I have a question regarding the issue of climate change. I’ve encountered numerous conservative Christians who viciously deny that it is happening at all, and instead claim that it is merely a conspiracy to benefit certain groups. I’ve also heard the claim that scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the claim that man-made climate change is indeed occurring. Furthermore, I’ve heard varying views as to what extent of climate change is natural and what extent is man-made. What’s your take on the issue, and how do you think Christians should approach and deal with this issue?
Yes, it is unfortunate when people who claim that they are Christians refuse to admit the completely overwhelming evidence that human activity is having a dramatic effect on the global climate. If you are right and some “viciously” deny the reality of climate change, then this behavior is sinful and unchristian, even if they were right on the issue, but they are not. Unfortunately, this has become a political issue. We have a president who has publicly called the idea of human-caused climate change a conspiracy and a hoax. It is so frustrating to have a president who makes such irresponsible statements. But for a Christian to do so is even more problematic, as it brings discredit on the name of Jesus in the eyes of non-believers who understand the evidence.
It is my opinion that this issue exists because of politics, not because of science. Sorry, but I am going to make a political comment here when, as a Christian, I am normally very hesitant to do so, but here we go. All climate change deniers I have ever met in the United States are right-wing Republicans. Clearly, this belief is not coming from facts, but from a political perspective. The Republican party in the US is the party which supports corporate interests and the agenda of the wealthy. This is not an opinion. It is a fact. By the way, I often vote Republican, so I say this not because I have a political axe to grind. Corporate interests and many people of wealth have a vested interest in the status quo and in supporting the fossil fuel industry. Many of these people ignore climate change because it does not agree with their political agenda. Other climate change deniers are members of the political right who are constantly barraged with the deceitful message that human-caused climate change is a conspiracy and succumb to the barrage of propaganda. Like I said, I have not met a single person who is not a right-wing conservative Republican who is also a climate-change denier. The cause and effect relationship here is crystal clear. This is the cause of climate-change deniers, whether they are Christians or not.
This gets me back to your question. How could a Christian become a “vicious” denier of climate change? I say you should look at this person’s political perspective as the source of this irrational point of view. If we only listen to one point of view, if we only look at social media which is completely dominated by a narrow political perspective, then we will be tempted to reach irrational conclusions. By the way, this can happen to either wing of the political spectrum. Christians are sinners and Christians are susceptible to irrational thinking. Becoming a believer does not make us immune to conspiracy theories, unfortunately.
I had an experience a few years ago. I had lunch with a group of several men in Dallas when I was teaching on Christian topics. During lunch they asked me what I thought about climate change. I responded, “What do you mean?” They asked me if it was true. I said, “Really?” Then it hit me. I asked them who they worked for. All of them worked for energy companies. Then I realized what was going on. All of these men were politically conservative energy company workers. Anyway, I am happy to say that these men were sincere Christians and when I told them the kinds of evidence exists, all of them changed their minds.
So, despite the overwhelming evidence, why are there still some conservative Christians who, unlike these men, refuse to consider the evidence that humans are causing climate change? It certainly is not because of their Christian belief. I believe it is because these people are so tied in to a particular political perspective that they are unable to let the facts enter their minds. Unfortunately, this is not a rare problem, but the fact that this happens to Christians is sad and it is gives a bad example to non-believers, as it brings discredit on Christianity.
Now, about the extent to which human activity has changed the climate, scientists do debate the rate and size and the exact nature of the climate change, but there is no debate of whether it is happening. The only exception among scientists is a tiny fraction, all of whom are on the fringe of the right-wing, politically. The vast majority of conservative Republican scientists accept human-caused climate change, as do all moderate or politically liberal scientists. Again, all evidence is that only political considerations produce climate-change denial, not the evidence.
Here is how a Christian should handle this. First, “vicious” climate deniers should at the very least stop being vicious. I wish I could predict that you will be able to get these folks to listen to reason, because experience tells me that such people are not influenced by evidence. But there may be exceptions. You may want to gently help influence these folks, understanding that it may not be successful. For those you cannot help to see reason, you should avoid useless debates and try to respectfully ask them to keep their divisive opinions to themselves. I would avoid the topic when such people are in the room if it were me. I believe that the natural Christian position is to support environmentalism as we were given responsibility to care for the earth by God (Genesis 1:28). Therefore, it is our responsibility to care for the earth and to not irresponsibly cause environmental destruction. In 1 Corinthians 4:2 we are told that “those who are given a trust must prove faithful.” God has entrusted the earth to us, so we ought to take care of the planet. We should support efforts to reduce air, water and land pollution. Whether we are politically liberal or conservative, we should support political candidates who commit to environmentally responsible behavior, including the use of less fossil fuels. This is not our most important issue, and most of us will not have this as our top area of emphasis, but the natural position of Christians is to be environmentalists. Those who are not ought to change their minds.