Is the climate change debate over?

The debate is over. Kylie Beach informs us in Eternity, that apart from a few holdouts (10 per cent of Australians), we are all in the same boat – we are all agreed that we need to take immediate action to prevent climate change. She cites a survey from 2016 which showed that only 14 per cent of Christians thought no action should be taken – 48 per cent thought it should be taken even if costly and 38 per cent said we should be more gradual. The debate is over.

But is it really that simple? It all depends on what the debate actually is. Do human actions affect the environment in which we live (Genesis 3:17-18)?  No Christian would dispute that. Are we to be stewards of God’s creation (Genesis 1:27-28 and 2:15)? Again, no bible believing Christian (is there any other kind?) should deny that. We know that a time is coming when God will destroy those who destroy the earth (Revelation 11:18). But is that ‘the debate’?

It is sometimes framed in that way. If you don’t accept the current consensus of our culture re climate change, or the proposed measures to alleviate it, then the simple equation is made that you don’t care for the creation. Sadly, the article falls into this trap. ‘Climate change is about caring for the Creator’s creation’. Does that mean that if we don’t buy into all the current theories we don’t care? The trouble is that if you baptise a political position and turn it into doctrine you make heretics of all who don’t agree with you. This goes on all sides. There are those of a more conservative political disposition who question your Christianity if you don’t agree with their political positions; just as there are those of a more ‘progressive’ disposition who question your Christianity if you don’t share theirs. Now it appears that Green politics are the new religion.

The trouble is that once you declare ‘the debate is over’, you shut down debate, you breed intolerance, and you create division. Especially in today’s world, where to disagree with anyone on social media is to personally hurt them. If you don’t accept the debate is over – then you are either ignorant or just being stubborn. You are on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of politics, and you are on the wrong team. You are like the football player who stays on the field kicking the ball, when the referee has blown the whistle! But who has blown the whistle? When one team just announces ‘we have won, the game is over’ – it does not mean that it is the end of the game! One sure and certain way to shut down debate is to state it is over. But Christians should not lay claim to that level of omniscience!

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‘The Debate’ is not about whether we should care for the Creation – it is about just how much the temperature of the world is rising, or likely to rise? How much of it is created by humans *(this is a disputed figure – some argue that 97% of the CO2 in the atmosphere is not human-generated – the IPCC says that only 5% is human generated. Koonin states that it is estimated that there are 750-850 gigtons of carbon in the atmosphere (1.9 billion on land and sea) and that 29-30 million of that comes directly from human activity. All agree that the majority is not human generated but that the increase in the past 200 years almost certainly is – and that even small amounts can have significant effects).  What could we actually do to change things? Could the proposed ‘cure’ be worse than the illness?    There are many, many questions. Despite the article telling us that the time for asking questions is now over – and declaring that instead we should be standing with our fellow human beings.

It is precisely because I want to stand with my fellow human beings that I will ask questions. I don’t just faithfully accept whatever the current consensus of our society is. Of course, questioning must be questioning – not accusation or just seeking confirmation of our own bias – which far too many of us do. But being threatened with the charge of the heresy of “not caring” is not a good way to shut down the debate. What if it is BECAUSE we care for the Creator’s Creation, that we dare to question some of the suggestions that are being made?

The article itself is a great example of just why the debate is not over.

It is debatable whether we should either believe opinion polls or base our opinions on them. Since when was Christian doctrine determined by majority vote? Imagine Athanasius (contra mundum – against the world) being told “the vast majority are against you; the debate is over?” Or Luther being told, “here you stand, you can do other…. after all the majority is against you.” This isn’t how Christianity works!

It is debatable (to say the least) to argue that “the overwhelming majority have already looked at the evidence and reached a conclusion.” The vast majority of people have not looked at the evidence.  They have heard the soundbites, seen the images, been told in school and constantly have it ingrained into them, that the planet is dying because of us, and we can save it. For example, at COP26 a number of broadcasting organisations have signed up to a climate change charter – this is not to do with them reducing their own carbon footprint – but rather with them promising to produce only “news” stories which promote the climate change narrative.

The vast majority of people believe in the climate change narrative because they are told that the vast majority of people believe in the climate change narrative and ‘the debate is over’.

The whole scenario is an ‘emperor’s clothes’ moment. In the fable everyone is told that everyone else sees the ‘invisible’ glory of the emperor’s new clothes – and so everyone ‘sees’ because they are told everyone does. It’s only when a young child points out the obvious that their eyes are opened. The vast majority of people believe in the climate change narrative because they are told that the vast majority of people believe in the climate change narrative and ‘the debate is over’. I confess I was in this camp. Until I started to look at the evidence. Not the wacky conspiracy stuff (although another way to shut down debate is to claim that everything that disagrees with you is wacky conspiracy!), but people like Bjorn Lomborg, the Danish Environmentalist and author of “The Sceptical Environmentalist’, or Michael Schellenberger’s Apocalypse Never – an outstanding book from another Green activist which shows just how harmful the climate change hysteria is to us and to the planet. Schellenberger states in his latest essayNo global problem has ever been more exaggerated than climate change. As it has gone from being an obscure scientific question to a theme in popular culture, we’ve lost all sense of perspective.”

