[notice]The 17th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP17) is being held in Durban from November 28 to December 9. And to set the scene for this high profile international gathering, a multi faith rally and concert will be held at King’s Park Stadium on Sunday (November 27). Is the highly organised and outspoken international green movement science? Or is it closer to religion? Anglican theologian and author Dave Doveton examines some of the claims of the green movement against the light of scripture. His article was originally published in “Contact News and Commentary”[/notice]
In a few days the COP 17 conference on climate change opens in Durban, South Africa. Those who watch the local television station are reminded of this from time to time as spot advertisements remind us of our obligation to conserve our environment. Intrigued, I watched a news report recently in which a cameraman focused on Greenpeace protesters hanging from a large construction crane on the site of what will be one of South Africa’s newest coal-fired power stations, their green banners billowing in the breeze. Mingled with the ‘save the rhino’ banners in local pre-conference gatherings are ‘save the planet’ ones, indicating that there is a subtle change in the message of the green lobby – from a worthy conservation message to a much more ominous and threatening demand. Hearing a purple shirted bishop warn us that our grandchildren would inherit a desert, I wondered what scientific basis he had for predicting the desertification of the planet. The shrill and hysterical demonstrations outside climate conferences, calling for the abolition of fossil fuels and a ‘carbon neutral’ planet, imply that carbon is a poison, whereas every sane person knows it is a building block of life. Pronouncements like this betray an increasing degree of irrationality and intolerance within the environmentalist movement.
Through all this one detects the growing promotion not only of the (uncontested) idea that the climate is changing, but that catastrophic climate change is about to occur and if human beings don’t act we face an apocalyptic future. No serious scientist doubts that the earth’s climate changes, but the highly contested area is precisely how it is changing, and the natural processes driving that change, together with the impact that human activity has on these processes. Even the representatives of the South African government seem to have swallowed the alarmists’ propaganda that the climate is changing due to human activity. Not so, say more than 31 000 scientists who to date have signed a petition stating, “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate…” These scientists include over 9000 PhD’s including climatologists, earth scientists, atmospheric scientists and environmental scientists.
Alarmists also reinforce their rhetoric by speaking of ‘consensus’ among scientists. Anyone who does so does not understand the working of science. Even if there were a consensus among scientists (which there is not) , that would not ‘prove’ the theory of anthropogenic global warming. If science rested on consensus we would never have moved past Ptolemy’s theory that the sun orbits the earth.
Climate of fear
As a result of this promotion of apocalyptic forecasting, one notices the development of a climate of fear. Of course the green movement has undoubtedly found that successfully convincing people that they should be very afraid can result in very large amounts of money being collected for their cause, but is this the only source of fear? From whence does the spreading terror originate?
Prophets of environmental doom are of course nothing new. The environmentalist movement of today has its roots in the eco-alarm movements of the last 40 years. In his book “Eco-Scam: The false prophets of ecological collapse” Ronald Bailey catalogues several leaders and movements, quite respected in their day, who on the grounds of much research and theorising, predicted imminent catastrophic environmental disasters. In 1969 Paul Ehrlich warned that all the planets oceans would die of DDT poisoning within 10 years, crops would fail due to pollution blocking sunlight, smog would suffocate 200 000 residents of New York and Los Angeles by 1983. Then there was the Club of Rome who in 1968, using complex computer models, foresaw the imminent collapse of civilization due to the depletion of natural resources.
Bailey sagely observes that the visions of Ehrlich and others ‘of a poisoned, overpopulated, resource depleted world spiraling down to environmental collapse are today’s conventional wisdom’. Powerful cultural elites with the aid of Hollywood and other media moguls have spread a gospel of coming global catastrophe; one only has to recall Al Gore’s film portrayal of boiling rising seas, melting icecaps (now proven to be at best misleading, exaggerated and factually incorrect, at worst a farrago of nonsense) to get the picture.
Environmentalism or the ‘green movement’ is undoubtedly growing in global influence, but are its doctrines teaching environmental doom compatible with Christian belief?
One of the most specific passages in the bible regarding the fear of environmental collapse is found in Jeremiah 5:21-25. The reason given for this fear of environmental catastrophe is “the lack of a fear of God!”. The sovereignty of God over his creation is everywhere taught in scripture – Psalm 107 asserts God’s lordship over creation and natural phenomena such as drought and crop failure the result of the ‘wickedness of the lands inhabitants’. Haggai agrees that drought and barrenness are the result of rebelliousness and selfishness, while the story of Noah implies the rising sea levels were a direct judgement of God on a wicked world. The only references in apocalyptic literature all refer to environmental catastrophes in the same way. Jesus himself reaffirmed God’s lordship over creation when he calmed the Sea of Galilee.
Loving, benevolent Creator
While there may be regional environmental disasters envisaged in scripture, there is never the view that this is something built into the creation as a whole. Scripture affirms a creation that is bounded, that is not capricious and geared towards attacks on human well-being, because it is the work of a benevolent loving God. This Creator has designed a stable, robust, self-regulating climate system with a cycle of seasons that are ultimately dependable and geared towards stability. After the flood, the Lord guarantees; “while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Genesis 8: 22) In addition there is an unconditional promise that there will never again be a ‘flood to destroy the earth’, i.e. a world-wide cataclysm produced by rapid rise of sea level. Note that this does not obviate progressive and slow rises or falls in sea level. Nor does it mean there will not be periods of more severe cold, or heat or cyclones or rainfall, or drought.
Is nature a capricious and vengeful force which must be manipulated and appeased, an idea common in paganism: or is it in the hands of a sovereign creator God ? I am afraid that the green doctrine is moving closer to a pagan worldview and Christians should beware of being co-opted by the radical environmentalists, gullibly repeating their mantras. Because much environmentalism has an increasingly pagan basis, its agenda reaches far beyond keeping our flora and fauna, careful exploitation of our water resources and sensitive developmental policies. Reflecting on the recent history of this global movement Cal Beisner observes, “Because environmentalism is inherently totalitarian, demanding to control every aspect of life, it aims to take control of our entire political and legal structure, and indeed has already advanced far in that direction…” [Quoted by Timothy Terrell, “The Cost of Good Intentions: The Ethics and Economics of the War on Conventional Energy” p27.]
We may already indeed have sacrificed far more than we imagine to the Green gods.