Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1Jn 4:8
I was recently sent a copy of the book A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith Based Decisions by Katharine Hayhoe and Andrew Farley (HT TG). Katharine Hayhoe is a professor at Texas Tech working in the area of climate science. She is also active in the public sector, working to get the message out to a variety of audiences, especially conservative Christians. Her husband Andrew Farley is a linguist and author and a pastor. You can read more about Dr. Hayhoe at her website, on Facebook, or in the recent article Fear, not facts, behind climate change skepticism: An interview with Katharine Hayhoe from the Christian Courier.
A Climate for Change is a very readable book written specifically for a Christian audience, particularly those who are skeptical of human origins for global warming. Some of the data and discussion is a bit dated, the book was completed in 2008 and published in 2009. Eight years can be a long time. The current version is also on the expensive side. According to Dr. Hayhoe’s website a new edition will be available on Amazon in August.
Both Hayhoe and Farley are convinced that anthropogenic (i.e. human caused) global warming is a very real phenomenon. They run through a range of the data in the book and explain quite well the difference between meteorology (weather forecasting) and climate science. Climate deals with large scale average phenomena – July in Michigan is warm, with average high temperatures that range from 85 F in Dearborn to 75 F in Petosky. The average rainfall runs from 3.6 inches in Ann Arbor to 2.4 inches in Muskegon (source). In January the high temperatures are around freezing. A change in climate means a change in these averages, such as January temperatures averaging 35 F and July rainfall averaging 2.5 rather than 3.6 inches. Over extended times (decades or centuries) this will make a difference. Weather is more chaotic ranging around the averages, with extremes on either side – like the thunderstorms rolling through over the weekend.
Global warming will have consequences. It will change the climate in significant ways and this will affect plants and animals including humans. If change happens slowly we will adjust as it happens. If it is rapid there will be massive displacements and significant suffering. Humans currently span the globe and the old-timers are not always terribly welcoming to newcomers.
Hayhoe and Farley note that acceptance of the evidence for global warming need not be tied with acceptance of evolution or even an old earth. In fact, the evidence is even more persuasive if we are dealing with a young earth. There is no evidence for significant change over the last four thousand years but abundant evidence for changes over the last hundred. Using “natural thermometers” it is possible to look at average temperatures fairly accurately over the last 6000 years. A report by Shaun Marcott and colleagues in Science (339, 1198-1201 (2013)) does just that, for about 11,000 years. There are no cycles and the trend since the beginning of the industrial revolution is impressive, after a slowly decreasing temperature for the last 6000 years we see a sharp upturn to an unprecedented high (see here). That human activity plays a role is undeniable. In a young earth view it isn’t possible to bring in the long-time swings we find evidence for in the geological record.
Hayhoe and Farley also tackle the argument that “God would never have designed our planet in a way that we could do it damage.” “First, It’s certainly not an insult to God’s omnipotence, as some might claim, to say that the world’s climate can be affected by our puny actions. The world around us is affected by our actions every day. Although we are small in scale compared to our giant planet, there is power in numbers. (p. 64) And also: “God is omnipotent, but he allows things to happen because he refuses to control us.” (p. 65) Anyone who has read the Old Testament should realize this. People reap the consequences for their actions – often incredibly foolish actions with devastating consequences. Destruction, starvation, disease, war.
What should we do? Hayhoe and Farley are clear.
We believe the answers to these questions are straightforward. Love God, love others, and remember the poor: this was the unwavering mandate of the early church more than two thousand years ago. And this is our solidly biblical motivation for caring about climate change today. The bare bones of the gospel is total forgiveness, freedom from any religious demands, an exchange of identity, and the gift of new life. Once gifted with these resources in Christ, we are then called to express God’s love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control toward one another. In short, we’re called to clothe ourselves with Christ and allow Him to display His Life through us. And that means peoples’ lives get touched in tangible ways.
The New Testament tells us to care for the poor and to be kind to strangers. Today, the poor and people who are currently “strangers” to us are the most vulnerable to harm from climate-related impacts. Loving these people involves decision making in the here and now. (p. 127-128)
It isn’t just the New Testament that tells us to care for the poor and be kind to strangers. This is a direct and reinforced carry over from the Old Testament. This is God’s intention for his people, and always has been.
Farley and Hayhoe believe that the New Testament teaches a total destruction of this world, a position they base on 2 Peter 3 and Rev. 21. (They also bring in Isaiah 65, but this passage doesn’t teach an end to death and thus isn’t really the New Creation they imagine, more a renewal of the old creation.) Because of this, we have no obligation to preserve the earth. “Global warming aside, the main point here is that we shouldn’t expect God to redeem the current earth nor are we intended to “help” Him redeem it. This earth is going away permanently someday.” (p. 135) But the New Testament really isn’t this clear and although God doesn’t need us to “help” him redeem the earth, he may well redeem it in the end and expect us to care for it in the meantime as best we can. In addition, we don’t know how long we should expect this earth to last. We are now 2016 AD and it could be another two, or five, or ten thousand years. Certainly God doesn’t want us to destroy the earth to help his plan along! As our position on the age of the earth doesn’t really change anything so our eschatology doesn’t really change anything.
Farley and Hayhoe’s theology of grace also requires them to point out that we don’t even have an obligation to act out of love for others. An obligation leads us to act out a fear of reprisal against us rather than Christian freedom. They quote 1 Cor. 6:12 ““All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial.” But this passage needs to be read carefully. Just prior to this Paul wrote “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived!” (v. 9) and in chapter 5 he told the church to expel a member who was sleeping with his father’s wife.
Doing something, anything, about climate change is a step in the direction of caring for people.
We’re all free in Christ to decide if we care. It’s not a guilt thing. But our hope is that knowledge plus caring will lead to action. (p. 140)
It’s not a guilt thing, its a God thing. If we do not love others we do not know God. We are not free in Christ to dump this commandment to love. Nothing in the Old Testament or the New Testament can lead us to a counter conclusion. We don’t earn God’s favor from our love of him or others, but if we know God we will aim to shape our lives around love. But the end result with Hayhoe and Farley is the same – the appropriate Christian response is to respond out of love for others.
What does this mean when it comes to climate change? As Christians we believe that humans God’s image in creation. Thus the approach isn’t a “dark green” elimination of human influences. It also doesn’t (necessarily) mean drastic and sacrificial changes, but it does mean lifestyle changes that help rather than hurt. A precedent can be found in the New Testament approach to wealth – everyone isn’t called to sell all they have and give the proceeds to the poor (like the rich man in Luke 18), but everyone is called to a life shaped by generosity.
When it comes to climate change we can recycle, avoid excess trash when possible, think about how to curb electricity use by eliminating waste, use a smart thermostat, support alternative energy research. Hayhoe and Farley give a range of possibilities. As individuals we can’t solve the problem anymore than we can banish poverty and suffering. But this isn’t an excuse for doing nothing. Beyond this, we should be investing as a country in ways to conquer the problem intelligently to the benefit of all. Think of the future. We shouldn’t really take the attitude of Hezekiah, an otherwise good king of Judah, who after hearing the word of the Lord from Isaiah concerning the coming exile affecting even his own sons … said to Isaiah, “The word of the Lord that you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “There will be peace and security in my days.” (Is. Ch. 39:8)
The appropriate response to the threat of climate change is the same as the appropriate response in pretty much every other circumstance of life. Love God, love others, and structure your lives around these commands.
What should we do about climate change?
What is entailed in the commandment to love?
I look forward to reading and reviewing the second edition of Hayhoe and Farley’s book when it comes out later this year.
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.