We've seen recent headlines that President Obama has rejected the Keystone XL pipeline and that the New York Attorney General is investigating Exxon on the company's potentially illegal activities around climate change research. This is all good news for those who take carbon emissions and its impact on the future of our planet seriously. The problem is that there aren't enough who do. I have long found this tragic, but now it's both tragic and increasingly inexcusable. The data is clear. The images are current and vivid. The situation is dire.
And so is the denial. The denial undermines urgency and erodes the political will needed at this crucial hour. Just as the intentional junk-science of the tobacco industry slowed the anti-smoking campaigns and government regulation of tobacco, so the efforts of "deniers" are retarding needed action.
It might be arguable that in a crass Darwinian world there is nothing we can or should do. Maybe we're evolving to go extinct. But this is not the argument of those who care about human life. To be pro-life is to be pro-planet. This is at once too obvious to state, and yet, oddly enough, not obvious to millions. There are simply too many Americans who are pro-life and yet refuse to take the concern of climate change seriously. It seems to me there are at least three causes for this: 1) ignorance of the data, 2) refusal to take science seriously, 3) an unbiblical eschatology - which is to say a belief about the end of the world that is at odds with the traditional understanding of the call of humans to care for God's creation.
Per the first, the ignorance is somewhat justifiable. Or if not justifiable, it is at least understandable. We are all disinclined to believe negative things, particularly when they seem distant and removed. And when that natural human inclination is supplemented by an industry-supported effort to supply junk science in support, the balance is tipped. Most American's are not scientists. Most of us are living our lives with a focus on the urgent realties of kids, work, spouses, ageing parents, etc. We have little time or energy to think of an ominous but distant threat based on vague numbers and far-removed glaciers.
This is no longer, however, a conscionable attitude. The data is piling up like the trash in our landfills. For one example (of many), on March 2014 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report saying the effects of climate change are already occurring on all continents and across the oceans. The report also concludes that there are opportunities to respond to such risks, though the risks will be difficult to manage with high levels of warming. A total of 309 coordinating lead authors, drawn from 70 countries, were selected to produce the report. They enlisted the help of 436 contributing authors, and a total of 1,729 expert and government reviewers.
Warming, rising, and acidifying oceans are of major concern. Increasing erratic weather is of major concern. The melting of the polar caps is of major concern. But the biggest issue we face is epistemic. People don't want to believe the bad news. And in addition to what I've mentioned about our general human proclivities, let me add the tendency to not want to believe anything that will negatively impact our pocketbook. There is understandable fear of major economic changes if certain pro-environmental policies are adopted. But once the issue is understood, we will want to avoid being penny wise and pound-foolish.
Of course there are those who reject the claim of over 97 percent of climate scientists because science is, "so often wrong." At this juncture I consider this a hypocritical claim. Yes, science is built on trial and error, and there is always much error as science progresses. But with climate science, we've moved beyond serious doubt.
Moreover we rarely move today without implicitly embracing and utilizing the advances of science - from what I'm typing on today (a Mac), to what I'll call home with soon (an iPhone), to where I'll go when I'm sick (a doctor, and hopefully not a hospital), my life and your life are inundated with science. You can carve out a section of life and say: "after decades of research and years of growing consensus, I still won't believe it," but I find that hypocritical. You're reading these words on a machine that has been developed out of the same general methodology used to reach the clear conclusion that we are baking our planet inside a carbon emission oven.
Of course that is of little concern if the world is going to burn anyway. And this is the unfortunate position of some who, oddly enough, consider themselves pro-life. In stead of focusing on the clear and overwhelming emphasis of both the Bible and of spiritual wisdom - to whit that we as humans have a special responsibility to care for creation - there is a pro-texting of a few apocalyptic texts that discuss the end of the world.
In spite of the repeated statements of Jesus that "no one knows the hour" of the end times, many predict we are so close that we needn't worry about the ecology at all. God will soon give God's people a new heaven and a new earth. This may be a respectable historic faith-claim, but given the explicitly stated unknowns of the timing, it is really bad eco-policy.
When discussing our personal finances, I will occasionally say to my wife: "oh let's just charge it and leave it to the antichrist!" It is a joke. We don't really live that way. Well, not exactly. But the point is we as humans are in fact charging up quite an ecological bill that I don't think anyone is going to come along and pay. Or at least I think it is very irresponsible to depend on this being the last year (or decade, or century) of the earth's existence.
If we care about life, we care about our descendants. We must take a serious look at the facts, at what science says about them, and at our call to leave the world at least as good as we found it. To do otherwise is to be decidedly anti-life.