Faith, Fauna and Climate Change

dreamstimesmall_5872032I consider myself fortunate to attend a church, St. Johns Episcopal, whose parishioners are thoughtful not only about matters of faith, but creation.  Last week, during the adult forum we heard from Jane Houlihan, a former VP of Research for the Environmental Working Group and St. Johns member, who talked about the importance of protecting our waters for healthy living, and the challenges that we as a society confront in trying to provide safe drinking water to the masses.   It’s fair to say that EWG and I haven’t always agreed, but I would be wrong if I didn’t acknowledge the importance of Jane’s and EWG’s work in bringing about greater awareness of the risks of chemicals we use in our every day lives, ranging from pharmaceuticals and personal care products to plasticizers in our plastic bottles.

And this week, we heard from Dr. Bill Blair, a distinguished astrophysicist from Johns Hopkins University, on the importance of Christians taking more seriously their role in environmental stewardship.  Dr. Blair is part of the recent evangelical movement known as Creation Care.  As an astrophysicist, Dr. Blair has a deep understanding and appreciation of science that very few of us do.  His work involves really cool stuff, like peering through the Hubble telescope to explore the realms of the unexplored and the unexplained, as captured here in the newly discovered barred spiral galaxy Messier 83 (M83).  

Dr. Blair has an effective way of putting human existence into perspective, and our understanding of the Creator.  Pulling from his bag of props, he begins to unroll a 1000-sheet roll of toilet paper, noting that recorded human existence represents but one sheet (or less than 10,000 years) of the earth’s 4.6 billion year existence.  His main thesis is that God cared about this earth long before the arrival of humans, even before the dinosaurs walked the earth 65 million years ago.  He spends a fair amount of time talking about issues confronting humanity, including the increased risks and importance of combatting anthropogenic global warming caused by fossil fuels – his message you can find here.  As you may imagine, delving into AGW prompted a lively discussion and debate, but not about whether global warming was happening; rather, what we should do about it.

While I was appreciative of Dr. Blair’s message regarding the Christian perspective on stewardship, I was admittedly conflicted.  So much to think about, his passing references to the “Big Bang” and evolution, as though they were gospel truth akin to the virgin birth and the resurrection.  It prompted flashbacks of my own intellectual and spiritual journey, and the painful struggles over faith and fauna during a time in my life when evolution was a hoax and creation was secondary to spiritual salvation.  Don’t get me wrong, the fact that evangelical Christians are beginning to talk about and accept the importance of environmental stewardship is welcome news, but as I sat there listening, a gnawing discomfort with the central message still came over me:  Global warming is happening, we are the cause, and we need to do something about it now.   To be honest, I’m not sure what made me more uncomfortable, whether it was his absolute certainty that we were the problem or whether it was his faith-like belief in the science.

Increasingly, I have come to accept the fact that we humans are probably contributing to climate change, yet have grown increasingly weary of climate alarmism – see The Latest Storm of Climate Alarmism – Steve Hayward, May 8 WSJ.  And, yes, I think it’s regretable that the politics of climate has offered us two false choices – Who You Gonna Believe, Rush Limbaugh or Al Gore?  I have come to appreciate that the science of climate change is very complex, scientific models have often missed their mark, and we simply don’t understand everything that is happening on earth and in the heavens.  But the greenhouse theory is sound from a scientific perspective and evidence of the earth’s warming temperatures and rising sea levels are indeed daily reminders of the risks.  (In Norfolk, evidence of climate change is in the streets of high tide – WashPo, June 2)  And in the face of the many unknowns and uncertainties, it seems to me that a “no regrets” policy on AGW is indeed warranted and a reasonable response.

Later today, my former employer, EPA, will propose new regulations that will dramatically reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants.  (EPA to propose 30 percent reductions in power plant carbon emissions – CBS, June 2)  Surely as the temperatures and seas continue to rise, litigation will ensue, and the debate over the reasonableness of EPA’s action will play out in our classrooms, churches and synagogues.   Let’s be clear.   If adopted, this rule will result in the loss of many jobs and increase the cost of monthly energy bills.  And we Christians who care about protecting creation, must also care about those communities and families who will be adversely impacted by new regulations – The War on Coal has a Human Face.   Let’s hope the discussion remains civil, focused on science and balancing the costs and benefits to society, and finding the right response to a very complicated issue.  Ultimately, these difficult choices are about improving the human condition here on earth, with no guarantee of heavenly benefits.