Climate change and embracing complexity (with Dr. Nathan Howell)
What is climate change? How should climate issues shape the way we live–if at all? We’re back with environmental engineer Dr. Nathan Howell to explore this complex topic.
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- Listen to our previous episode with Dr. Nathan Howell, where we explore the broader topic of Christian environmental stewardship.
- For another deep dive into this complex topic, watch the Gospel Coalition’s Good Faith Debate, “How Should Christians Care About the Environment?”
- Below, find follow-up thoughts on climate change from Dr. Howell:
On climate change specifically, I wanted to offer a little more information to I hope help give some context on my opinions. One is that I think it helps to know the basics of climate change science as we understand outside of any particular policy concerns. People might feel that climate change is too complex to understand. I think this short report form the Royal Society and the National Academies is pretty good at summarizing the evidence for the existence of climate change and all of the common questions and objections that people raise. The short report is free to read. All of the questions about climate in the past, sun cycles, volcanoes, seeming irrelevance of CO2, etc. are addressed there.
These things answer the question, “Why are Christians sometimes skeptical about the existence of climate change?”
(1) Conflation of science and policy - There is a correct concern that acceding to the existence of human-caused climate change suddenly will force you to agree with all of the agenda of the Green Left. This would be to say that all uses of fossil fuels are bad, we need to turn over all aspects of energy policy to the federal government, we have to agree to ESG principals in publicly held companies, and we have to start taxing ourselves for carbon pollution. To me, all of these ideas are ways of possibly reducing carbon emissions. But Christians don’t have to agree with them all. One problem with the Green Left is that they do not fully consider the complexity of their solutions. If you make climate THE thing, then you can end up hurting many people through your policies. If climate becomes the focus rather than the people and their lives who depend on climate, it is easy to turn a blind eye to hardships you create on others. It is also easy to be paternalistic to those who disagree with you. “We know better as the climate elites. You should just do what we say.”
I really do think it is hard to deny the existence of man-made climate change in light of the evidence. I know that people talk about having doubts. They certainly can have them. It is not wrong to question the evidence. But I think that many doubt without actually looking at the evidence. Most science-based objections to the existence of human-caused climate change have been addressed pretty well I think as I hope you can see in the article I provided. Despite this, it is very important to separate agreeing that (a) climate change is happening vs. (b) what we should do about it. There is NOT a scientific consensus on what we should do about it despite what you might hear. One reason I think this is the case is that what to do about it is not simply a question of science. You have to bring in economics, policy, ethics, fairness, and theology in what “what we should do” question.
(2) The worldview behind climate - The other reason I find that Christians might be skeptical about climate change is that there is often a worldview clash that is unstated in climate advocates. They do often have a belief in secular materialism, do think that humans are a problem, or see the climate problem as “up to us”. In other words, they have little belief that God is involved in his world. So they put all this pressure on us to avoid catastrophe for our species. There is an alarmism that contradicts the quiet reliance we have on God as father. There can also be a pride that says that if we understand so much about climate change, then we have this technological power to mitigate it. I’m not sure that this is a foregone conclusion. To me it provides an opportunity for us as the church to acknowledge that we need to intercede in prayer for global environmental issues like climate change. The size of the problem may be something God allows for that very purpose. We really do not understand the entire global environmental system in every way (though we do know a lot), and may not be able to find a technological or techno-policy solution for it all. It may be that it is God’s will to allow many millions of people to suffer through climate change effects in order for a greater purpose.
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