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.