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It seems like most American white evangelicals either believe that man-made climate change is a hoax or that it isn’t important. But why is Christian climate change denial even a thing?
I often hear that the Biblical views on the sinfulness of wealth, the need for simplicity and the universal calling to economic equality are radical ideas. But they’re actually extremely realistic, in contrast to the mammonistic and neoclassical ideas of the necessity of wealth, growth and inequality. Not only because the Biblical ideas, if put in practice, fights poverty much more effectively, but also because they’re the only ones that can reduce the devastating impacts of the upcoming climate change catastrophe.
The other day I listened to a very interesting lecture by professor Kevin Anderson from Manchester University. He talked about the really dangerous form of climate change denial, which isn’t the goofy ideas that the planet isn’t warming or that its warming but we’re not the primary cause and so on. Those views are rejected by the vast majority of scientists and most ordinary people don’t believe in them either. No, the real problem is when scientists adjust or deny their results in order to communicate that we can mitigate and adapt to climate change without too much reduction in economic growth and without adjusting our economic system. He writes on his website:
In several important respects the modelling community is self-censoring its research to conform to the dominant political and economic paradigm. Moreover, there is a widespread reluctance of many within the climate change community to speak out against unsupported assertions that an evolution of ‘business as usual’ is compatible with the IPCC’s 2°C carbon budgets. With specific reference to energy, this analysis concludes that even a slim chance of “keeping below” a 2°C rise, now demands a revolution in how we both consume and produce energy. Such a rapid and deep transition will have profound implications for the framing of contemporary society and is far removed from the rhetoric of green growth that increasingly dominates the climate change agenda.
Last summer me and the coolest Christian in Sweden, David Larsson, were sitting in God’s nature pondering about what His creativity tells us about our creativity:
As we are created in the image of God, we are naturally creative. But unlike God we are sinful, and so oftentimes human creations are destructive and dirty. Aesthetically they are also often very different from what God creates: He likes uniqueness, irregularity and complexity whereas human creations like cars or lamps or cities are copied, predictable and simple.
We can learn a lot from how God creates stuff, it’s sustainable and life-promoting and per definition very natural. Instead of building new towers of Babel we could use more gardens of Eden where we cooperate with God in creating constructive, natural and healthy things that benefit ourselves as well as the rest of creation. Let us be liberated from industrialism and be free creative agents in God’s beautiful world.
Prepare to be uncomfortable.
I wrote three years ago about how absurd it is that Christians often are expected to “dress up” as they attend church meetings, wearing clothing that’s more expensive and “proper” than what they normally wear. The reason this is absurd is that the Bible never commands it – on the contrary, it prohibits Christians to wear expensive clothes at all times, not just on church meetings. I’ve made a video when I discuss this:
The New Testament particularly addresses Christian women, telling them to not wear jewelry or expensive clothing:
“I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” (1 Tim 2:9-10)
“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.” (1 Peter 3:3)
I had the privilege of joining the MennoNerds Panel talk on simplicity and sustainiability last Tuesday. I had proposed the topic since fighting personal wealth and promoting a simple lifestyle are issues that God really has put on my heart. Participating were MennoNerds Hillary Watson, Paul Walker and myself, with Mark Groleau as moderator. You can listen to it in the MennoNerds podcast as well as in the YouTube clips down below:
During the first hour, we talked about theological and theoretical perspectives, such as:
- How do we define simplicity?
- What are the Biblical arguments for the need of simplicity?
- What are the Biblical arguments for the need of environmental sustainability and creation care?
- Should Christianity be seen as an anthropocentric religion, i.e. how do we deal with ideas like having dominion over the Earth?
