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On Global Warming

On Global Warming

The images and prophecies connected with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the biblical book of Revelation seem horrifying enough. But in a "you-ain't-seen-nothing-yet" spirit, Philip Jenkins in December 10th's New Republic warns of disastrous implications for religious conflict after studying the results of climate-modeling by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

More than anyone else we read, Jenkins regularly writes about global Christianity for broad publics. He combines experiences of travel, research, and dialogues on Christianity "north" and "south." In "Burning at the Stake: How global warming will increase religious strife," Professor Jenkins ties projections of Christian growth to what the IPCC foresees. If you'd like to sleep easily tonight, don't read it at bedtime. Rather than occupying a mere four columns upfront in a magazine, it might merit a billboard. Jenkins, fortunately, does not waste readers' time debating whether or when or how global warming is coming about. Instead he anticipates the consequences and notices some new Christian addresses to the situation.

The case? Take only the instance of changes in the water supplies and who will control what's left. In Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are self-segregated, they might "erupt in a violent tug-of-war over limited water supplies." Coptic Christians in Egypt might be sacrificed to ethnic cleansing as resources dwindle. Uganda and Kenya could reproduce scenes made vivid in Rwanda massacres. "The ramifications for the global warming-driven destruction of equatorial nations are frightening for everyone—but they should be especially frightening for Christians," whose numbers grow explosively, precisely there.

Historian Jenkins reaches back to the "Little Ice Age" between the ninth and thirteenth centuries to show the human devastations caused by climate changes. He may be a bit speculative here, but with creative guesses and some evidence he compares foreseen changes to those that helped bring on the Great Famine (after 1315) and the Black Death (1340s), when one-third of Eurasia's population was killed. Witchcraft trials became a murderous obsession. Bigots of all religions were sure that their God was legitimating their aggressive roles. Christians in revenge against Muslim advances turned murderous. Jenkins thinks that we are heading toward a future alike in violence and horror to centuries in our past.

He sees a glimmer of light and recognition in the West among "morally conservative churches in America [which] form relationships with like-minded churches in the South," and are growing more sensitive to the world's needs. Skipping past Roman Catholic and "World Council type" Protestant and Orthodox involvements, he turns to these conservatives, as in the National Association of Evangelicals, who are mobilizing people, forces, energies, and resources to begin to address the situation and call attention to it. He expects even greater involvement soon by such conservative Christians, who are "combining the themes of world stewardship and protecting Christian minorities," which could lead to new political action. But in the absence of such action, might global warming lead to "medieval levels of misery and doom for the majority of Christians worldwide?" We've been warned.


Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, upcoming events, publications, and contact information can be found at