There’s a disconnect when it comes to Christians and climate change. The Pew Research Center told us in October that only 28% of white American evangelical Christians like me believe in human caused global climate change. However, most of my efforts at minimizing the effects of climate change seem to come through my activities with the Creation Care Committee at my church. Religious communities around the world, including my denomination, the Christian Reformed Church of North America, advocated for the recently approved Paris Agreement. As we move beyond this historic agreement it is the responsibility of Christians and religious communities of all kinds to hold their governments to the commitments made in Paris. We can no longer afford to allow so many within our communities to ignore the reality of climate change.
President Obama made a powerful rebuke of those who still reject climate change in his final State of the Union address, saying “Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.” I know that there have been moments where I, as an American Christian, have shown doubt and mistrust about climate change, or simply not done enough when other’s in my community challenged this reality. It’s time for me, and others like me, to apologize for that mistake, admit that climate change is happening and commit to help address this problem. It is time for American Christians to repent for our hard hearts and join the world in getting to work addressing the crisis.
The Paris Agreement is a huge success. It commits the world to reducing carbon dioxide levels, minimizing global temperature increases, and financially supporting the least developed nations as they cope with the effects of climate change. However, there is still much to do. Current commitments and pledges for reducing carbon dioxide levels are insufficient. Eventually nations of the world will have to increase their pledges to use less and less fossil fuels while contributing more and more toward climate finance for less developed nations. As nations prepare to meet the first benchmarks for emissions reduction, global peer pressure will be the primary force encouraging countries to meet their commitments.
Religious communities around the world will play an important part in holding their governments accountable. Chicago is the kind of city that is used to being held accountable by its religious communities. The faithful of Chicago already work toward ending gun violence, providing food and shelter for the poor, and reminding city hall of the effects of school closings. I now invite religious groups across the city to join those who are already working to build Chicago into a more environmentally sustainable city. The Institute for Cultural Affairs in the U.S.A. recently held a Faith and Sustainability Forum in Chicago highlighting this kind of work. For the United States to meet its national commitments individuals, organizations, and cities are going to need people digging gardens, educating others about energy use, and meeting with decision makers. My prayer is that all of these roles are soon filled with the faithful who seek to care the beautiful world we have been given.
Climate change is an exceedingly technical issue, but it is also a deeply moral issue. The crisis is overwhelmingly caused by rich nations and disproportionately affects poor nations. Droughts disrupt food security for communities around the world. Storms and flooding are disasters for anyone, but for the poorest of the poor they are devastating. The Paris Agreement shows that we largely understand what is required to mitigate the effects of climate change. It is now the responsibility of religious communities, my own Christian Reformed Church and communities across the faith spectrum, to remind our leaders these solutions are technically possible, politically important, and morally necessary. To our political leaders: we are praying for wise environmental decisions and we are coming to your office to hear your thoughts.
Clayton D. Carlson is an Associate Professor of Biology at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights. He is a member of Hope Christian Reformed Church in Oak Forest. He and his family live in Crestwood.