It should be noted that we were a bit divided on anthropocentrism, whereas some questioned this I for example argued that it’s not just Biblical but morally necessary. (more…)
Here’s a video where I explain why I’m a vegetarian and why all Western Christians should be vegetarians:
Imagine if all fish in the world became extremely poisonous. Imagine that you would die from eating just a tiny piece of fish meat. Would you still eat fish and give fish to your children, pointing to the fact that Jesus and the disciples ate fish in John 21? Perhaps you would refer to Mk 16:18 and say that no poison can harm you, but to use that as a proof text for consciously putting your life in danger every other day sounds a lot like testing God as Jesus described it in Mt 4. One is then basically a snake handler.
So if we’re being honest, we would avoid fish even though Jesus ate it, because the current situation has made that ingredient more dangerous compared to His time. In a similar fashion, most of us don’t eat locusts like John the Baptist did, not because it’s dangerous but simply because it’s not part of our culture.
Now, what if I told you that meat is indeed very dangerous today, not just for you but for millions of poor people? I’ve written about this before: meat is one of the most environmentally hazardous ingredients in the world. The meat and dairy industry produces 18% of all greenhouse gas emissions, and processed meat like bacon causes cancer. (more…)
As the extremely important COP 21 climate summit in Paris starts tomorrow, activists have taken it to the streets across the globe. I would had been marching in Paris today, had not the awful terrorist attacks happened, which has resulted in that protests are not allowed in the French capital for at least some weeks. Instead, I had praised God and retweeted reports from Sweden, Australia, Bangladesh, US, Japan, Nepal, Senegal, Switzerland and the UK:
The last image is especially powerful: it’s from Paris, where activists have laid out shows to signify the march that never took place there. Let us pray for the upcoming negotiations and that God’s Spirit will promote simplicity and equality.
For many years my primary motivation for engaging in creation care and climate activism has been the fact that environmental destruction in general kills millions of people already and that climate change in particular will most likely kill off hundreds of millions of people in the near future. Since killing people is bad, according to Jesus’ ethics, we should care for creation and stop heating up the climate. In fact, some scientists have suggested that all of humanity will be extinct because of climate change. That is, not only will people die in Bangladesh or New York, but every single one of us might die because of this inconvenient market failure caused by industrialism and greed.
Of course, not all scientists are saying that we will become extinct because of this. While it is universally acknowledged that many other species will be terminated just as we have already killed off half of the world’s animals since 1970, and that humans are already dying because of climate change, whether we will commit communal suicide through our carbon emissions is not as clear. One of the main factors for this is that we’re not even sure how we will respond to the climate crisis, will there truly be an ambitious treaty in Paris that can turn the ships around, or will we just do business as usual until it is too late?
One of the scariest phenomena in climate research is called feedback loops, which basically means that a warmer planet will start to heat up even faster compared to what it does in the climate we have today. For example, a smaller arctic will lead to less reflection of sunlight back into space, and a melting tundra will release giant pockets of methane in the atmosphere, which is a greenhouse gas. These feedbacks may come to a point where global warming is unstoppable, to the extent that even if we stop emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, Earth will eventually become like Venus. (more…)
I often debate with fellow Christians who, contrary to me, oppose migration from poor countries to rich countries, aid from rich countries to poor countries or that rich countries should take greater responsibility for the environment than poor countries by living simpler. When I argue for why I think these ideas are good, I often point to facts and statistics that for example show that poor countries receive 80 % of all refugees today, or that aid donations are less than 0.3 % of rich countries’ GDP, or that environmental pollution kill more people today than malaria and HIV. Quite often I even have to start with explaining that rich countries are rich; most xenophobic people here in Sweden think that Sweden isn’t a rich country, which of course is the opposite of what the Global Wealth Report recently stated.
However, while I believe these facts are important for the discussion, they are seldom sufficient for my adversaries to change their mind. I find over and over again that even if we can agree upon that the world is unequal and unfair, they don’t have a problem with that while I certainly do. We have different world visions, and they often tell me that I shouldn’t claim that my world vision is more Christian then theirs.
But it is.
