Reflections on climate change.

In 2014 as much as 97% of climate scientists already agreed that human activity contributes to global warming.[i] Most especially, it is recognized that CO2 and other greenhouse gases are sharply increasing due to industrialisation. This increases the greenhouse effect in our atmosphere that traps in heat from the sun, so warming the climate leading to an increase in drought and fires and, it is thought, to more severe weather-related events such as storms, and floods. It also leads to feedback factors that exacerbate the problem, like warmer oceans that then release the CO2 trapped in them, or melting ice that no longer reflects solar radiation and so heat into space, and releases further greenhouse gases from the ground that is then exposed. These feedback factors mean that even small human contributions to global warming can have a larger effect than they would warrant on their own. And COP26 has addressing all this in its sights.

At other times in the history of the world CO2 and temperatures have been high with purely natural causes. However, the correlation of the increase with industrialisation and population explosion, whilst solar irradiation remains pretty much constant, shows it is caused or at least exacerbated by humanity.

Such increases, however, are not necessarily detrimental. More CO2 can benefit plant life, and before the days of central heating when human populations were small, higher temperatures may have enabled flourishing. But it is the speed this increase is occurring because of human activity that is so serious. One estimate is that it is ten times faster than the temperature increase at the end of a typical ice age.[ii] And this means that plant and animal species have less time to adapt, and that there are likely to be some devastating consequences for the massive human population we have today. Temperatures in many countries will become unbearable, leading to increased drought, famine, and disease, resulting in unmanageable migration and instability. Elsewhere, such things will be brought about by increased flooding. And in the developing world huge costs will be involved in combating rising sea levels or relocating those living on the coasts. We are already seeing these things. Efforts are therefore being made to limit the warming in an attempt to limit the impact.

But warming is not the only problem, nor the ultimate one. Sin is. In our selfish desire for wealth and our covetous consumerism, we are showing little concern for God in our attitude to the world he has entrusted to our care, devouring its resources in an unsustainable way. This further contributes to climate change, for example through an excessive use of fossil fuels, destruction of vegetation that would otherwise store CO2, and multiplying of livestock that requires land to be cleared and that produces more gas. But it also devastates ecosystems, meaning a rapid extinction of many plant and animal species that only furthers the devastation. And so, we fail to protect the wondrous diversity and bounty of the world that is intended to display God's glory and generosity; and we fail to respect his wisdom in how it all inter-relates in a way that can be both sustainable and sufficient for all his creatures. This is a serious failure in our responsibility to rule over the earth in a way that images him - that is in ordering it in a way that causes all life to flourish and be provided for (Gen 1v26-31).

Of course, unless we are scientists our ability to really grasp all this is limited. We should not play armchair experts and should guard against the Christian tendency to see Satanic conspiracies around every corner. Just as medical science can be a gracious blessing of God's providence for the good of humanity, environmental science can be too. And whether one tends to think that climate change is wholly man made or not, it seems undeniable that human activity is worsening it, and therefore efforts are needed both to limit the increase in greenhouse gases and our general consumption of the world's resources. Indeed, between 84% and 90% of all climatologists, and between 91% and 97% of experienced climatologists think that "half or more" of global warming since 1950 has been caused by humans. Some think we have caused almost all if it.[iii] And this means that changing our ways really can have a significant impact.

However, we should be cautious and critically minded in our response. The ideological fads of recent decades have shown only too clearly how easy it is for the opinions of world leaders and scientists to be so pressurised by lobby groups, that they shape their findings and decisions in order to be in-line with group think rather than the hard facts, and act in a way that will gain acceptability whilst still protecting profit, rather than truly help the vulnerable. For example, the poor often have to engage in environmentally harmful practices in order to survive. And so radical programs to deal with the crisis might not only have a massive cost to everyday people in the West, but impoverish poorer nations and peoples who rely on fossil fuels, deforestation, farming beef, the provision of cheap goods etc, whilst those in the renewables industry get rich, and those who can afford to offset their carbon footprint continue with their luxuries.

This should not be an excuse for inaction. Individuals are responsible before God for stewarding the earth and so for living in a more sustainable way, and should consider the means of doing that, so contributing in a small way to what one hopes might be a worldwide adjustment. We should remember that the final judgment of Babylon is of those who gain wealth and luxury at the expense of others and in doing so "destroy the earth" (Rev 11v18, 18v3-13). Nevertheless, governments and those at COP26 are also responsible for ensuring their response isn't a knee-jerk one in the face of media pressure to just agree something that looks good. Rather, they must ensure that any plan is made and entered into only if it will actually make a difference, and that it includes provision for those it will be most detrimental for. As one blogger put it, it must be ensured that the cure is not worse than the disease. This is of course a tall order and needs much prayer.

And with that note on prayer, we as Christians must remember in all this that God "works all things according to the counsel of his will" (Eph 1v11). We are responsible for treating his creation badly and the effects it has, but he has purpose in it all. And so, we should not share in the environmental anxiety that so many are burdened by. "The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it." (Ps 24v1). He cherishes his creation and has gifted it to his Son. And so, whether through COP26, human ingenuity, or other means, in his kindness he will no doubt restrain the damage we do, and will certainly one day renew the world so that it can flourish as it should (Rom 8v18-25). And in this, we must remember that Christ is the only Saviour, not governments or activists. So, we should engage with people's recognition of the damage we do, of the potential destruction of the planet, and their search in pantheistic spiritually for a greater oneness with nature, pointing out that their instincts are not wholly wrong. They are recognising the reality of sin, the fitness of God's judgment, the nature of the new creation, and in it all, the need of a divine saviour. And this Saviour is one who entered our creation to redeem it; who took flesh, died on a cross, and rose to life, to forgive us our sins and renew us as well as our world, so that we can finally live rightly within it. Come Lord Jesus.