Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Climate change and Christianity?

A friend recently sent me this call for papers, and it reminded me of something that I don't understand. Why do people think that their religious beliefs gives them a unique insight into climate change? I was reading a book earlier this year that described Jerry Falwell and other Evangelical leaders advocating a certain position about the causes of climate change. Now, I have no problems with religious people having opinions about all sorts of things, but what I don't get is how it's tied to religion. Yes I am a Christian, and that informs a lot about how I see the world. For example, here. However, it doesn't give me a lot of insight into the effect of different chemicals in the atmosphere and their sources. Personally, I think that climate change probably results from humans activities, but that's not at all a faith statement.

Still, as long as people are bring religion into the debate about climate change, I suppose that it makes sense to study it....


Expressions of interest are requested by 15 February, 2011; Papers July 2011

Papers are requested for a special issue of the Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature & Culture (JSRNC) on “Religion and Climate Change” and a possible book. Anthropogenic climate change is among the most significant and far-reaching social issues of our time. Although climate scientists are near unanimous about potentially catastrophic consequences, mobilizing a meaningful response has proven to be a real challenge. Numerous statements on climate change by faith-based actors and institutionalized religious groups have occurred in recent years. However, far less research has been published about actually existing faith-shaped action by religious institutions, groups and individuals.


Thanks Mike!


Michael Kruse said...

There are some interesting question with religion and climate change. For Instance, the key environmental document that drives PCUSA policy includes "Restoring Creation" in the title. Keep in mind that these are not six-day literal creationist. Most readily embrace evolution and an ancient earth. So what, precisely, are we "restoring" creation to?

In the traditional Christian framework of a pristine material world that became corrupted, "restoring" makes sense. But there is no "normal" steady-state of the environment that is the standard for us to calibrate everything toward.

Are we restoring creation to pre-industrial status? Humans were having massive impacts on their environments for millennial prior. Should we go to pre-agriculture 10,000 years ago? Pre-human status? ? 500,000 years ago? Ten million? A billion?

Frequently, "natural" is construed to mean "not humanly influenced." But are we not part of nature?

We are told to return to our natural selves. Yet evolution is about each species struggling to preserve and expand its gene pool against all competitors. Why should humans give a rip about other species or competing interests. What we are actually being asked to do is to rise above our natural impulses, not embrace them. On what basis? To "restore creation" to some imagined equilibrium?

I find the thinking from all sides about climate change, and more broadly environmentalism, to be hopelessly mired in radically inconsistent theological narratives.

Jason Lee said...

Michael Kruse:
I don't know about the restoring creation theology of the pcusa, but if climate change is partly an effect of human practices and climate change will likely have disastrous effects on human populations (e.g., flooding in Bangladesh), shouldn't we work to avoid such human misery? Shouldn't Christians be people who care about human misery?

Brad Wright said...

I can understand why people would think about the environment from a religious perspective. I'm just not sure how to derive a specific stance on the causes of global warming from Christianity.

Jeff L said...

I, too, find it difficult to conceive of how Christianity could tell us anything about the how or why of climate change, though it could certainly inform our response to it. Responses range from "God gave us the earth to do with it what we want" to "God appointed us to be good stewards of creation." The book Christianity, Climate Change, and Sustainable Living, which I reviewed on my blog a while back, is a good example of the latter type of response. The book also lists several Christian organizations devoted to climate change issues.

K T Cat said...

Brad, everything is about climate change.


Mark said...

Michael wrote:
"I find the thinking from all sides about climate be...theological narratives."

Bingo! You win the prize.

The climate change debate has stopped being about science and is now practiced as a religion... on BOTH sides of the debate. I wonder if God is jealous that an idol has taken his place?

Seriously though. I'm not much interested in how religious people view climate change. I'm much more interested in how non-religious people are turning climate change into their religion. They feel they need to take extreme measures to save the planet just as some Christians feel they need to take extreme measures to save our souls.

I need to find a bumper sticker that says, "Al Gore said it! I believe it, and that settles it!"

Jason Lee wrote that climate change would likely have disastrous effects on human populations. This is repeated on the TV news programs every day. The problem is that it is complete crap. Sea level rise is not the same thing as a hurricane or flooding caused by heavy rain. It happens over hundreds of years and the subsequent generations of the population will simply move to higher ground. Competent historians and anthropologists will all tell you that civilizations thrive and prosper during the Earth's warm periods. All the diseases, crop failures, starvation and population decline occur during the cold periods.

If people are causing the current warming trend then you must explain how the Earth had eleven events over the last million years where the climate warmed by 9 degrees. If you can't explain how this happened before people were even around then you are not fit to explain anything about the Earth's current climate or predict its future.

There is a double layer of incompetence going on in this debate. Most people who are totally sure that humans are causing global warming have no clue how the Earth's thermal systems work and those who are totally sure that humans will be "devastated" by the warmth have no clue how human populations function and thrive on this planet.

Yes, global warming has indeed turned itself into a religion and the religious nut balls are out in force. It’s a shame that CNN seems to be leading the pack.

Brad Wright said...

Interesting posts... I like the idea of religion informing how we respond to climate change (as well as everything else in life, I suppose), even if it doesn't inform the origins of climate change.

Brad Wright said...

That is hilarious, K T!

Anonymous said...

Should it really matter to a Christian whether climate change is a proven science. The Bible gives clear principles to live by and these include materialism, loving others as we lover ourselves, caring for the environment, and the list goes on. At present our western ecological footprints are impacting on the poorest of the poor so everything we can do to improve our environment, limit our overuse of non-renewable resources, live more simply, simpoly so others can live should be done. God's heart for the poor and words on injustice should ring in every Christians year. However, here is Australia you could scarcely find a Christian church that would dare raise its voice about the environment and most Christian organisations duck for cover if climate change is mentioned lest they lose financial support from some sector. Shame on the Christian church for not being the prophetic voice.

Brad Wright said...

Interesting thoughts, Anon. Thank you.