By Jon Dykstra
The planet is warming up and so is the rhetoric. Is the Earth doomed if we don’t act now? Have we messed up our planet with all our CO2 emissions? Are we the cause of global warming… or not? One side of the debate would like us to believe there is no debate at all. Former US vice president Al Gore put it this way in his movie An Inconvenient Truth:
“Isn’t there a disagreement among scientists about whether the problem is real or not? Actually, not really.”
But that’s simply not true. On the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine’s website they’ve started a “Petition Project” headed by Frederick Seitz, the Past President of the National Academy of Sciences. So far 17,000 scientists (with various areas of expertise) have signed on, declaring that “research data on climate change do not show that human use of hydrocarbons is harmful.” This debate is far from one-sided.
But which side should Christians be on? Is there a Christian position on global warming?
The right is wrong
On his radio show, political commentator Rush Limbaugh has argued that Christians don’t need to worry about catastrophic global warming because God would never let it happen:
“I believe in the God of Creation. I’m not going to proselytize here, don’t misunderstand. But I’m saying as a believer of a loving God and a God of Creation, that there is a complexity to all this that makes it work; that we cannot understand; that we cannot really control; that we cannot destroy, and that we really can’t alter in its massive complexity…. I refuse to believe that a loving God creates creatures able to do everything we can be able to do, to solve various problems, to cure diseases, that that is going to lead to an apocalypse.
Limbaugh’s argument has its appeal; there is a humility to it that seems quite Christian. We are small, but God is great and gracious – do we really think God is going to abandon what He has created? And are we arrogant enough to believe we could ever destroy what He has made?
Limbaugh’s argument is appealing, but it isn’t biblical. True, God’s creation is unbelievably complex but He did give us dominion over it (Gen 1:26). We are small but the first few chapters of the Bible show that God gave Man the power to impact all of creation – our fall into sin marred everything! And while the Bible makes it clear we need never worry again about a global flood (Gen 8:21-22) there are no passages that rule out the possibility of other, slightly less devastating, catastrophes like global warming. Limbaugh argues that the world cannot be harmed but the Bible tells us that the Earth is like a garment that will wear out (Ps. 102:26).
So Christians can’t simply rule out the possibility of catastrophic man-induced global warming. Nothing in the Bible rules it out.
Gore on the left
Does that mean it is happening?
Many Christians think it is. The Evangelical Climate Initiative is a group of prominent evangelical leaders – people like Rick Warren, Brian McLaren, and Bill Hybels – who have signed a statement calling on all Christians to fight global warming. Their Initiative quotes Scripture extensively, citing passages like Matt. 22:39: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Unfortunately, none of the passages they cite address the real issue – who should Christians believe? If man has caused global warming, and if the results will be catastrophic, and if we can do something to stop it, then yes, our love for our neighbor should compel us to join with Al Gore and others to fight global warming. But if these three things aren’t true, then this same love would compel us to fight Al Gore, so that the billions being wasted on global warming could be directed to endeavors that would actually help our neighbor.
So the Christian position is still unclear. Scripture doesn’t seem to show us who we should believe in this debate.
But in the 1970s the Bible gave Christians very clear direction on another seemingly catastrophic issue: overpopulation. In the 1970’s and even into the 80s and 90s the problem of overpopulation was spoken of in much the same way that global warming is today. The “Al Gore” figure in this debate was Paul Ehrlich. He predicted that due to population growth outstripping resources, “in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.” We were going to run out of food and energy unless people stopped having children.
Hindsight is 20/20 so now it’s easy to see Ehrlich was wrong– not one of his predictions came true. But at the time his was the “consensus view.” China decided they would fight overpopulation by only allowing parents to have one child. The United Nations also acted on Ehrlich’s predictions and began promoting birth control and abortion in countries around the world. Very few people were smart enough at the time to stand up and speak against Ehrlich.
Any Christian could have known better. The Bible, after all, speaks very clearly about children being a blessing. Overpopulation advocates talked of them as a curse. These advocates promoted abortion as a solution – the Bible condemns it as murder. It was just that simple. Long before Ehrlich’s predictions were exposed Christians could be certain that he was wrong because the Bible clearly opposed his agenda.
And, of course, the Bible turned out to be right. Overpopulation never became a problem and countries, like China (and even Canada), that acted as if children were a curse, now face problems caused by their aging, declining populations.
Reason to doubt
This little history lesson is relevant because many of the same people that warned us about overpopulation are the very same people warming us about global warming. In fact in his film An Inconvenient Truth Al Gore labels overpopulation as one of the three factors causing a “collision between our civilization and the Earth.” In the special features section of the DVD release of the film he goes into greater detail and argues that having smaller families is a necessary step to fighting global warming.
The Bible may not speak directly about global warming, but it does clearly speak out against the possibility of overpopulation. So by looking back Christians can find some biblical direction on just who to believe in this debate. In so far as overpopulation is blamed as the cause of global warming, we Christians know better than to believe. The more the focus turns to children and large families as being a cause of any impending catastrophe, the less we have to listen. That’s what the Bible tells us.
But conversely, the less this happens, the more we might have to reexamine our views. After all, there is no clear theological case for or against global warming. But right now Christians have reason enough to doubt.