Texas has been burning. Memphis has flooded. Tuscaloosa has been cleaning up after a tornado with 190-mile-per-hour winds smashed through Alabama. Kentucky has been drying out from almost one foot more rain in April than normal. And evangelical preachers are in denial.
Well, at least one out of the five things listed above is normal: evangelical preachers being in denial. The other matters are outside what we encounter on a regular basis.
What is beyond denial is that the nation is experiencing extreme weather events.
Just a year ago, Nashville had 19 inches of rain in two days in what the Army Corps of Engineers called a 1,000-year flood. The next month Oklahoma City had “record-busting rainfall.” Arkansas experienced an 8-inch downpour that killed 20 campers.
In 2011, an estimated 95 percent of Texas faces a drought that Associated Press categorized as “severe or worse,” with one of the state’s driest Aprils on record.
During the same month, the nation had 305 tornadoes in a four-day period that killed more than 300 people. For the entire month, 875 tornadoes whipped across the land.
The Mississippi River crested in Memphis less than a foot below the record mark set in 1937. The Mississippi River has now had its second 500-year flood in less than 20 years – 1993 and 2011. View the NASA maps to see the extent of the flooding.
“April was a month of historic climate extremes across much of the United States, including: record-breaking precipitation that resulted in historic flooding; recurrent violent weather systems that broke records for tornado and severe weather outbreaks; and wildfire activity that scorched more than twice the area of any April this century,” reported the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
What explains these extreme weather events?
“I’m not suggesting these (floods) are caused by climate change, but there’s very clear scientific evidence that the risk of flooding on the Mississippi River is increasing because of human influence,” said Peter Gleick, president of the Pacific Institute.
Gleick, a climate scientist, said on Capitol Hill that there are two forms of human influence, including climate-warming greenhouse gas.
“[H]uman-caused climate change is exacerbating the extreme events we would normally experience – by making deluges more intense (because of the extra water vapor in the atmosphere) and by making droughts hotter,” wrote Joseph Romm, a climate blogger with a doctorate in physics from MIT.
At the same time that weather extremes are visible and scientists are warning about human-caused climate change, a new Southern Baptist poll finds that 68 percent of evangelical pastors “disagree strongly or somewhat that global warming is real and manmade.”
Why would evangelical pastors be in such denial?
One speculative answer is biblical literalism.
Several years ago, some Southern Baptists issued a statement that said, “We recognize that we do not have any special revelation to guide us about whether global warming is occurring and, if it is occurring, whether people are causing it.”
The phrase “special revelation” means a biblical proof text.
Put simply, they were saying that “since the Bible doesn’t speak about climate change and human beings causing global warming, they can’t definitively say if the Earth is heating up due to human-induced actions.”
Biblical literalism trumps science – for some.
A second speculative answer is an anti-science worldview that is rooted in biblical literalism.
One wonders what the correlation is between the 68 percent of evangelical pastors who deny climate change and those who deny evolution. What percentage of these pastors also thinks that creationism or intelligent design ought to be taught as science in public schools?
A third possible answer is their source of information.
If one of their sources of information is Southern Baptist Convention leaders, then one should not be surprised if evangelical pastors are in denial. The SBC fuels the rejection of climate science with leaders who defend big oil and make erroneous claims about global warming.
If these pastors trust Fox News, then one should not be surprised that they deny climate change. After all, Fox News has a record of slanting coverage of climate change.
While evangelical pastors may be in denial, Catholic leaders have taken a realistic and proactive direction.
The working group of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican issued a report on May 11 that acknowledges human-caused climate change and calls for action.
“We call on all people and nations to recognize the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants,” the statement began.
Catholic leaders said: “We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change… By acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life.”
Goodwill people of faith would do well to read the Vatican report, compare the pictures of glaciers and consider the recommendations.
Denial may be an aisle in evangelical churches. But denying climate change is morally irresponsible.
The biblical mandate is clear – human beings have a responsibility to protect the earth. That responsibility requires that we listen to and learn from scientists. That responsibility means that we need to act now in a changing climate.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.