Christians and climate change

August 5th, 2011 in Behaviour. Tags: , , , ,

Lately I have been pondering two facts:

  1. The majority of world climate scientists believe the evidence shows that our climate is changing because of human activity, and, if allowed to continue unchecked, this will have disastrous consequences for hundreds of millions of people.
  2. Christians are well represented among those who are unwilling to accept these conclusions.

Why is it so?

Christian views on climate change

There are many views among christians, from those who believe we should be addressing the issue to those who believe it is a plot to take away our freedoms or a distraction.

The following statistics are interesting:

  • Polls in the US indicate about 80% of scientists believe human activity is causing significant climate change, with almost all climate scientists agreeing. Wikipedia says no reputable scientific organisation disagrees.
  • Statistics show that worldwide only a third of people believe that human-induced climate change is a problem, whereas the numbers increase to half in western Europe and Canada and around three quarters in developed Asian countries and Britain. But in the US, only about a third believe human-caused climate change is a problem, though half believe climate change is occurring through natural processes and most believe it should be addressed.
  • Only a third of American christian pastors agree with the scientists, a figure that is similar to the percentage of christians and the US population generally. But less than 1 in 10 ‘conservative’ christian pastors and about 1 in 7 ‘evangelical’ pastors agree with the scientists.

So it seems that christians as a whole don’t differ much from the general population in the US, but ‘conservative’ christians are far more sceptical about climate change.

Reasons for scepticism

Conclusions here are harder to establish, but there is some evidence for the following:

  • Some believe we can disregard climate change as a threat because God wouldn’t allow humans to destroy the earth. I can’t help wondering whether the same logic leads people not to do anything about the threat of nuclear war or dangerous viruses?
  • Some christians see morality in a very narrow way (often focusing on sexual morality) and see climate change as a distraction. This is strange because the threat to the lives of hundreds of millions of people is surely a moral issue.
  • Many christians have become sceptical of science, I would guess mostly because of the evolution vs creation question, and tend to disbelieve the scientific evidence. Again, I wonder whether this scepticism applies to other areas of science.
  • Disbelief in human-induced climate change tends to imply some sort of conspiracy, and some christians seem prone to this. Some see a conspiracy to take away democratic freedoms and the American way of life and even impose some sort of immoral world order.
  • Christians tend more often to be from the conservative side of politics, which has been shown to be generally more sceptical about climate change, human causes and the need to address the issues. Studies have shown that people on both sides of the climate change debate exhibit ‘confirmation bias‘, by tending to believe what they want to believe.
  • It has been argued that big business has conducted an effective misinformation campaign against climate change science, in a manner similar to that conducted by the cigarette industry in the past. There is also evidence of bias in the media.
  • Addressing climate change will cost money in the short term (though it may lead to greater efficiencies in the longer term). Western christians, especially in the US, appear to have taken on many of the materialist and capitalist values from the world around them, despite the Biblical teaching against this, making them less willing to give up their wealth and comfort.
  • Studies show that those who most oppose climate change action are those who least understand the scientific facts, and are unaware that the conclusions of scientists are not just opinion, but are based on well developed and tested computer models.

So …. ?

This is an important issue, and the above attitudes of christians are not a fair response. Christians need to base their views on better information, regardless of what they finally conclude.

A christian climate scientist speaks out

You may be interested in these videos by christian climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.

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  1. This is a very well-balanced, well-considered post. What do you think of the broader idea that our underlying problem might be overpopulation? That would affect many things including anthropogenic-driven climate change.
    Taking the absurd extremes to clarify, if there were no people at all our impact on the planet would be nil, if there were ten people trying share every single square metre most would die from lack of resources very quickly.
    Reality lies between these extremes, but it’s clear that population density must affect our well-being in many ways. There must therefore be a point beyond which numbers become unsustainable. Is there still room to grow or have we already gone beyond that point?

  2. Thanks for the positive comment, and for the links.
    I think it is clear that population is an issue, but lifestyle is also critical – one person in the US contributes far more to global warming than (say) one person in Mali.
    I don’t know whether we have passed a critical point, but I doubt it – it all depends on how much we are willing to change our lifestyles. But one thing seems certain – we cannot sustain present population growth and present lifestyles.

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