Anthropogenic climate change (ACC) makes sense from basic scientific principles. But for the faithful, the supernatural trumps basic science. Who are some anthropogenic climate change contrarians (ACCCs) who think a deity will solve ACC?
In November 2005, a conservative Christian public policy group called the Cornwall Alliance released An Examination of the Scientific, Ethical, and Theological Implications of Climate Change. This twenty-page document contained three essays which handle these three implications and are authored, respectively, by Dr. Roy W. Spencer, Paul K. Driessen, and Dr. E. Calvin Beisner.
Dr. Spencer's handling of the science takes as many detours from scientific consensus as possible in order to do his best to argue that climate change is not demonstrably anthropogenic, or if it is, that it won't be that big of a deal. The main way of doing this is to argue that the Earth will provide negative feedbacks to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. Dr. Spencer didn't actually provide evidence that negative feedbacks will counteract or contain carbon dioxide-caused warming, he just said they might:
Therefore, one cannot determine how atmospheric water vapor will change with warming without understanding precipitation systems. Finally, how will precipitation systems change in response to warming? No one knows
The theological implications, written by Dr. Beisner, basically followed the same claim: the Earth will heal itself because God.
Just as good engineers build multiple layers of protection into complex buildings and systems, so also the wise Creator has built multiple self-protecting and self-correcting layers into His world.
…and then it starts to go into really interesting theological territory.
There is yet another effect of higher CO2 concentrations that seems unquestionably and unequivocally positive. It is the greening of the planet and, through that, the enhancement of all other life, since plants are the nutrient for all animal life – fish, amphibian, reptile, mammal and fowl. We fertilize the whole world by releasing carbon dioxide when we burn wood and other carbon-based energy sources. It is icing on the cake that the increased crop yields enable us to cultivate less land to feed the human population, thus reducing habitat loss and the negative effects that has on wildlife populations and species extinction. I cannot help smiling at this realization. ...
…coal comes primarily from the death and burial of vegetation and its transformation under heat and pressure. As spiritual life comes from the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so, in a beautiful irony, the enhancement of physical life that we see most clearly since the start of the Industrial Revolution and the intensive use of energy in our economy comes in part from the death, burial and resurrection of vegetation. As the Apostle Paul explained, the resurrection of the dead happens this way: "It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Vegetation is sown a natural body. Then, raised from the dead as coal and burned to enhance and safeguard our lives, it becomes a spiritual body – carbon dioxide gas – that gives life to vegetation and, through that, to every other living thing. ...
... In light of this vision, as a theologian and ethicist, I cannot but be troubled at the prospect that we might diminish or short-circuit the cycle of life from death, by embracing a policy to reduce CO2 emissions, in an effort to prevent or reduce global warming that is certainly driven in large part by natural (Creator-ordained) processes over which we have no control.
So. … so this document is arguing that Christians should be burning as much coal as possible, in order to add as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as possible, to help plants grow. This is a very interesting argument to make.
A Call to Action
Not everyone in the world thinks this argument is good. Most pointedly, in February 2006, an alliance of evangelical Protestant Christians, speaking as the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), released a statement. Their statement kind of hits all the realistic talking points about ACC: it's real, it'll be significant, and it'll affect the global poor the most. From there the ECI argues that it's part of Christian moral duty to respond to ACC, and the best responses are to lower carbon emissions and help the world adapt to ACC.
An Open Letter and a Call to Truth
The Cornwall Alliance had a response to the ECI in the form of an open letter which itself points towards a Call to Truth. The Call to Truth has an extra author in addition to those of the earlier Examination, Dr. Ross McKitrick.
The Call to Truth makes ACCC claims, as far as science goes. This is unsurprising. And the Open Letter once again includes appeals to God's ability to save humans from ourselves.
The stewardship God gave to human beings over the earth–to cultivate and guard the garden (Genesis 2:15) and to fill, subdue, and rule the whole earth (Genesis 1:28)–strongly suggests that caring for human needs is compatible with caring for the earth. As theologian Wayne Grudem put it, "It does not seem likely to me that God would set up the world to work in such a way that human beings would eventually destroy the earth by doing such ordinary and morally good and necessary things as breathing, building a fire to cook or keep warm, burning fuel to travel, or using energy for a refrigerator to preserve food."
So who takes this seriously?
Other than the signatories of the Call to Truth, which includes a few really interesting names, there's the occasional politician or pundit who says this. U.S. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) has said that humans can't change climate because God. U.S. Representative John Shimkus (R-IL) has said that humans can't change climate because God. U.S. Representative Virginia Foxx (R-NC) has said that humans can't impact climate more than God can. U.S. Representative Joe Barton (R-TX) has said that too much wind energy generation might break "God's way of balancing heat". Famed U.S. conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh has said that humans can't control something that God created.
What's the big deal?
Obviously religious people have a right to use their religious beliefs to inform their opinions about the world and their actions. But usually it's a good idea to have another thing supporting those opinions and those actions, just in case.
If people believe that we should do nothing about ACC because a divine being will save us, then they can believe that. But… what if? What if a divine being doesn't counteract human activity? What if a divine being doesn't miracle our way out of ACC?
A recent interview with the evangelical Christian climate scientist Dr. Katharine Hayhoe references Paul's Second Epistle to the Thessalonians, chapter 3. In this epistle, Paul tells early church members, grown idle because of the supposed imminent return of the Christ:
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone's food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.
Religious people should not feel that God is an excuse to burden the world with carbon emissions, but religious ACCCs are doing exactly that.