After Paris, It's Time for Christians to Take on Climate Change

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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.

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There's not much in this article I agree with.  Here's the other side.

The author begins by declaring a "disconnect" between "Christians and climate change," by which is meant that if you are Christian, you should be on board with the climate change related positions and suggestions this author articles is about to take and make.  But maybe, just maybe, there is a "connect" between "Christians and climate change," except that Christians should be taking a position opposite of that taken by this author.  Here's the case for that.  

First, no one believes human activity doesn't affect climate.  No one.  Whether it's burning fuels that release CO2 or raising cattle that pass methane gas or growing rice that does much the same as cattle, human activity affects the land, sea and atmosphere.  But that's not really the important question.  The important questions are: (1) how much does human activity affect climate, (2) in what ways does human activity affect climate, (3) what are the effects of the effect humans have on climate, (4) what should we do, if anything, to mitigate the effects of the effects humans have on climate.

Second, contrary to what our president says (the same president who said he'd put a comprehensive plan for immigration reform in front of Congress within 90 days of being elected, the same president who said debates about health care would be done in the open and carried by C-SPAN, and the same president who promised everyone could keep their insurance plan and doctor, and that insurance costs would go down, under Obamacare) is simply incorrect (or misrepresenting again) when he claims "...  if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You’ll be pretty lonely ...."  Many, not just a couple, not just a few, world class climatologists, and thousands of other supporting non-climatologist scientists, vigorously disagree.  Take, for example, world class climatologist John Christy (Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science and Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville) and his climate science working partner, Roy Spencer.  Together, these men, both of whom are brothers in Christ, developed our nation's satellite based temperature measuring/tracking system.  Both have impeccable, untarnished credentials.  Neither are funded by the evil fossil fuel industry.  And both vigorously disagree with today's "climate alarmist" community.  And Christy and Spencer are by no means the end of the list.  I'll decline to list more here, but I certainly am able.

There is one point made in this article that I agree with, that being "Climate change is an exceedingly technical issue...."  Indeed it is.  Which is why I'm a bit surprised that the author of this article would, as this article does, equate being on one side of the issue with being Christian.  For that matter is it remarkable that the CRC, an insitution devoid of even a single world class climatologist, would take a position about this "exceedingly technical issue."  The implication of course, from this article and the CRC's taken position, is that "being on the other side: means "not being Christian."  In contrast, I regard persons on both sides of the issue as quite capable of being Christians.

There is another point made in this article that I agree with, that being "Climate change is ... also a deeply moral issue."  But while the author of this article believes that means we should support Barak Obama's and the United Nation's position, I believe otherwise.  Indeed, I and many world class economists believe that following the Paris Agreement may result in that which is immoral.  Limiting the amount of energy people can use, especially in undeveloped countries, comes at a price that is extracted in terms of human life sometimes, and always in terms of human prosperity (or said more fashionably, human flourishing).  

But there is a way through this impasse, this disagreement about the science, and the effect of the effect of humans on the climate.  What if we would develop a lot more non-CO2 emitting energy resources?  OK, but how do we do that?

James Hansen, the "climate alarmist" who started this all, the guy who "climate alarmists" hold in near god-like status, had said, over and over and over and over (go Google it), that solar, wind, geothermal and other similar renewable energy sources are good, but clearly and certainly not robust enough to fill the energy need gap that will be created if we reduce fossil fuel consumption to the extent needed to avoid his prediction of CO2 Armageddon.  And while John Christy and many others would disagree about the CO2 Armageddon part, they too would support dramatically increasing nuclear energy.  So it would seem there is a middle ground, a solution that both James Hanson and John Christy and Roy Spencer would agree to: nuclear engergy.  James Hanson has been saying, again over and over and over (again, go Google it) that nuclear energy is clean, safe, CO2 free, efficient, and sufficiently abundant to "fill the gap" that fossil fuel reductions would leave.  Christy and Spencer would agree.

So then, what's the problem?  If both sides agree on the real solution (which is not the Paris Agreement), why can't we do that?  Answer: because when James Hanson pitches nuclear energy, all of his otherwise supportive "climate alarmist" community goes silent.  They don't like nuclear energy.  Why?  Hard to know for sure, but probably because of their irrational fears, or more likely perhaps of their political obstructionist positions taken in the past about nuclear energy.  

But notice this: France produces 85% of its electricity via new nuclear plants.  Scandinavian countries have gone nuclear (yes, Sweden and Norway).  But these are countries that are ecologically sensitive, not?  Exactly.

I would thus argue that if Christians -- or anyone else for that matter -- want to be Christian (or responsible), they might want to advocate not for the Paris Agreement but along with James Hanson (remember, the near-god representative of the "climate alarmist"), that the US should set aside irrational fears (and political history) about nuclear energy and implement a real solution that all sides, including those who may think we don't need a solution, agree on.  

How is this not a sensible way foward?  Why is this not the advocacy route that Christians should take?  Why does the Christian Reformed Church continue to ignore James Hanson, the person who initiated the concerns about CO2 in the first place?  Why does this author suggest that to be Christian, one has to advocate for a solution that James Hansen and John Christy and Roy Spencer all say is not the answer?

Hi Doug, Good to hear from you again. I am fine with more nuclear and think that should certainly be part of how we produce carbon neutral energy. In order to meet the goals of the COP-21 agreement, we should prayerfully consider all options. It seems like we can do this while also trying to take other measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and care for those most affected by climate change. Reminding us of the importance of nuclear energy seems like you doing just what I ask for when I said, it is the "responsibility of religious communities, my own Christian Reformed Church and communities across the faith spectrum, to remind our leaders these [CO2 reducing] solutions are technically possible, politically important, and morally necessary." Thanks for your thoughtful response. - Clay Carlson

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