Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.


Christians and Climate Change


Steven E. Meyer

02-20-2006


February 20, 2006


Last week, a group of 86 evangelical Christian leaders gathered in Washington to announce formation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative. After years of indecision and inaction, these leaders decided that environmental degradation causing, and caused by, climate change was real, that human activity played a strong role in climate change, and that the issue is a Christian responsibility. One of the spokesmen for the group, Rev. Joel Hunter, noted, "As Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of God's creation."

In fact, these evangelical leaders are just catching up with scientific reality and the weight of public opinion among the Christian rank and file. In an October 2004 poll, sponsored by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 55 percent of evangelical Christians polled agreed that much stronger action is needed to protect the environment. About 27 percent of the sample disagreed and 18 percent had no opinion. These numbers are broadly consistent with those from the public at large.

Sadly, a group of 22 dissenting Evangelicals, including representatives of Focus on the Family, Prison Fellowship Ministries, and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, opposed the Evangelical Climate Initiative. They argued, among other things, that "global warming is not a consensus issue" and that "the science is not settled" as to whether climate change is real and whether human activity plays an important role.

These contrasting positions and the Pew poll results are representative of how Christians have long seen the question of environmental responsibility, especially the issue of climate change. For years, Christians have been in three basic camps on this issue. First, there are those who have always seen environmental issues as a matter of Christian stewardship. For them, this is God's world and the admonition to subdue it is not a license to despoil it. For them, there is a spiritual obligation to protect God's creation. Second, there are those—reflected in the 18 percent of the poll who have no opinion—who seem apathetic. They see no particular calling to be concerned about the environment. Christianity for them is only about personal salvation; their focus is on heaven, not on our journey on earth. Finally, there are those who think environmentalism is part of a left-wing, anti-capitalist, pantheistic, almost un-American conspiracy. For them the science will never be settled; there will never be a consensus for action.

Despite the fact that there are still a few scientists who dissent, in fact, the overwhelming majority of credible, independent scientists agree that climate change is an established fact, that humans play an important role in it, and that it is having an increasingly serious impact on God's creation. A quick survey of the work of groups as diverse as the Scripps Institute and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (among many others) should convince even the most casual observer with an open mind. Climate change is a matter of science; it is not an ideological crusade and those who recognize the validity and seriousness of what's at stake are not all anti-business, anti-Christian leftists. Certainly, many business corporations have come to environmental responsibility grudgingly, but today many companies not only recognize that climate change is reality, but that environmentally friendly operations are good for the bottom line.

The science is clear and so should be our Christian responsibility to act. The Evangelical Climate Initiative is a good start. Now its supporters must follow through by engaging in the very hard work of shaping public policies and other appropriate responses that can help to reverse damaging activity.

—Steven E. Meyer, Professor of Political Science
    National Defense University
    (The views expressed here are those of the author alone.)


Note: The statement released by the Evanglical Climate Initiative is available on-line at http://www.christiansandclimate.org/statement.



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