Is climate skepticism doubt, denial or opposition?
Classic “Cartesian Doubt” questions uncertainties but not as an end in itself. Descartes questioned to establish reality. Those who only seek evidence to support their view are opponents or denialists.
There are a number of places in the Gospels that record Jesus’ response to doubt and opposition, and these can guide our response to climate skepticism.
The Sadducees had a high view of the Temple and written Scripture. In the encounter over marriage at the resurrection, recorded in Mark 12:18-27, Jesus uses evidence they supported (written Scripture) to challenge their unbelief in the resurrection.
Many climate skeptics are more concerned about politics and economics than science. Proposing positive economic strategies may meet their real concerns and enable them to face the reality of climate change.
The Pharisees were keen to deepen faith among the people and had a high view of Sabbath.
In an encounter with John’s disciples, Jesus takes the image of new wine for new wine skins to explain his approach to discipleship (Matthew 9:14:16).
Some Pharisees were willing to weigh the evidence and reconsider their worldview.
The most famous was Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). Jesus took time to explain the evidence to him and its implications.
Many people are most concerned about praxis and the seeming impossibility of changing from our fossil fuel-based culture. Providing positive “new wine skins” may free people to see the future more imaginatively.
Local leadership for change at the grass-roots level is as important as change led by national leaders.
One classic “doubt” passage is Thomas in the upper room who was uncertain of the resurrection (John 20:24-29). Jesus respected Thomas’ doubts and provided the evidence he needed.
The patience and willingness of Jesus to meet Thomas is an encouragement to continue to explain the evidence for climate change to those who doubt.
An earlier passage that is subtler on doubt is the encounter between Mary and Angel Gabriel at the annunciation (Luke 1:26-38).
Mary doubted because it was outside her reality. Gabriel understood her concerns and gave her further evidence (Elizabeth’s pregnancy).
Mary believed Gabriel because she recognized his knowledge and authority.
Some might feel that a whole heavenly host (in white coats) has explained climate change and its implications!
We need to urge those who are skeptical to respect the 97 percent of climate scientists who provide well-founded evidence for anthropogenic global warming.
Nehemiah offers an example of leadership for change in the face of skepticism.
This book was written to encourage those who were facing opposition, to understand their opponent’s strategies and stand firm. It provides helpful insights for leadership in the face of opposition.
The word “reproach” (Nehemiah 1:3 and 2:17) describes Jerusalem, the builders (4:4) and the discrediting of Nehemiah (6:13), but should be applied to those leaders who have left Jerusalem in ruins (Ezra 4-6).
Reproach runs through the climate change debate. Our Earth is in a shameful state and the impact of misrepresentations, such as “Climategate,” shifts the disgrace onto climate science and undermines it.
The real reproach lies with commercial and political forces that have caused such degradation. The Bible has principles of limits, but we have not respected these.
At the heart of Nehemiah is the story of a people returning to God and rediscovering a spiritual and ethical basis for living.
World leaders, scientists, policymakers and the public should respond to climate change with repentance. We need a transformation of our attitude toward the world, people and resources.
World leaders gave powerful speeches at the New York September 2014 U.N. Climate Summit. These need to be translated into action.
There is a laudable growth in renewable technology in countries such as Germany but these technologies need to go wider.
Part of the difficulty is the unwillingness to consider whether our present culture and economic system are unsustainable and need to undergo change.
Providing a positive economic model for renewable technology is helpful, and the 2014 New Climate Economy Report by Lord Stern is welcome.
Some believe that we also need a spiritual transformation to be able to make the fundamental changes required.
Psalm 24 states, “the Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” and Genesis 1-2 emphasizes that humans have been given leadership for God’s creation. We have a missional responsibility to respond to climate change.
Given that the scientific evidence is overwhelming, it is time to move on from contesting the science to planning what we do about it.
The future of humanity, especially the poorest in the world, depends on our response, as does the future of many other species.
Lastly, we should recognize the importance of prayer. We should not underestimate the need to ask for God’s help as we meet the most serious challenge that humanity has yet faced.
Martin J. Hodson is a plant scientist and operations manager for the John Ray Initiative. He has more than 90 research publications and speaks widely on environmental issues. Margot R. Hodson is an environmental theologian and an Anglican pastor of four churches near Oxford in the United Kingdom. The Hodsons have jointly taught environmental ethics at Oxford Brookes University and are authors of several publications in this area, which can be found through their website. You can follow Martin on Twitter @MartinHodson1 and Margot @MargotHodson.
Editor’s note: This article is an adaptation of the more detailed Grove booklet “The Ethics of Climatic Scepticism” E177 by Martin J. Hodson and Margot R. Hodson. It is available in PDF format at Grove Books and is used with permission. It is the second of a two-part series. Part one is available here.