Does it matter what I believe about anthropogenic global warming (AGW)?

We’ll look at this question from a number of perspectives: the Christian, the scientist, and the entrepreneur.


If you are a Christian, what you believe about anthropogenic global warming (AGW: i.e., are humans causing global warming?) probably does not really impact your Christian faith as much as, say, what you believe about the inspiration of the Bible, or the Creation-evolution debate, for example. But it is still a very important question for the Christian today.

If you believe more in evolution than Creation (acknowledging, of course, that there are many positions along a continuum), then this poses several challenges for Christian faith. For example, the doctrines of the original sin, nature of man, death, and salvation from sin are all affected.

But if you believe man is or isn’t significantly impacting on global climate, then your position need not challenge your faith or belief in any biblical doctrine. It may (but need not) suggest that your beliefs may lie at a different point along a continuum between emphasising natural or human cause and effect versus supernatural intervention. For example, are major catastrophes acts of God, natural events, or the results of human actions? Most Christians would argue that all these options are possible in certain circumstances. The disagreement would be over specific examples and a matter of degrees.

Some people suggest that the idea of global warming is incompatible with a biblical worldview because the Bible promises that:

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” (Gen 8:22)

Such a conclusion is unwarranted, because it forces a needless choice between false options. The false options are: no human impact, on the one hand, and on the other: catastrophic human impact to the point of completely revolutionising the natural order of seasons and so on. Nobody is proposing that man has successfully overturned the seasons – or that we will any time soon. Not even the most alarmist proponents of AGW would see a conflict here. The argument simply does not hold any weight.

While one’s view on AGW need not threaten one’s own faith, there are real impacts on others, and eventually oneself, that are very important. This is in contrast to one’s belief about origins, where one’s view of origins has strong implications for theology but the link to one’s day-to-day life choices is less obvious. There may be multiple indirect impacts that extend throughout life, but the point here is that nobody can blame my belief in Creation or evolution directly for my making the world a better or worse place. But it would be more reasonable to highlight my beliefs concerning AGW in evaluating actions that have a significant potential impact on the lives of others.

You see, one’s belief or otherwise in AGW can make a very significant impact on the lives of billions of people. Let me explain. If I believe in AGW, presumably I will make reasonable efforts to curtail the emissions within my sphere of control. If you vote, your sphere of control is very large, even though your vote may only be one of, say, millions.

This is simply the logical outworking of the biblical Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” According to the scientific consensus on AGW, uncurtailed greenhouse gas emissions necessarily threaten the livelihoods and even lives of millions of people today and in future generations, through sea level rise, extreme weather, species extinction, crop failure, etc.

If you do not believe in AGW, presumably you will not make any effort to restrict emissions, and you will probably not encourage others to do so either. The point of the Golden Rule is actions more than beliefs. However, beliefs are a strong predictor of actions. And verbalising your beliefs on AGW also makes a difference to your and others’ actions.

If AGW is truly a significant reality, it makes sense for Christians to be aware of it, and to do their part in protecting the planet. The Bible indicates God gave humanity the role of stewardship in caring for the Earth (Genesis 1:28), notwithstanding the promise that God will recreate a perfect world in the end (Revelation 21:1-4). Given that we don’t know how long away that restoration is, it only makes sense to protect what we have in the meantime.

Christians casting doubt on the scientific consensus on AGW serves only to weaken the appeal of Christianity – making belief in the Bible seem at odds with reality.

I believe it is strongly in the interests of Christians to accept the scientific consensus on AGW – not as required ideology, but as a reasonable engagement in public life on a matter of global consequence, while continually following the Biblical advice to “Test all things. Hold fast what is good.” (1 Thess 5:21)


In scientific circles, it doesn’t really matter what you believe – only that you have reliable evidence and sound reasoning to come to a defensible conclusion. If you don’t believe AGW, you’ll be in the minority, but you’ll win great acclaim if you can overturn the established consensus by somehow exposing flaw(s) in the current scientific consensus of AGW.

If you express doubt concerning AGW but cannot substantiate your opinion – or use outdated, debunked myths as the basis for your objections – then you will probably gain notoriety for being on the wrong side of the evidence.

If you can find someone to fund your contrarian views, you can still forge a career. There are potential sources of funding – e.g., free-market think-tanks and fossil fuel interests.

There is a lot of grant money going to fund researchers trying to better understand AGW and its impacts. While it may be harder to find funding from mainstream sources for contrarian research, this is probably more a function of the low reliability and validity of contrarian conclusions to date rather than a mass conspiracy.

However, if someone did manage to successfully overturn the established understanding of AGW, presumably funding for climate science in general would diminish. This is assuming that under such a new state of affairs there would be realisation that there would be no policy implications arising out of such revised climate science, where human activity would be irrelevant to global climate.


An entrepreneur can make money regardless of his or her own belief on AGW. What would make more difference to the ability to generate income is the prevailing beliefs and policies concerning greenhouse emissions.

For example, any price on emissions would increase costs in the energy sector. This may drive business to other markets. Some businesses and/or industries would become less profitable, while others (such as renewable energy) would benefit.

It makes sense for those with a vested interest in fossil fuels to oppose action on AGW, and to disseminate doubt, regardless of the personal beliefs of company directors. However, actions and interests tend to end up driving, and thus correlating with, beliefs, even if there was once a disconnect.

It also makes sense for those with a vested interest in renewable energy to express alarmism. The truth is usually not as simple as black or white. In the case of AGW, my observation is that those manufacturing doubt have been far more vocal and successful at influencing opinion and policy than those manufacturing alarmism. They have been so successful that their version of reality comes across in mainstream media as though it were clear cut reality.

How can you know what is the truth regarding AGW? That will be the topic of another post.

