Can Christians accept the science of human-induced global warming?

Answer by: Rev John Buchanan

Climate science, a brief summary:                                                                                                  

1. In 1859 CO2 was discovered to be a greenhouse gas warming the earth.

2. There has been an unprecedented rapid rise in CO2 levels, particularly since 1950 (then 320 now 420 ppm).                                                                               

3. Matching that rapid rise in CO2 levels is an equally unprecedented rise in the earth’s temperature (1950: 13.98, by 2010: 14.89)[1]                    

4. An increase in temperature means an increase in climate energy which results in an increase in the intensity of weather events like droughts, storms and floods.

The science indicates that BOTH the rate of increase in CO2 and temperature is unique and the only variable that explains the phenomena is the increase in carbon isotope C12. Carbon isotope C12 is produced by burning fossil fuels and that is the carbon which is increasing in our atmosphere.The science is NOT saying that the world is warmer than it ever has been or that CO2 levels are higher than they ever have been. It is not saying cold records will not be broken. Climate science looks at the big picture and the evidence is that every decade since 1950 is warmer than the previous one, that for every cold record that is broken 2 heat records are broken. And that weather events are increasing in intensity.

I have good reasons to accept the science of human-induced global warming without being drawn into the deep green theology of Arne Ness, and the far-left ideology of Cancel Culture or the Australian Greens. And a considered Christian ‘green’ position can also avoid the excessive claims of Greta Thunburg and Tim Flannery.

At the same time, I have good reasons to reject both the criticisms of the science deniers and the plethora of alternative and contradictory explanations they offer.

So, can Christians accept the science of human-induced global warming? What guidance does the Bible give?

Genesis chapter 1 is particularly relevant and reveals:     

First, all creation is good and its goodness is not derived from our human perception, it was given by God. 

Second, creation is separate from God but dependent on God. In this sense, creation is sacred, but not divine.

Third, the earth was given to us to rule, manage and steward in God’s name (Genesis 2).

Psalm 115:16 says that the heavens belong to the Lord, but the Earth was given to humanity. The Earth is the place where we live. It’s also the place that other creatures share. Psalm 104 reveals how God cares for all he has created. Yet the Bible is also clear that humans have a unique role on the earth. So, what is it about human beings that makes us unique?

Genesis 1: 26 – 27 indicates that only humans were made in the image of God. And the passage is clear: the way we are in God’s image is that we are rules. As God rules the universe and all things so we are commissioned to rule over his earth. Our dominion is all around us. We do control and manipulate our environment; we are trying to mould it for our pleasure. Surely, we move through the created world in a god-like way.

But what does it mean for us to rule, to have dominion and kingship over the earth?

We are to exercise servant kingship

When you look at kingship in the Old Testament, particularly Deuteronomy 17 and Psalm 72, the kings of Israel were meant to serve the people. Most of them didn’t, they became just like pagan kings, but remember what the elders said to king Rehoboam. They said (1 Kgs. 12:7): ‘If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.’ The King of Israel was to serve his people, care for their needs and provide justice and protection. Human dominion does not mean exploitation.

In this, we have a guide. Jesus the servant king showed us how we’re meant to rule. And Jesus is the model, he served the people, caring for their needs, demanding justice and offering protection. He exercises his kingship through loving generosity, that’s the Christ-like pattern for the way in which we’re to exercise our leadership. It is a servant leadership model. As Paul wrote: ‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but make himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant. To rule over the earth in a way that reflects God’s character, then, demands of us service and humility, not exploitation and selfishness.

The issue is that our best plans to astray. Much of what we try doesn’t work and much of what we do is positively harmful. This is the result of sin, our rebellion against God. We’re now incompetent rulers.

But what caused our sin and why are we such incompetent rulers?

Genesis 3 highlights that we, humans, have become the sole auditors of right and wrong, good and evil. And because of our rebellion, God cursed the earth with thistles and thorns. We humans have then added to the problem for we have introduced plants and animals into the wrong environment with disastrous consequences – in Australia it’s prickly pear, box thorn, crown of thorns starfish, cane toads, rabbits, horses, camels – the list goes on and on.

What are the implications?

If all life is good and if all life, seen together, is very good then it would be sinful for humans to destroy a particular species. If the birds of the air and the fish of the sea were commanded to multiply and fill the earth then in as much as we humans prevent that from occurring, we sin.

Hosea 4:1 – 3 and Isaiah 24:4 also indicate that human sin has a negative effect on the earth. And, when it comes to climate, humanity spews 34 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere every year. We cannot pollute with impunity – there are consequences and now we see them across the world.

In the developed world our emissions of carbon dioxide are on average 5 times larger per person that in the developing world. And Australia’s are among the worst polluters at 3 times higher than the average Chinese and 10 times more than the average Indian.  Do we have some inalienable right to pollute at a higher rate than others? I think not. Rather to whom much is given much more will be demanded. We must work harder and more urgently to reduce our emissions. We must also assist developing countries to develop carbon-free energy.

Only someone who is wilfully blind could ignore the depressing list of the destruction of creation: pollution; the extinction of species; the loss of soil; the depletion of ozone, deforestation, over-fishing, plastic waste, toxic waste and climate change. All these things are there! If we but open our eyes we will see a suffering Earth, we must ask how does God respond to this abuse of his creation? If God cares about his creation to the extent of knowing when a sparrow falls to the Earth surely we too should care for his creation?

