Note: Not a week goes by that I don’t read one or two letters to the editor of our local newspaper decrying the supposed effects of man-made climate change. The fear is palpable, the proposals sincere, but the misunderstanding hurtful. In hopes of shedding some (biblical) light and warmth into people’s hearts, I decided to submit this short essay on the subject. Since our community is quite progressive, I felt it wise not to include too many Scripture citations. I did, however, want to introduce my readers to the biblical worldview, and to show how, in the face of so much alarmism and doomsaying, it has great power to calm our fears and fill us with hope. Opinion pieces in the Press Democrat appear under the heading Close to Home. To date, the article has not hit Close to Home. I’m praying it will.
Climate Change: A Biblical Perspective
My subject is global, but for Press Democrat readers it will strike close to home. In biblical perspective, I would like to address climate change.
Presently, a naturalistic worldview dominates public policy on climate change in California and elsewhere. Modern naturalism posits that the universe evolved through random physical processes. This hypothesis entails that our earth is extremely fragile, and that man, who is often viewed as a clumsy Johnny-come-lately, could completely destroy it if he’s not careful. Therefore an observed trend towards global warming, possibly caused by us humans, generates existential alarm both in naturalistic scientists and the people who listen to them.
The biblical worldview (BWV) posits that God is the creator, sustainer, and ruler of all things, including the weather. It also posits that man is his vice-regent on earth, specially appointed to develop and care for the home he has given us. Because of man’s fall into sin, God has temporarily burdened his originally perfect creation with various natural evils such as extremes of heat and cold, drought, storm, earthquake, etc. Ultimately, these “severe mercies” are wake-up calls designed to discourage nature worship and bring the wanderers home.
Sinful man can and does damage his environment, but the Bible assures us he can never destroy the earth. That prerogative is reserved for God alone, who has explicitly said he will preserve the earth in its regular cycles until the return of Christ (Genesis 8:22). Only then will he destroy it, after which he will create new heavens and a new earth, the eternal home of the redeemed (2 Peter 3). Knowing all this, Christian citizens are indeed concerned about environmental abuse, but also confident that man can never “destroy the planet.”
With these thoughts in mind, let’s look at climate change in biblical perspective.
Christians acknowledge that for the last 100-150 years there has been a modest warming trend. They point out, however, that within this time frame, and also throughout prior centuries, there have always been climatic fluctuations. Following the Medieval Warm Period there came the Little Ice Age. Back in the 1970’s a brief cooling trend engendered fears of a new Ice Age. Last winter a Polar Vortex clobbered the mid-west with record cold. Polar ice caps wax and wane. The BWV predicts such changes. They are normal for a world under divine care and discipline. Good and bad weather happen. We should try to hear what God is telling us in both.
Christians go on to emphasize what all honest scientists admit: It is difficult to ascertain the precise cause(s) of climate change. To say that the recent warming trend is caused solely by man-made CO2 is simplistic and highly improbable. 90% of greenhouse warming—so vital for life on Earth—is due to water vapor and clouds. As one scientist puts it, “CO2 is a bit player.” Furthermore, most CO2 is generated by sunlight interacting with the oceans. Human activity accounts for a miniscule 5%. If our contribution were truly significant, why the constant fluctuations of the last 150 years?
Knowing all this, researchers now look elsewhere for the causes of climate change. Many cite a demonstrable correlation between sun-spots, solar radiation, oceanic warming, and patterns in the weather. Others ponder the effects of natural weather cycles (e.g. El Nino), clouds, and volcanic emissions. Dr. Roy Spencer thinks climate change is normal, the result of “the climate system itself.” Christians conclude: Whatever the complex causes of climate change, they are in God’s hands, not ours.
Such considerations will shape our response to climate change. Here are a few policy suggestions I think would serve us well.
First, let’s lay aside all the climate alarmism and doomsaying. According to the Bible, they are not based in reality (or on faith), but only terrify the Greta Thunbergs of the world. God has said to the proud waves of the sea, “Thus far, and no further” (Job 38:11). They will obey.
Secondly, let’s keep in mind the upside of global warming: increased global greening and decreased desertification, relief from deadly winter cold, reduced energy consumption, and greatly improved quality and quantity of agricultural products. The folks at the CO2 Coalition invite us to see global warming as a blessing. Imagine.
Finally, and most importantly, let’s swiftly rethink our current attitude towards fossil fuels. In biblical perspective they are a fabulous gift of God, laden with manifold benefits. If we turn our back on them we will increase the cost of energy, curtail technological advance, and condemn the 2 billion people living in undeveloped countries to poverty, disease, injury, environmental degradation, and death. Oh, and one more benefit of using fossil fuels: We can get rid of those horrid windmills that blight our landscape and kill millions of our birds!
Here is a solemn tautology: Our worldview has a profound influence on the way we view the world. It determines how we see, think, feel, love, fear, hope, choose, and live together in our precious home. As we think about climate change, let’s think carefully about our worldview as well.1
Santa Rosa CA
Dean is a retired pastor and the director of Come Let Us Reason, a Bible teaching ministry specializing in Apologetics and Worldview Studies
1. Material for this essay was taken from the little book Global Warming: A Scientific and Biblical Expose’ of Climate Change, published by Answers in Genesis (2016). For helpful information on the scientific, economic, and political aspects of this issue, please visit the website of The Heartland Institute, available here. Also, here is a fascinating and easy to use website showing that CO2 (along with fossil fuels) is actually a friend, and not a foe. Finally, here is a link to the Cornwall Alliance, and to the Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.