Who’s to blame for greenhouse gas emissions: China or the States?

China now emits more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each year from human activities than any other country. It overtook the United States in 2006 or 2007.

Many argue that until China does something to significantly address its emissions there is little point in other countries doing anything.

There are some challenges with this way of thinking, however. For example, it is easy for everyone to find a statistical reason to absolve themselves of responsibility, based on boundary definitions.

China may argue that the boundaries should be drawn at OECD / non-OECD countries. As OECD countries still emit more CO2 than non-OECD countries, there is a legitimate argument that the focus should be on OECD countries.

A more absurd boundary definition could be gender-based: males are responsible for far more emissions than females, so females need not bother about their emissions.

Or perhaps the focus could be on the type of activity, absolving land-use changes of their responsibility – or perhaps natural gas.

Now, it makes sense for the boundaries to be defined along the lines of jurisdictional boundaries, assuming that the best way of addressing the problem of greenhouse gas emissions is regulation.

But does it make sense to assume that national boundaries are the logical place to draw comparisons, regardless of respective national populations? Probably not, otherwise the implication is that until tiny Luxemburg overtakes China’s total annual emissions, the inhabitants of Luxemburg can do whatever they want with nobody entitled to ask any questions.

So which countries are the biggest emitters per capita? According to the Energy Information Administration, Gibraltar tops the list with 152 tonnes of CO2 emitted per person in 2009. This is somewhat meaningless, however, as Gibraltar’s total emissions are negligible.

The top 20 big emitters, contributing 80% of global emissions, all emit between 1 and 20 tonnes per person per year.

Out of these top 20 emitters Australia tops the list of per capita emissions, with 20 tonnes per person per year. China only emits 6 tonnes per person per year.

Of course it would not make sense that global focus should be on Australia – or on Gibraltar for that matter – in terms of actually mitigating the risks of climate change.

If only one country could be chosen as the focus of attention, it probably would make sense to pick China on the evidence presented so far.

That probably wouldn’t be very fair, however, from another point of view, and that is the historical perspective.

Since industrialisation, the United States has by far emitted more CO2 than any other country. It will take many decades for China to overtake the US in total cumulative emissions. Up to 2006, China had emitted a grand total of 101 billion tonnes of CO2 compared to the United States total of 334 billion tonnes.

But again, in terms of minimising emissions going forward, it wouldn’t make sense to cap all countries at the level of total cumulative emissions (or per capita cumulative emissions) of the United States, as the result would be excessive emissions.

There is yet another complicating factor, and that is the patterns of global trade, production and consumption. Much of the emissions in China and India are associated with production of goods consumed in the United States and other OECD countries. This factor also tends toward shifting the focus toward the United States and OECD countries for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

How can we begin to work together to address this major global issue? This question has occupied many of the greatest minds and international negotiators through several rounds of international negotiations. There have not been any significant results to date.

What could the Bible contribute to this question? There is a biblical principle of united action, valuing diversity, that could very well be applied to this problem. It is found in 1 Corinthians 12:

12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.

15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.

To conclude, I believe that each part of global society is responsible for reducing emissions within its sphere of control, working together with other parts to ensure the best outcomes for all. Each household can do all it can to reduce its emissions, whether the household is in China, the US, Luxemburg or somewhere in Africa. Likewise each organisation, corporation or industry. Again, each district, province, state or region. And of course each country. Some need more help than others. Rather than pointing fingers of blame, let’s work together on this at all levels where we have control or influence.

Thankfully God promises a future planet where we won’t be worried about greenhouse emissions and climate change. But in the meantime, it makes sense to be wise stewards of the planet in its present reality.

But isn’t the planet too big and timeframes too long for us to make an impact?

Many religious people argue in one way or another that God is too powerful, the Earth is too big, and timescales are too long, for tiny us to make any significant impact on global resources, the environment, climate or temperature.

Let’s examine this, first from the Bible, then from empirical evidence and reality.

The Bible says that God “will destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:18)

According to the Bible, individuals will be held individually accountable for having a destructive impact on the earth. Individuals, then, can have a significantly destructive impact in their lifetimes, let alone all of humanity combined over the timescale of multiple generations!

Now let’s see if that squares with the empirical evidence of observed reality.

Let’s put aside slowly accumulating and relatively imperceptible environmental impacts, for a moment, and look at the drastic impacts of nuclear weapons.

Hiroshima was wiped out with a 15 kiloton nuclear warhead in World War II. The US alone currently has over 5,000 nuclear warheads, ranging in size from the Hiroshima bomb to thousands of times bigger. Extrapolating for countries with unknown nuclear capability, simple maths suggests there currently exists more than enough destructive power to completely destroy humanity multiple times over.

If such destructive impact is possible using available nuclear energy, it is irrational to think that there could be a biblical, philosophical or ideological reason why similar destruction isn’t possible with conventional forms of energy. Of course there could be a scientific reason, however.

So let’s go to science to answer that question. The best available science says that human caused CO2 emissions are causing global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and a range of other related adverse impacts.

NASA climate scientist and head of the Goddard Institute of Space Studies, James Hansen, says that the current energy imbalance caused by human greenhouse gas emissions is 0.6 watts/square meter. This does not include the energy already used to cause the current warming of 0.8°C. This energy imbalance sounds small, but the total imbalance across the whole earth is equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs every day!

I believe that God will intervene before humanity succeeds in destroying the planet and ourselves. So my outlook is not one of alarmism, but actually optimism. My optimism, however, is not placed in some inherent capacity of nature to always come up trumps against the onslaught of human activities, or in human ingenuity to always result in progress and improvement. (The Bible indicates the opposite.) My optimism is in God’s ultimate power and plan to recycle the earth.