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Victor Stenger

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Global Warming and Religion

Posted: 05/19/11 09:24 AM ET

In a recent post The Folly of Faith I mentioned that a connection exists between global warming denialism and religion. Here I would like to provide more justification for this claim.

Evidence exists that many who deny the dangers of global warming do so out of religious conviction. A Pew survey asked the following question: "Is there solid evidence the earth is warming?" Let me just give the percentages who said yes and agreed that it is the result of human activity:

Total U.S. population 47 %; Unaffiliated with any church 58 %; White mainline Protestants 48 %; White, non-Hispanic Catholics 44 %; Black Protestants 39 %; White evangelical Protestants 34 %.

Also interesting was the result that 21 percent of all Americans, 18 percent of the unaffiliated, and 31 percent of white evangelicals said there was no global warming at all. While mainline Protestants and Catholics are close to the national average, they still are below that of the unaffiliated. Surely the fact that 58 percent of the unaffiliated support the scientific consensus while less than 50 percent of believers do is evidence for a correlation between religion and global warming denialism.

The role of religion in global warming denialism can be seen in the political battles over the teaching of evolution. In 2010 the Kentucky Legislature introduced a bill encouraging teachers to discuss "the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories," including "evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning." A similar bill was passed in Louisiana in 2008 and in 2009 the Texas Board of Education required that teachers present all sides of the evidence on evolution and global warming (Leslie Kaufman, "Darwin Foes Add Warming to Targets," New York Times, March 3, 2010).

Demanding equal time for opposing views on evolution and global warming is like demanding equal time for phlogiston and flat-Earth theories.

Those for whom the Bible is the literal world of God take seriously the last book of the New Testament, Revelation, which describes the end of times. What's more, the Jesus of the Gospels predicted that the Son of Man would return in a generation to set up the Kingdom of God on Earth (Matt 16:28; Matt 24:34; Mark 9:1; Mark 13.30; Luke 9:27). Of course he didn't, but for two thousand years Christians have always thought the end was right around the corner. Why worry about global warming if the kingdom of God is at hand?

If you read this after 6 p.m. Saturday, May 21 you know that the latest prediction of Jesus' coming has failed.

John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. He has argued that climate change is a myth because God told Noah he would never again destroy Earth by flood (Gen 8:21-22). He is seen on a video as saying, "The earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This earth will not be destroyed by a flood. . . . I do believe God's word is infallible, unchanging, perfect."

In 2009 Representative "Smokey Joe" Barton (Republican from Texas) told C-Span:

I would also point out that CO2, carbon dioxide, is not a pollutant in any normal definition of the term . . . I am creating it as I talk to you. It's in your Coca-Cola, your Dr. Pepper, your Perrier water. It is necessary for human life. It is odorless, colorless, tasteless, does not cause cancer, does not cause asthma.


A lot of the CO2 that is created in the United States is naturally created. You can't regulate God. Not even the Democratic majority in the US Congress can regulate God.

If you think greenhouse gases are bad, life couldn't exist without greenhouse gases. . . . So, there is a, there is a climate theory--and it's a theory, it's not a fact, it's never been proven--that increasing concentrations of CO2 in the upper atmosphere somehow interact to trap more heat than the atmosphere would otherwise.

Personally, I can't see how in a pumping back into the atmosphere in a century or two carbon that took millions of years to accumulate in Earth can be harmless.

Perhaps the most vocal denier of global warming is Republican Senator James Inhofe. In a speech on the Senate floor on July 28, 2003 he called catastrophic global warming "a hoax." He referred to "satellite data, confirmed by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) balloon data, confirms that no meaningful warming has occurred over the last century." This is false. The satellite data in fact corroborated the warming trend reported from surface measurements.

Inhofe is one of the most conservative members of the Senate and, characteristically, also promotes evangelical causes. He has used government funds to travel at last twenty times to Africa on missions that he himself has referred to publically as "Jesus things." There he has "played an active role in the faith-based aspect of our anti-AIDS campaign," according to a Ugandan diplomat.

The Cornwall Alliance for The Stewardship of Creation has issued what it calls "An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming." Here's what it says"

WHAT WE BELIEVE


1. We believe Earth and its ecosystems--created by God's intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence --are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth's climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.
2. We believe abundant, affordable energy is indispensable to human flourishing, particularly to societies which are rising out of abject poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that accompany it. With present technologies, fossil and nuclear fuels are indispensable if energy is to be abundant and affordable.
3. We believe mandatory reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, achievable mainly by greatly reduced use of fossil fuels, will greatly increase the price of energy and harm economies.
4. We believe such policies will harm the poor more than others because the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on energy and desperately need economic growth to rise out of poverty and overcome its miseries.

WHAT WE DENY

1. We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth's climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.
2. We deny that alternative, renewable fuels can, with present or near-term technology, replace fossil and nuclear fuels, either wholly or in significant part, to provide the abundant, affordable energy necessary to sustain prosperous economies or overcome poverty.
3. We deny that carbon dioxide--essential to all plant growth--is a pollutant. Reducing greenhouse gases cannot achieve significant reductions in future global temperatures, and the costs of the policies would far exceed the benefits.
4. We deny that such policies, which amount to a regressive tax, comply with the Biblical requirement of protecting the poor from harm and oppression.

However, it must be said that many believers, including some prominent evangelical Christians, see their "stewardship" of Earth, ordained by God, as requiring that they pay attention to the warnings of climate scientists. In 2006 some eighty-six evangelical leaders signed a statement saying, "Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors." The list included Rick Warren, author of the blockbuster bestseller The Purpose-Driven Life. However, other leaders including Watergate felon Charles Colson, founder of the Prison Fellowship Ministries, and James C. Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, objected to the move (Laurie Goodstein, "Evangelical Leaders Join Global Warming Initiative," New York Times, February 8, 2006).

The Rev. Jim Ball, senior director for climate programs at the Evangelical Environmental Network that accepts the science of global warming, as saying that many of global warming deniers feel that "scientists are attacking their faith and calling them idiots so they are likely to be skeptical" about global warming (as quoted by Goodstein).

Nevertheless, as we saw above, two-thirds of white evangelicals do not believe in anthropogenic global warming (AGW).

The Catholic Church is becoming increasingly green. In 2007 Pope Benedict told a Vatican conference on climate change to "respect creation" while "focusing on the needs of sustainable development" (John Vidal, and Tom Kington, "Protect God's Creation: Vatican Issues New Green Message for World's Catholics," The Guardian, April 27, 2007) Still, over 50 percent of white, non-Hispanic Catholics do not believe in AGW.

Corporate greed is the primary motivation for global warming denial. However, the antiscientific attitudes of the Christian right are being exploited to prevent the government of the United States from taking actions that might be essential for everyone's welfare, including the grandchildren of those industrialists, preachers, politicians, and scientists who now so vehemently oppose any action.