Monday, September 9, 2013

Christians and Climate Change: Lessons From Noah's Ark

This weekend, as I was driving back from a trip out of town, I had to turn around and take a picture of this church sign in Dumas, Arkansas:

Noah's Ark

I thought this was quite a salient metaphor for the most likely impending environmental disaster of our time, climate change. People thought Noah was crazy for building the Ark - for preparing for the worst case scenario that he felt pretty sure was coming. "Does it look like it's raining to you?" they said (paraphrasing). "Come on, a flood? That will wipe out society? No way that is going to happen" they said. And then the flood came. 

I would quip that one of Rush Limbaugh's ancestors would have been among those who said these things to Noah, but since everyone but Noah's family was wiped out, I suppose that is impossible. But recently, two evangelical climate scientists (Katharine Hayhoe from Texas Tech and Thomas Ackerman from Washington) called out Rush Limbaugh for spreading the idea that faith and science are irreconcilable. They were responding to Limbaugh's recent comment on his show that "If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in man-made global warming." The scientists stated that:

"Rush's uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God's Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don't respond quickly to the challenge of climate change."

They made a number of other sound biblical arguments supporting environmental protection, and noted that: 

"While our expertise allows us to understand the complexity of a changing climate and its causes, it is our faith that compels us to speak out and motivates us to push forward despite the opposition from voices like Rush Limbaugh and gridlock in Washington...We were appalled at the ignorance behind Rush Limbaugh's statement but we weren't surprised . . . This isn't meant to invoke pity, but rather to highlight the absurdity of our public debate around faith and climate change. Rush Limbaugh has a very big megaphone but no expertise or formal credentials to be considered an expert on the changes in climate occurring all around us. He has no theological training or record of leadership within a faith community. He's simply a radio show host willing to say controversial things, regardless of whether they are true or not."

I couldn't agree more with Dr.'s Hayhoe and Ackerman. But when I saw this church sign, it reminded me of the arguments that climate skeptics put forth seemingly based upon not being able to see today the full effects of the precipitous amounts of carbon that we have pumped into the atmosphere over the last 150 years (or based on fundamental misunderstandings of climate science: "it was a record low in Charlotte, North Carolina today. Global warming? Yea right!"). It wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark, but in an exercise of some Old Testament precautionary principle, Noah built his Ark anyway. In the same way, we can model with a high degree of certainty the impacts of increasing carbon concentrations in the atmosphere at the rate that humans have. We should take precautionary action accordingly, even if - and especially if - it is only future generations that will bear the full brunt of climate change's effects. 

The Bible is replete with mandates to protect future generations. In rejecting the basic science of climate change, or even the science of the environment more generally - and our dependence upon it - far too many conservative christians are in the business of maximizing their short-term welfare to the detriment of their children's children. Noah didn't do that. He invested (his detractors would say "wasted") a lot of money and time in building the Ark. He incurred a short term economic cost in order to preserve his children's future. Christians would be wise to do the same - it is after all, a mandate of the Bible.

"Increased hurricane frequency and intensity? Yea right. Miami and New York City under water? That can't happen. Economy crumbling because society cannot adapt as quickly as the climate is changing? You're crazy." But it wasn't raining when Noah built the Ark.

- Blake Hudson

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No, rather science providing factual probabilities that we then make policy decisions about by using religion/morals/ethics/natural law/common sense/[insert other driving principle here]. It is no secret that these principles drive law and policy ("Thou shalt not murder" may be said to fall into any one of those categories). So you may be someone who has no problem with what the facts say are bad about murder or not paying taxes, as examples, and yet a majority of society has used religion/morals/ethics/natural law/common sense/[insert other driving principle here] to pass laws criminalizing murder and requiring the payment of taxes. So we can take facts and use them different ways from a policy perspective, and we get to those policy outcomes via religion/morals/ethics/natural law/common sense/[insert other driving principle here]. So a person may not care that the facts demonstrate a high likelihood of environmental and social upheaval due to the human contribution to climate change, but if policies are ultimately crafted to address those problems to the extent possible, then they certainly arose by the religious/moral/ethical/natural law/common sense/[insert other driving principle here] beliefs of the members of society taking action. So, science provides a range of factual probabilities, and religion (or other) tells us what we should do given those facts.

Posted by: Blake | Sep 18, 2013 11:19:06 AM

Thus confirming that this is religion and not science?

Posted by: anon | Sep 17, 2013 8:59:03 AM

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