Thursday, April 2, 2009

Climate Change--An Inconvenient Truth

I wrote a few days ago about the initiative called Earth Hour. At that time I mentioned that I might write more about my take on global climate change. This is an important issue, one that I think conservatives, particularly conservative believers, too quickly dismiss and disparage. I think this is because many of those who promote the issue of climate change tie it into a lot of peripheral issues that deny basic Scriptural teachings, like the uniqueness of humans in the created order. But I don't think we should throw out the baby with the bathwater. While disagreeing with many (most?) of the peripheral issues that get associated with it, I agree with the basic premise that global climate change is a significant concern that demands our attention.

I recently watched Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. While the overall message of the film was not new or enlightening, much of the data he presents was certainly challenging and eye-opening. I didn’t appreciate the parts of the film that seemed to be more about Al Gore than the issue of climate change, but that doesn’t mean that I should ignore the facts and the call to action that the film presents. I am aware that many people are skeptical about the idea of climate change and tend to mock those who call attention to it. There is a mindset that rejects the whole worldview of the environmental movement and therefore is unwilling to consider any argument it presents. 

Some argue that God has given us dominion over creation and interpret this to mean that we can do whatever we want with it. I don’t think that is sound biblical theology. God has given us responsibility to be good stewards of creation. Precisely because we are made uniquely in God’s image we bear the burden of making wise and responsible decisions about how we will live, especially as it impacts other humans and the rest of the natural world. The inconvenient and uncomfortable truth is that we, particularly as Americans, have chosen a lifestyle that is making the continuation of life increasingly difficult and which deprives a large portion of the inhabitants of this planet of the opportunity to meet even the basic needs of life. Why are we as believers so resistant to altering our lifestyle in order to be both better stewards of God’s creation and to be better servants towards those in the world whose situation is far worse than our own?

The thing that swayed me most about the film were the various facts he presents. I call them facts because they are backed up with verifiable data. The one in particular that comes to mind is the graph he shows of the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere. I have heard arguments that this level regularly fluctuates, rising and falling over the years. The film doesn't dispute that. In fact it demonstrates it with the data. What it also shows with the data though is that both the peak and lowest levels are growing steadily higher and that the current trend is pushing the levels to never-before-experienced heights. So while the data in any given year or situation may seem to contradict the trend toward global climate change, the overall data are steady. This was pretty convincing evidence.

At one point in the movie Gore makes reference to the glaciers and snowpack of the Himalayas, commenting that something like 40% of humanity draws its freshwater from the rivers that begin in those mountains. He calls our attention to the potential impact on that significant portion of human population should the climatic conditions change. This caught my attention because the countries in that region depend exclusively on the runoff from those mountains for water, electricity (through hydropower) and food (using water for irrigation.) If those rivers should fail to flow or even be significantly reduced, it will have a significant impact on the people of the region. Furthermore, these are poor countries. Many do not have the technology and the financial resources to avert, mitigate or compensate for a radical change in the environment. Wealthy countries like the US or the European nations would be better equipped to deal with changes resulting from climate change, but the poor countries of the earth will be in a bad situation. 

As Americans this may not overly concern us (though I believe it should.) As believers in a compassionate, merciful and loving God I certainly think it should. We may not be able to do anything to change the immediate conditions in the poor countries, but by changing our lifestyle here in America we can help to mitigate or even avert potentially disastrous climactic changes.

Some may say, “God is sovereign. These things are in his hands and the earth is going to pass away anyway.” Agreed. But God has also given us responsibility to care for the earth and particularly for its people until the day when he chooses to bring history to an end. I don’t think he asks us to live irresponsibly and selfishly in order to hasten that day. I for one will continue to look for ways to live such that my lifestyle does not negatively impact the poor of the earth. It’s the least I can do.

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