During my commute into DC yesterday for a lunch meeting, I had my radio tuned to Rush Limbaugh when he swerved into the topic of climate change. He was talking about recent comments made by Secretary Kerry wherein Kerry made reference to climate change as “a challenge to our responsibilities as the guardians–safe guarders of God’s creation.” Well Rush took issue with Kerry’s comment, but particularly Kerry’s inconsistent treatment and views of the unborn as part of God’s creation. Here is a snippet of the monologue:
You must be either agnostic or atheistic to believe that man controls something that he can’t create. The vanity! These people — on the one hand, we’re no different than a mouse or a rat. If you listen to the animal rights activists, we are the pollutants of this planet. If it weren’t for humanity — the military environmentalist wackos — the Earth would be pristine and wonderful and beautiful, and nobody would see it. According to them we are not as entitled to life on this planet as other creatures because we destroy it. But how can we destroy it when we’re no different from the lowest life forms?”
And then on the other end, we are so powerful. And we are so impotent — omnipotent that we can destroy — we can’t even stop a rain shower, but we can destroy the climate. And how? With barbecue pits and automobiles, particularly SUVs. It’s absurd.
Rush went on to say that if you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming. [I was with you Rush, until you got to this point.] Wow – I could only cringe when I heard him make this latter point. He finished his point by saying it was “arrogant” to believe that humans could be affecting that which we cannot control.
It seems clear that Rush’s belief that manmade climate change as a hoax is largely predicated on his belief that humans are not in control of climate. Our inability to create or control means our inability to influence. And it is here where Rush’s scientific and theological arguments begin to fall apart.
I’m a fan of Rush and have been so for many years, but here is the “BUT” – but he is terribly misguided on this issue. I’ve given much thought over the years how my Christian Faith intersects or should intersect with my views on environmental stewardship. I’m hopeful Rush’s comments will make more Christians consider what the appropriate Christian response, or range of responses, ought to be on this issue along with other environmental issues for that matter.
But let’s get first things out of the way. It’s utter folly to suggest that one’s belief in God has any bearing whatsoever on one’s belief in climate change. Whether humans are influencing climate is a matter of scientific evidence and material fact that, in time, will either be proven true or false. Humans are either affecting, or not, earth’s climate. And there is a wide range of beliefs on the topic ranging from believers, unbelievers, skeptics, and yet others who don’t know what to believe. I’m one who continues to honestly sift through all the evidence on this very complicated issue to reach his own conclusions. I’m not looking to Rush Limbaugh or Al Gore as a proxy for doing my own homework. And despite the heated political rhetoric either for or against, I believe the scientific evidence is growing that humans are, in fact, having some influence on climate. That to me is where agreement ends.
Rush is highly critical of those who he calls “low information voters,” those who don’t do their own homework, are intellectually lazy, and simply succumb to the prevailing views of the masses. Rush typically reserves this label for liberals, but I’d have to argue that there are many others for whom the shoe fits. Rush, himself, is acting as and encouraging a new cohort of low information voters on this topic.
Based on my own independent thinking and review of the evidentiary record, the jury is still out on the sensitivity of climate to GHGs and the implications to earth’s ecosystems and natural resources. The scientific and policy debate rightly belong in this latter space, which is where prominent scientific skeptics have effectively made their case. These climate skeptics (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “deniers”) who have been vilified by the media and mainstream environmentalists agree that manmade climate change is occurring. They simply don’t agree on the prevailing scientific or “consensus” views on climate sensitivity. I’d encourage my fellow skeptics (and low information deniers) to consider the words and works of some of these skeptics who, while skeptical of the consensus science, believe that humans are effecting climate change:
Roger Pielke, Jr., University of Colorado – “Humans influence the climate system in profound ways, including through the emission of carbon dioxide via the combustion of fossil fuels.” (Senate EPW Testimony)
Patrick Michaels, CATO Institute – “‘Climate change’ is nothing new, even climate change induced by human activity. What matters is not whether or not something so obvious exists, but to what magnitude it exists and how people adapt to such change.” (Senate EPW Testimony)
Roy Spencer, University of Alabama – “My overall view of the influence of humans on climate is that we probably are having some influence, but it is impossible to know with any level of certainty how much influence.” (Senate EPW Testimony)
Richard Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology – “A doubling of CO2, by itself, contributes only about 1C to greenhouse warming. All models project more warming, because, within models, there are positive feedbacks from water vapor and clouds, and these feedbacks are considered by the IPCC to be uncertain. If one assumes all warming over the past century is due to anthropogenic greenhouse forcing, then the derived sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2 is less than 1C. The higher sensitivity of existing models is made consistent with observed warming by invoking unknown additional negative forcings from aerosols and solar variability as arbitrary adjustments.” (House Testimony)
And, notwithstanding, there are Christian believers on both sides of this issue who will share eternity in Heaven. So to link one’s belief in God with scientific endeavor and one’s belief in climate change is truly odd and a non sequitur. True knowledge of God comes through faith, not through any intellectual exercise. And true knowledge of climate change comes through scientific and intellectual rigor, not through faith in God.
