Sometime this fall, HarperCollins’ imprint, HarperOne, will be releasing a “Green Bible,” in which all of the scriptural passages that speak to the Christian responsibility to care for creation will be printed in green letters. Also bound between the eco-friendly covers of this Bible will be several essays and a couple of poems by great Christian thinkers such as St. Francis, Desmond Tutu, and Wendell Berry.
Last week HarperOne interviewed me for a short video that will be used as part of its advance publicity for the Green Bible. During the interview I had to answer questions about the connection between faith and environmentalism, and for the most part, I think I gave responses worthy of my being the pastor of one of the most intentionally and publicly green Presbyterian congregations in the United States (and perhaps the world).
On one question, however, I think I stumbled: “why,” the interviewer asked, “should Christians care about global warming?” For an answer I sort of mumbled through what I hoped would make for a good sound byte, something about global warming being an issue in which care for the earth and care for humanity intersect. It’s not a bad answer, but my thoughts about global warming are a little more complex than the answer I gave.
What I know of the science is very basic: humans consume fossil fuels which emit carbon dioxide, which acts as a natural insulator in the earth’s atmosphere. When there is too much carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere it is as if the earth is wearing a wool cardigan on a hot day. Things on earth heat up. Polar ice melts. Low-lying population centers flood. Micronesia disappears. Hurricanes blow with greater force. Crops fail.
“Not so fast,” say a vocal minority of scientists. “Fluctuations in the earth’s climate are naturally occurring. They are caused by a host of factors, including volcanoes, changes in earth’s orbital path, and variations in the intensity of the sun’s heat. Humans,” it is argued, “have only a marginal impact on the earth’s temperature.”
When it comes to the science of global warming I am a spectator. I’ve a good enough education to know when I’m confused and when I don’t understand the issues well enough to articulate an argument one way or another. Ask me what John Calvin had to say about God’s creation and I’ll talk ‘til you wish you hadn’t inquired. Ask me for a well articulated opinion on the science of climate change and you’ll get the licked lips and shifting eyes of the under-informed.
I have played enough Yahtzee, however, to know what it looks like to roll the dice; the odds are in favor of being responsible stewards of creation. If we change our lifestyles and enact changes in public policy by heeding the warnings of those who blame the human consumption of fossil fuels for global warming and we find that later that the scientists were wrong—that we changed needlessly—nothing bad will have happened to us. We’ll be driving fewer SUV’s and we’ll be developing more technology to harness renewable energy sources. We may end up owning less stuff, living in smaller houses and in closer proximity to one another. We might even start eating more organic veggies and less meat. It may be an inconvenience for some of us, but all us will breathe cleaner air and most of us will be healthier and have more disposable income.
If, however, we disregard the warning of scientists and pundits who tell us that human consumption causes global warming and find out later that they were right all along, we’re screwed. I’m not willing to roll those dice. The risks are too high. I value the wellbeing of future generations way too much to risk the possibility that most of the world’s climate scientists are correct in blaming human consumption for global warming.
This is a lot like Pascal’s wager. Blaise Pascal was a seventeenth century French philosopher who suggested that it was reasonable for a person to accept Christianity because if a person embraced the Christian faith and, in the end, Christianity ended up being a farce, there was nothing lost. The misguided believer will have lived a moral life with no eternal reward. If, however, a person rejected Christianity and ended up making the wrong decision, the result could be eternal perdition.
We always can go back to our wanton consumption of fossil fuel after it has been proved beyond a reasonable doubt that humans aren’t causing global warming; but we may never be able to fix a broken earth.
Because the Bible calls Christians to care for the earth as its stewards—curators of God’s artistry—I cannot, in good faith, support any public policy or live any lifestyle that does not try to reduce greenhouse gasses. You don’t have to read the Bible to come to this conclusion; you just have to know when to roll the dice.