Church and Climate Change — Love Thy Neighbor, With Truth
The Christian church worldwide has always sought to improve people's welfare. It has been the forerunner for justice and freedom. That is understandable, because Jesus demands that we love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:31).
How then, in light of the best scientific and historical knowledge, ought the church to respond to climate change? How do we love our neighbors when it comes to global warming?
Loving our neighbors doesn't stop with sending roses or being polite to them. We measure our every action and our every choice by whether it harms them or promotes their wellbeing (1 Corinthians 10:24).
Now the Scriptures are very clear—they ask us to seek the good of others, to love others based on God's definition of love, goodness, and righteousness. That implicitly means we do not encourage lies and support sinful endeavors, regardless what the surrounding world thinks.
So how can we love our neighbors with the way we use and treat our environment?
Of all the environmental issues at our hand, climate change is the most controversial and most talked about issue in the last two decades.
Beyond any doubt, the earth's climate has always changed. And, yes, it is changing now.
But as a post-graduate student researcher in climate science, I came to recognize that to understand the current state of our climate, we need to put it in historical perspective.
Whether you're a young earth creationist or an old-earth creationist makes no difference. Recent changes in our climate can be better understood by analyzing our earth's climate in the context of the past 2000 years—since Jesus was born.
In the first century A.D., when Romans ruled much of Europe, northern Africa, and the Middle East, the world was experiencing what climate historians call the Roman Warm Period. Our Lord, His disciples and the first-century church probably experienced climatic conditions similar to what people experience today in Israel and Palestine.
Global temperatures declined after the Roman Warm Period, then began to rise again during the tenth century.
The eleventh and twelfth centuries are known as the Medieval Warm Period. Not long after St. Francis of Assisi wrote his hymn "All Creatures of our God and King" (based on Psalm 148) in 1225, global temperature began to drop again.
Francis would not have known about what climate historians call the Little Ice Age, of which the temperature decline that began in his day and continued through the fifteenth-century Reformation was the precursor.
After the Reformation, global temperatures began to drop drastically. The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the most intense of the Little Ice Age, were two of the coldest in the last 3000 years.
The cold of this period disrupted normal life in much of Europe. But in the eighteenth century, temperatures began to rise again. They have continued rising until the present, what many climate historians call the Modern Warm Period.
Clearly, no one can miss the cyclic natural oscillation (swing) of temperatures in both directions. Today's temperatures are as high as those in the Roman Warm Period and Medieval Warm Period.
All these major oscillatory changes in earth's climate (including the Modern Warm Period) preceded the intervention of modern industrialization. It follows that none of them—either the warm or the cold—can be blamed on it.
From the behaviour of global temperature in the past 20 years, we can also conclude that humans have very little influence on the earth's climate. And from that it follows that they have very little ability to control it.
But current popular opinion states that the warming is reaching dangerous levels. We are doomed, people think, if we don't control this increase in temperature.
How? By reducing our carbon dioxide emissions.
And how do we do that? By turning from fossil fuels—coal (which brought humanity out of poverty and continues to support billions of people every day), oil, and natural gas—as the primary sources of the energy on which we depend for food, clothing, shelter, light, transportation, and everything else we use, to wind, solar, and other "renewables."
The mainstream media and climate alarmists believe this can be done by imposing restrictive energy policies that require countries to make this transition, and to make it quickly.
But as Christians, we believe things based not on popular opinion but on truth.
The truth is that global temperature has not risen to levels that the church has not witnessed before. And, yes, life on earth continued to be normal in those past warm periods.
Hundreds and hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific papers challenge the notion that human activity has been the primary cause of recent warming and that it is dangerous. Meanwhile, the very same scientists who continue to warnus about a dangerous climate future have also admitted the bankruptcy of their climate forecasts.
Contrary to popular opinion, it was during the Little Ice Age that human civilization suffered the most. Rivers (like the Thames, in England) that hadn't frozen for centuries did freeze, hindering commerce. Winter thaws came later and autumn freezes earlier, shortening growing seasons. Summers were cooler and cloudier, reducing plant growth. Harvests declined so much that starvation ran rampant. Those who didn't starve lacked the bodily energy to survive common diseases—let alone uncommon ones, like the plague that killed as many as a third of Europe's people. Families found it more difficult to heat their homes enough to survive extreme winter cold.
In contrast, people throve during the Roman Warm Period and the Medieval Warm Period. And the warming beginning in the eighteenth century, coupled this time with an increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which improves plant growth and crop yield, brought an overall increase in and flourishing of earth's vegetation and biodiversity while making it easier to feed the growing human population.
This used to be basic common sense among climate historians. It's why they called the Medieval Warm Period the Medieval Climate Optimum—just as they called the much longer, and much warmer, period from about 11,000 to 7,000 B.C. the Holocene Climate Optimum. A warmer world is a healthier world. But now such thinking has become strange.
Nonetheless, plants not only grow more with earlier spring thaws and later autumn freezes but also thrive better on carbon dioxide. Its increased atmospheric concentration over the last five decades has been directly responsible for prolific growth of food crops and forests.
When Norman Borlaug was moved by his faith in God to help the poor of this world, he decided to dedicate his life to agricultural innovations that would help feed the poor—work for which he eventually won the Nobel Peace Prize. He would have been glad to see our day because of the increase in food security primarily attributable to favorable climatic conditions.
So given these evidences, what does the church need to do?
If climate change is not driven by humans, and if there are no significant threats to our climate, then the best way to love our neighbor would be to expose the lies (Ephesians 5:11) promoted by the world's top politicians and a section of the scientific community.
Loving your neighbor does not mean reducing your carbon footprint.
It does mean you don't litter, pollute rivers, abuse ecosystems, waste food, or throw plastic into the ocean. It probably means following local recycling rules. Perhaps most importantly, it means protecting your neighbors from falling prey to radical climate-change rules that impede the development and growth of others in society.