Our care for creation should flow from love for the Creator and obedience to his command. ‘The first and greatest commandment in the laws,’ says Jesus, ‘is love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your strength.’ In our human experience, we know that to love somebody is to care for what belongs to them, and if we believe that the Earth belongs to Christ who made it, to take care of the Earth for Christ’s sake is surely part of our calling to love God.

Environmental action also gives us an opportunity to defend the weak against the strong, the defenceless against the powerful, the violated against the attacker, the voiceless against the stridency of the greedy. Those are what characterise the justice of God.

So perhaps it’s not surprising when you read the Proverbs the righteous person is not only one who (Prov. 29) ‘cares about justice for the poor’, but he also in Proverbs 12 ‘cares for the needs of his animal.‘ Biblical mission is as holistic as biblical righteousness; not just because it cares for the needs of whole people, but it cares for the whole of God’s creation, because God’s ultimate purpose is the redemption of his whole creation not just the people in it.

I finish with the words of Calvin DeWitt: President of the Academy of Evangelical Scientists and Ethicists.

If our governing ethic was “the Earth is the Lord’s and all that it contains,” if we resolved to bless and keep the creation as the Creator blesses and keeps us, if we would affirm through our actions the long-standing belief that avarice and greed are vices — then this crisis would not be upon us.

If you stick with the science of the IPCC you can avoid the excesses of green ideology and the political right’s denial of the science.

But can’t we use all the resources that God has given us?

The answer is that we can use most with care, but there some (we have learned to our detriment) we should not use – lead, mercury, asbestos and perhaps too much fossil fuels.

But isn’t the world robust enough to ensure that we humans could not destroy it.

After all the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere remains incredibly small (420ppm)?

Astrophysics has shown that our universe is extraordinarily finely tuned (if one of the 4 primary forces was changed by as little as 1 x 10-60 our world would not exit). Our bodies are also finely tuned, we can get sick or even die from a virus 1000 times smaller than a bed mite. Speaking from experience a faulty DNA sequence at conception can result in a cancer developing later in life.

Now we’re discovering that God has also finely tuned the earth. We know that humans can cause environmental disasters: consider the manmade collapse of the environment at Easter Island, the Samarian deforestation in 2100 BC that produced a desert. And Peru’s desert was caused by the Nazca people. These places never recovered. If this can happen on a small scale by a few people using primitive equipment, why not on a large scale caused by many people using advanced technology?

Since the development and popularity of consumerism (the greedy stepchild of capitalism) around the end of WW2 the amount of carbon being released into the air has increasingly exceeded the ability that the planet is able to reabsorb. But the clincher in this argument is from Revelation for the Bible says God will destroy the destroyers of the earth” 11: 18. In other words the Bible says, we are capable of destroying God’s world.

Finally, we Christians should be concerned for the truth, so let me give you some examples of how the deniers manipulate information to the point of even fooling Wayne Grudem[2].

  1. It’s not difficult to discover that the so-called ‘climate-gate scandal’ was a cherry-picking exercise where a paragraph was edited to skew the intentions of the author. The offending word ‘trick’ is used today to reflect an in-house shortcut – we call it a ‘trick of the trade’. The trick, in this case, was not to rely on tree rings for dating (as they are inaccurate) but to rely on sponges and corals to confirm weather patterns of the past.
  2. Dr Ball’s paper did not discredit Michael Mann’s hockey stick graph. Dr Mann had won a suit against the Frontier Foundation for publishing Ball’s false accusation. As a result, the Frontier Foundation apologized for publishing Ball’s “untrue and disparaging” comments. Mann proceeded to sue Ball but the suit was dropped because Ball’s attorneys said that Ball was old and ill, plus “no one actually believed what Ball said anyway.” The judgement did not find in Ball’s favour. In fact, the judge specifically said, “I do not intend to address those differences (the dispute between Ball’s denialism and Mann’s science)”.[3]
  3. The science deniers challenge the consensus ‘that 97% of scientists agree that humans have caused global warming by burning fossil fuels.’ In fact, it was four separate articles that independently came up with the 97% consensus view. This consensus is confirmed by the fact that 80 national academies of science all affirm a belief in human-induced global warming.

Recommended further reading from a Christian perspective.

D J Moo & J A Moo (2018) Creation Care: A Biblical theology of the nature world. Zondervan Grand Rapids

R S White Ed. (2009) Creation in Crisis: Christian perspectives on sustainability. SPCK The Faraday Institute Cambridge.

R S White (2014) Who is to blame? Monarch Oxford

Lionel Windsor (2018) Is God Green? Matthias Press 

Kategoria issues 4, 6 & 14 Matthias Media Kingsford


[1] The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature analysis (BEST) was established by Berkeley University and funded by science deniers to challenge the results of NASA, NOAA, and the METs of England and Japan who, using independent measuring stations, all said that over 60 years the earth’s temperature had risen by .9 C. A denier scientist Prof Richard Muller was appointed to head up the research. BEST gathered every official temperature measurement for a 60 year period to 2010 – all 1.6 BILLION. And the result was that the world had warmed by .91C. Richard Muller now accepts the climate science consensus. skeptics-guide-to-climate-change.pdf (berkeleyearth.org)

[2] See Grudem W (2010) Politics and the Bible Chapter 10 Environment pp 320 – 386. If you wish me to dismantle any of his claims just ask.

[3] The original court documents and source for the quotes can be found as PDF documents at http://climatecasechart.com/non-us-case/michael-mann-v-timothy-tim-ball-the-frontier-centre-for-public-policy-inc-and-john-doe/

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