedom to suffer the consequences of bad decisions. Some of the large corporations don’t want freedom … as in “too big to fail.” They want the upside of freedom and not the downside. They want to foster alliances with politicians that create legislation that will aid them and create barriers for competitors. I guess I don’t see that as freedom having gone to a curvilinear extreme but more as an alternative way in which freedom is rejected.

  • Edward Vos

    God placed us in dominion over the earth. Has anyone thought about the fact that we may be judge also based on our care taking of the earth? What if using our talents also implies being good stewards of our resources, and the planet?
    To let God take care if it all seems to me a kind of cheap grace where we don’t have to do anything. if we love God wouldn’t we also love God by taking care of what He created for us. When we defile the earth aren’t we defiling our Creator and saying the care of our planet doesn’t matter?

  • Jason Lee

    But freedom means freedom to do just that if it helps the bottom line…which is all corporations care about unless we make it costly not to care. What you’re talking about sounds to me like an idealistic–almost virtuous–view of economic activity. We should also not have a rosy view of the polity or any other social institution. Doing would be be very unrealistic. No, it seems that everyone needs appropriate accountability. To broaden the equation a bit, wouldn’t we think the relationship between accountability and human flourishing would be curvilinear in the case of almost all social institutions.

  • Jason Lee

    …which is all corporations care about unless we make it costly not to care about other things…

  • Paul Johnston

    “A man cannot be a perfect Christian-that is, a saint-unless he is also a communist. This means that he must either absolutely give up all rights to posess anything at all, or else only use what he himself needs, of the goods that belong to him, and administer the rest for other men and for the poor: and in his determination of what he needs he must be governed to a great extent by the gravity of the needs of others.

    But you will say it is practically impossible for a rich man to put into practice this clear teaching of Scripture and Catholic tradition. You are right. And there is nothing new in that. Christ told everybody the same thing long ago when He said it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it was for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

    If Christians had lived up to the Church’s teaching about property and poverty there never would have been any occasion for the spurious communism of the Marxists and all the rest-whose communism starts out by denying other men the right to own property.

    There is only one true doctrine about property rights, and that is taught by the Catholic tradition. Those rights exist and cannot be denied but they imply an obligation which, if it were put into practice without hypocrisy, self deception and subterfuge, would mean that most Christians would be living with something like the communism of the first Apostles: “For neither was there any one needy among them. For as many as were owners of land or houses sold them and brought the price of the things they sold, and laid it down before the feet of the Apostles. And distribution was made to everyone according as he had a need.”

    No one denied those men the right to own land, or to keep what they owned, or to sell it and give away their money. Yet that right implied an obligation to satisfy the needs of others as well as their own, and brought with it the privilege of doing so in a manner that was beyond the strict letter of any law and which could go as far as a charity that was heroic.

    If you have money, consider that perhaps the only reason God allowed it to fall into your hands was in order that you might find joy and perfection by giving it all away.

    It is easy enough to tell the poor to accept their poverty as God’s will when you yourself have warm clothes and plenty of food and medical care and a roof over your head and no worry about the rent. But if you want them to believe you-try to share some of their poverty and see if you can accept it as God’s will yourself!”

    -from “New Seeds of Contemplation” by Thomas Merton

  • AHH

    johnfouadhanna @39,

    While your link is more reasoned than some of the propaganda one sees from the anti-AGW crowd, I’m still disappointed that First Things would publish it — unless they also published something in parallel from a real climate scientist to fairly state the case.

    The more time an article spends ranting about the “hockey stick” (which has since been confirmed with better statistical analysis) and the hacked emails (which show scientists being human but do not change the science), the less credibility it has in my eyes.

    But it is VERY important to note that this article does not address the issue in RJS’ original post, which is the state of the world’s oceans. Even if you buy the argument that the amount of warming is not going to be very much and that the consequences of the warming will not be very bad, that still leaves the acidification of the oceans.
    Increased CO2 in the atmosphere due to human activities (which the First Things writer admits) is indisputably making the oceans more acidic at a fast rate, faster than typical times for ecosystems to adjust to such changes. We are conducting a huge uncontrolled experiment on our oceans, with a significant chance of bad negative consequences.

  • jeff

    I believe that, in general, anti-intellectual approach to scientific data by Evangelical Christianity is perhaps one its biggest failings. Environmental degradation of the oceans (indeed, of the whole planet) is empirical fact. The hope that God will rescue us from our idiocy is faith. 1st century Christians also waited for God’s “rescue.” Wherever one’s faith lies on this spectrum, we should not take it lightly that we’ve been waiting for 2000 years. Perhaps it is time to consider that God’s rescue plan may not be forthcoming in the manner that we traditionally have understood it to be, and that we (humanity) may have to face the consequences of what is essentially environmental rape. Of course, it is the poor who will bear the brunt of our greed.

    Additionally, a “God is in control” mentality, whether it is true or not, cannot be neatly reconciled with the empirical data; for God very clearly allows natural processes on this planet (e.g. plate tectonics) to work to their own ends as well as being subject to the careless whims of humanity (CO2 emissions, etc.).

    Life on earth will survive our folly. The question is what will humanity as well as the diversity of life on earth look like, and how much suffering will the poorest parts of humanity endure because of our own wanton use of natural resources. In short, how much blood is on our hands because of our opposition to accepting data that we dismiss because we aim to “put Jesus first.” The reality is that the prevalent anti-environmental agenda in Evangelical Christianity contributes to the suffering of those that we are called to minister to. This is true because, at the very least, it works to maintain an unsustainable status quo.

    I fear that history will judge Christianity rather harshly unless or until we become the purveyors of change in this arena.

    Some asides:
    Survey of climatologists on global warming:

    Christian and/or politically conservative climatologists and global warming:

    An example of things to come with ocean acidification:

  • Ken

    I would like to suggest that people read (or reread) the Epilogue of Theology After Darwin, which has previously been considered on this blog, for important considerations in developing a theology of creation care.