Jesus’ ethical teaching is clear and straightforward. Do to others what you would have them do to you (Mt 7:12). That’s a universal command, meaning it applies to all human beings. We should love everyone, even our enemies, and do good to them just as the Father loves and does good to all human beings (Mt 5:43-48). (more…)
Building stuff is very Biblical: Jesus our Lord and Saviour worked as a carpenter, Paul was a tent-maker and the whole people of Israel were commissioned to build cities and villages across Canaan after they had colonized it in a not very pacifist way (I’m really looking forward to Greg Boyd’s book on how to deal with Old Testament violence that’s coming out soon). God realizes that shelter is important, He does not want us to be homeless.
1 Tim 6:8 is often translated as “if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that”, and even though Paul’s point clearly is that we should live simply and reject wealth, he isn’t saying that we should be content with homelessness. The word used for “clothing” is in Greek skepasmata, which literally means “coverings”, which can both refer to clothes and shelter. Similarly, the word translated as “food” literally means sustenance.
Historically, the church has indeed built a lot of stuff, but have we really built the right things? As you may know I’m very critical to church buildings, for various reasons that I give in the video above. In Europe where I live, we have hundreds of thousands of church buildings, most of which stand empty at night. We also have four million homeless people, and millions of refugees are expected to seek refuge in our rich subcontinent during the coming years. (more…)
Many of those who invented and fueled industrialism and capitalism were, or claimed to be, Christians.
Sure, some Muslim oil sheiks and Confucian factory workers have also played their role, but Christians are responsible to a very large extent to the inequality and environmental destruction which this economic system has brought. Now, followers of Jesus around the globe need to step up against the biggest beast that global mass consumption has birthed: climate change.
Climate change – isn’t it a weird term for a phenomena that may very well kill hundreds of thousands of people, ruin cuties and destroy whole countries? It’s like naming a genocide something like “population change” or, as the Guardian’s excellent podcast The biggest story in the world pointed out, calling a bomb an “unexpected delivery”. Human emissions of greenhouse gases is, according to 97% of scientists researching the matter, destroying the system and will eventually crush civilisation. What we’ve created is Creation Destruction.
The sad thing is that while this catastrophe is caused primarily by rich people, most of those that will get hurt from it are poor. This is often called “climate injustice”. What our hyper-consumption has caused harms not just polar bears, but human beings living in poverty. To stop this, we need to act quickly.
Today is Global Divestment Day, a day when people all around the world pledge to divest out of fossil fuels. Divestment is the opposite of an investment–it simply means getting rid of stocks, bonds or investment funds that are unethical or morally ambiguous. Thousands of churches, schools and local government have pledged to divest out of fossil fuels in order to prevent a climate catastrophy. The campaign writes:
The divestment campaign highlights a conflict that most politicians are reluctant to address. If the world is to avoid catastrophic global warming, most known fossil fuel resources need to stay in the ground. Yet fossil fuel companies not only plan to extract and sell their existing reserves but are exploring ever more sensitive territory to find new ones, thus ruining any chance of securing a safe planet.
Christians and churches – it’s time to become fossil-free! Stop harming God’s creation and the environment for the poor, live simply and sustainably. Sell all what you have, give the money to the poor and whatever energy you use, whatever goods you consume, make sure that the dirty oil- and gas-industry doesn’t get a cent. The horrible effects of climate change may already be irreversable, we must do whatever we can to turn this ark around and steward God’s creation in a sustainable way.
Mammon, the deceptive demon of wealth, has poisoned the church so that rich Christians thrive in luxury and superfluities while the poor starve and suffer. 50 000 people die because of poverty every day, while 20% of the world’s population consume 80% of the world’s resources. The biggest consumption feast of them all is Jesus’ birthday, and this has escalated massively during the last 50 years so that we now here in Sweden spend twice as much money on Christmas shopping than we give in Official Development Aid to developing countries. Then we complain about how we can’t help the homeless or receive immigrants since we’ve ran out of money.