I would suggest that anyone thinking the debate is settled read Obama’s former science advisor, Steve Koonin’s “Unsettled” which at the very least will unsettle your conviction.

It is debatable that if we don’t buy into the climate change agenda we are ‘privileging contemporary Western economies above all else.” Whilst the poor will suffer most in some poor nations because of climate change, just as the poor suffer most from Covid; it is also the case that the poor will suffer even more from the measures put into place to combat climate change, just as they suffered most from the measures to prevent Covid.

Unless you are prepared to ask India, China, Indonesia, Brazil and Africa not to develop further – thereby leaving billions in poverty – the climate change measures taken by the rich Western nations, who have already developed and who can afford them, will be little more than meaningless ineffective gestures. They will however affect the poor in the Western nations enormously. Let me give one example.  You want to reduce the carbon footprint of flying – so do you ban flying? No, you just make it prohitively expensive so that ordinary people can’t fly. There was something deeply ironic about 400 private jets flying into Glasgow for the Cop26 conference (including Jeff Bezos with his $100 million private jet) to tell us all that we should be flying less! Each one of those jets emitted enough carbon to account for a whole year’s worth for 1800 ordinary Scot’s homes!

I agree that “If the impact of climate change is going to hurt people, then Christians are going to care.” But I would add that if the impact of climate change prevention measures is going to hurt people, then Christians are also going to care. Or should.

There are other debatable things in the article. To cite a website (skepticalscience.com) whose sole purpose is to attack scientists who are sceptical about climate change, as evidence that there is an almost total consensus, is a bit of a circular argument.  A bit like ‘proving’ that Donald Trump is the greatest US president by citing the Donald Trump website! Citing Proverbs 24:6 as a reason why we should just humbly accept the majority is a bit of a stretch of Scripture. The point about the ‘many advisors’ is not that they are all saying the same thing – but that we get different perspectives. We should read from different sides. At least balance the skepticalscience one with something like https://realclimatescience.com

Real science works by being challenged. It is falsifiable. If you only read one side, then of course the debate is over… although we seem to have now moved to a situation where if you question you will not be published or reviewed, or cited by the media. And if you dare to mention climate change YouTube will flag you and add a Wikipedia article to your video!

Humility does not mean that “we accept what the majority of climate scientists say”. Apart from the fact that most of us don’t know what the majority of climate scientists say, humility means that we admit the limits of our knowledge (including that of the majority of climate scientists – whose modelling has so often in the past proved to be wrong). Some of us are old enough to remember the “end of the world is nigh” reports from the UN and others in the 1970s and every decade since. All of which have proved wrong.

Humility means that we reject the notion that we can save the planet, whilst not rejecting the truth that we are responsible for caring for what we can.

Humility means that we reject the notion that we can save the planet, whilst not rejecting the truth that we are responsible for caring for what we can. The author Rebecca McLaughlin tweeted this week that her child came home from school having been taught a reworked version of an old Christian song. ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ has now become, “We’ve got the whole world in our hands”. Our children are simultaneously being taught that the world is ending (and therefore there is no point in having children), but that we can save it – if we do the right thing. They are also being taught that it is the fault of the evil capitalists, whilst at the same time being told to follow the agenda of the big capitalist corporations who are the most enthusiastic proponents of climate change action! Go figure!

Christians MUST care for the Creation. Those who argue that because God is sovereign therefore we need to do nothing are both inconsistent and unbiblical. Inconsistent because they don’t argue that about caring for their own body or homes! Unbiblical because the sovereign God has commanded us to care for the Creation. But we must not follow the ways of the world. I am not arguing that climate change is not real – the planet is getting warmer and human activity is a contributing factor – nor that we should do nothing.  I was “Green” and even voted green long before it was fashionable. But instead of joining a movement which sees politics, big government and the big corporations as the answer, I prefer to do what I can at the micro level as well as seek to influence the macro. I wonder if the 48 per cent who said that we should pay more to stop climate change were thinking of themselves? Are we prepared to go without in order to help – or, like so many in our society, do we think that there is a ‘they’ who will pay? So personally, and privately I seek to work out what I can do to save and care for the environment. At the macro level I cannot help but wonder why so many who claim to care about climate change are opposed to the most effective and carbon free form of energy – nuclear power? But I don’t claim divine sanction for that. The debate is not over.

However, where the debate is over is where God says so. He is the referee who comes on to the pitch, the judge who announces the verdict. I have recently been looking at Romans 8. It strikes me that the church is in danger of getting side-tracked on this issue. We need to refocus. Not to buy into the false dichotomies and divisions created by the ‘world’; not reading the scriptures through the lens of the culture, but rather reading the culture through the lens of scripture. We will then be those who worship the Creator and care for his creation – as he wished.  We will then have the hope of Christ, rather than the despair of Greta.

*This sentence was updated by the author. Editor’s note: the IPCC figure cited relates to inflow not concentration pof Carbon in the atmosphere.