This is where Rush, as a nonscientist, is demonstrating either an ignorance of science or denial born of arrogance. As I’ve said before, Rush is wrong on climate change. But only because he refuses to accept the possibility that humans have the capacity to adversely affect it.
The earth’s climate is extremely complex and affected by many factors including altitude, global wind patterns, solar activity, atmospheric conditions, ocean temperatures, topography, geographic features, and precipitation. We may not control these elements, but we certainly have the capacity to influence many of them, including atmospheric conditions. Through modern technologies we are now able to detect and measure atmospheric concentrations of GHGs, such as carbon and methane, from human activities.
The notion that we don’t control and therefore don’t or can’t influence is a feeble argument. We don’t control the oceans, but we certainly influence them through over harvesting of fish species and discharging pollutants in quantities harmful to human health and the environment. We don’t control the air, but we can most assuredly influence it by emitting pollutants in quantities harmful to human health and the environment. We don’t control the growth of plants and trees, but we can certainly influence their growth by ably tending to or destroying the soils with chemicals and nutrients. We don’t control whether a species will become extinct, but we surely control factors that can bring about their demise. The fact is, we are influencing the environment and our surroundings more and more.
This is not to say that our efforts over the last 40 years to clean the environment have not worked – they have, and in many respects our air and water are much cleaner. But it’s those risks and harms that are invisible to the naked eye and human touch that many do not appreciate, fully understand and grasp the implications – the hypoxic dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and the Chesapeake Bay; the male bass in the Potomac river with female reproductive parts most likely caused by drugs and pharmaceuticals in the water; the mercury in fish and our food chain that is harmful to wildlife and humans, and particularly children. These are but just a few examples of natural systems we do not control but most assuredly leave a mark, at times to our own detriment.
Back to Rush’s comment on theology and environmentalism. Yes, Christians should care about climate change. And as much as I believe that Christians have an obligation as believers in Christ to be good stewards of the earth, I’m squeamish of those who seek to “Green” Christianity in the name of Environmental Evangelism. Caring for the environment, like caring for the sick and poor, is part of being Christian. But seriously – when did we go from “God is Good” to “God is Green”?! The Evangelical Environmental Network, founders of a movement called Creation Care, reflects this new trend in Evangelical circles. Rev. Jim Ball of EEN, who spends much of his time preaching the gospel of climate change, started the “What Would Jesus Drive?” campaign. While Rev. Ball feels comfortable speculating that Jesus would opt for a Prius, I’m not as comfortable assuming I know what wheels Jesus, if here, would drive. Whether a Humvee or Prius, I don’t know, but perhaps Jesus would prefer sandals or a donkey to wheels; it’s easier to reach and minister to the homeless and the outcast on foot. The Cornwall Alliance represents a more conservative wing of Evangelicals who, although affirm the importance of Christian stewardship, are resistant to radical environmentalism, elements of which it sees in EEN and warn against the Green Dragon.
I’m pleased that the Church is slowly awakening to its responsibility to being good stewards of God’s creation, but let’s not forget the fundamental purpose of Christianity which, as C.S. Lewis put it, “is to draw men to Christ.”