Christians are like boiling frogs who are slowly killing their radical spirit when following the ungodly trends of the world. They are like dead fish, following the dark stream of environmental destruction and idolatrous tradition. And so they eat more meat, buy more expensive presents and spend more time and energy on pointless secular rituals, and while they hate to engage in biblical practices like fasting or street evangelism, they have no problems with putting a pointless tree in their living room or buying video games for their kids. Jesus called us to sell our stuff and give the money to the poor. On Christmas, we use our money to buy stuff to give to the rich.
Yesterday I posted this video, called “Stop Celebrating Christmas“. We have to stop this harmful and ungodly consumption feast that has replaced any decent remembrance of the birth of the Son of God. To modify the traditional Christmas celebration isn’t enough, then we risk to fall back to the old destructive wheel-tracks. No, we need to envision a radically different Christmas celebration, a simple, miraculous, worship-centred celebration. This is what it could look like:
Kumi Naidoo, international director of Greenpeace, tweeted an article today that caught my attention. Written by David Suzuki at EcoWatch, it discusses climate change deniers and their mutually exclusive arguments. At a recent conference organized by the Heartland Institute, one of the biggest centers for climate change “skepticism” in the United States, the speakers were arguing that climate change isn’t happening, or that it’s happening but that it’s cooling the earth instead of warming it, or that it is warming it but it’s not caused by humans but by the sun, volcanoes or something else, or that it is happening and it is caused by humans but it’s to expensive to do anything about it.
Obviously, these four theories are not compatible with each others, yet they were uttered at the same conference. The only common thread was, according to Bloomberg news, the constant jokes about Al Gore. I wasn’t at the event, but I recognize the pattern from various climate skeptic blogs that I’ve encountered; and I would like to add another thing that I think is almost universal among climate change deniers: conspiracy theories.
When I took a course in climate change at Uppsala University, we watched a British climate change “skeptic” documentary that argued that the earth is indeed warming, but it’s caused by the sun rather than carbon dioxide. It ended with an attempt to explain why most scientists believe in man-made climate change if it’s so obvious that it is caused by the sun, and the answer was – I’m not kidding now – that they are communists. The voice-over explained to us that after Soviet collapsed, Marxists and leftits felt disillusioned in how they now would crush capitalism, and found their escape in the environmental movement and its demand to decrease fossil fuel usage.
My dear friend Andreas Lundström who helped me make my new E-book God vs Inequality also made this video for me. It’s based on this blog post about how Costa Rica is a good example of a country that combines a long life expectancy with a small ecological foot print. Most people are quite happy to live there, and they are managing to do so wighou destroying the environment very much. Also, their GDP per capita is about the same as the gross world product per capita: 13,000 dollars a year. If everybody lived like the average Costa Rican, wealth would be evenly distributed, while if everybody lived like the average American, we would need five planets.
As I have shown people this clip, some have been skeptical. They dig up facts about inequality within Costa Rica, or its horrible sex tourism, or its crima rate, and argue “look Micael, Costa Rica isn’t much of a paradise, is it?” And of course I’m not arguing that it is a sinless state, because such do not exist – the only perfect country is the Kingdom of Heaven. But you can’t get away from the fact that Costa Rica disproves the idea that you need to be rich to have a long happy life, or that it’s impossible to enjoy life without trashing the planet. This is also the case with Kerala in India, a state that combines good health care and education with very low GDP per capita.
The point of the video is that rich countries must get poorer and give away much more of their money to create a fair and sustainable world. Many rich people don’t like this biblical idea because the love for money is a root to all evil (1 Tim 6:10), but Costa Rica show us that low GDP doesn’t mean that you’ll die when your 40 – Costa Rica has a longer life expectancy than the United States! So if you want a fair and sustainable world, live on less than 13 000 dollars a year and give the rest of your money to the poor. God bless you.