2011-08-16 08:11:58A Christian view on climate change
John Cook


I've written an article for a Christian magazine Eternity on a Christian view on climate change, in response to a skeptic article they published. I've attempted to frame the article in Christian values - which is fairly necessary when writing for such an audience. I have to confess, the article was a bit rushed - I had just one afternoon to throw it together and it kind of reads like two separate articles (I didn't have time to meld the two halves into a coherent single piece).

Anyway, the most interesting element is the framing in Christian values so will be interesting to see how it plays (btw, not a big fan of the headline 'Climate debate: the believer' but oh well, that's editorial for you):

Climate debate: the believer

In Part 2 of our Climate Change Debate, John Cook a leading campaigner on  climate change and, yes, a Christian too, puts the case for taking action.

The book of Deuteronomy establishes a robust method for determining truth: “A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deut 19:15). This principle of relying on multiple witnesses is seen throughout Scripture. Jesus instructs His disciples to use multiple witnesses when rebuking a sinning brother or sister.

In John 5, Jesus cites the testimonies of John the Baptist, His own miracles, His Father’s voice and the Old Testament as verifications of His identity. On the day of Pentecost, Peter cites the many witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection.

Scientists adopt a similar principle in their quest for greater understanding. Just as an Old Testament judge required multiple witnesses, scientists look for multiple sources of evidence. Our understanding is considered robust when scientists have found independent measurements all pointing to a single, consistent conclusion.

On the question of global warming, natural witnesses are found in our climate. Warming is directly measured by thermometers scattered across the globe, which find that the two hottest years on record were 2005 and 2010.
In addition, we have many natural thermometers painting a similar picture. Ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are dissipating at an accelerating rate, shedding hundreds of billions of tonnes of ice every year. Scientists are observing tens of thousands of species shift towards cooler regions. Arctic sea ice is melting faster than even the worst- case predictions. Even tree-lines are shifting in response to warming temperatures.

To properly understand what’s happening to our climate, we must listen to all the witnesses and consider the full body of evidence. The consonance of evidence paints an unmistakable picture of a warming planet.

How do climate sceptics respond to the cloud of witnesses for global warming? By denying the full body of evidence. A common claim is that we haven’t seen warming over the last 15 years. To do this, they ignore the witness of the ice sheets, the testimony of shrinking glaciers, the evidence of shifting seasons and the inarguable fact of rising sea levels.

Selective cherry-picking occurs in arguments against climate action. There are two important aspects to the price on carbon pollution. A carbon price will mean a rise in household budgets but there will also be compensation in the form of tax cuts or payments. Ninety percent of Australians will actually see compensation higher than the price increases.

As a general rule of thumb, a household with a combined income of less than $100 000 will probably be better off under the carbon pricing scheme.

So how is it some claim we’ll have to pay hundreds of dollars extra each year? By only giving half the picture – that is, by failing to mention the compensation. There’s a Yiddish proverb that states “a half-truth is a whole lie”. When someone only focuses on one aspect of the carbon price without mentioning compensation, they’re painting a misleading picture.

There are similar false arguments against clean energy. Wind power is a vital piece of the renewable energy puzzle. With a network of wind farms spread out over a wide region - supplemented with gas turbines - power supply is relatively predictable and able to provide baseload power.

The chief argument against wind power is that wind at a single location is intermittent and unreliable. But this doesn’t give you the full picture. Wind power isn’t designed to come from a single location but from wind farms geographically distributed across regions with different wind regimes.

To say climate action in Australia won’t have a global impact underestimates our country’s significance. Australia is one of the top 20 carbon emitters in the world (we actually come 16th). While the world’s countries as a whole extract 19% of their electricity from clean energy, Australia is lagging behind with only 7% of our power coming from renewable sources. Consequently, Australians emit more carbon pollution per person than any other developed country.

The crux of climate change for Christians is the poorest, most vulnerable countries are those hardest hit by global warming.

The poor are least able to adapt to the impact of climate change and ironically, have contributed least to it. The carbon footprint of the poorest 1 billion people on the planet is estimated to be around 3% of the world’s total footprint. This is the social injustice of climate change: poor, developing countries will suffer because of the fossil fuels emitted by developed nations.

We are commanded to love our neighbour. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus defines our neighbour as those who are in need. In the parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus describes the key characteristic of His followers as those who help the poor and needy.

To Jesus, the weightier matters of the law are justice, mercy and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23), echoing the Old Testament command “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Justice is an important biblical theme.

In Amos 5, God condemns the society that oppresses the poor and deprives them of justice. To a society (or a church) that tolerates injustice, God says “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me” (Amos 5:21).

Climate change adds another dimension to who our neighbour is. What we do impacts  others. Our pollution contributes to global warming which affects our global neighbours. This is unjust.

God requires that His people oppose social injustice and open their hearts to the poor and vulnerable.

For the church to turn a blind eye to the injustice of climate change is to turn our back on God’s heart for the poor.

Cutting down our fossil fuel pollution has become part of the mandate to love our neighbours. We must pray and campaign for justice in a changing climate. We need to support action on climate change and look to reduce our carbon footprint.

2011-08-16 12:28:40
Andy S

As a non- believer myself, reading this was like reading a SkS post in a foreign language. It's a great example of how to reframe the argument in a different manner, without diluting the central message at all. I think we need to do more to reframe our case for those most numerous of climate infidels, the conservative white male. Since I'm two- thirds, of the way there myself (you can all try and guess which third I'm not!)maybe I'll make that a project. Thanks for sharing that, John.
2011-08-16 14:21:22
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

Perhaps a reference to the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences report, citing the moral imperative before society to properly address climate change.  News release here.  The report itself is here.

Declaration by the Working Group

We call on all people and nations to recognise the serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses.

We appeal to all nations to develop and implement, without delay, effective and fair policies to reduce the causes and impacts of climate change on communities and ecosystems, including mountain glaciers and their watersheds, aware that we all live in the same home.

By acting now, in the spirit of common but differentiated responsibility, we accept our duty to one another and to the stewardship of a planet blessed with the gift of life.

We are committed to ensuring that all inhabitants of this planet receive their daily bread, fresh air to breathe and clean water to drink as we are aware that, if we want justice and peace, we must protect the habitat that sustains us. The believers among us ask God to grant us this wish.

We have been given stewardship of this world, a stewardship for which our performance and execution of we will be judged, for good or ill.  In like fashion, we are to be stewards and wardens of not only our own people but also those whom God has yet to call into His service.

It is written: 

Love the Lord God, who loves you, with all your heart, mind and soul

In like fashion, love others as you do your Maker.

Remember, this world is not our home; our final destination is beyond.

2011-08-16 15:02:41


John, been there too. Key elements for me is framing this within a much wider picture of living in God's world. Trashing creation is sacrilege. We are fouling our own nest in a number of ways, and climate change is just one of the consequences we face. Also, all truth is God's truth, so need to think about why deniers are lying to us. Motivations for denial are often based in value systems that are in conflict with Gospel message, especially social justice.

2011-08-16 16:53:08Stewardship, justice and mercy
John Cook


Andy, had to smile at the foreign language comment. I know, pretty weird considering the tone I've always written with at SkS. I don't think everyone needs to have to write in this style - I think the only people who can speak in the values of a certain group are those who share those values. Was speaking to John Reisman, a communicator who talks to conservative groups - and he says conservatives can smell a liberal a mile away. People can tell if you're one of them.

Daniel, I don't know if citing the Vatican will particularly impress Australian Protestant churches. I think direct appeal to Scripture is the most effective appeal to authority you can have.

To Daniel and Phil, now maybe this is just me but the stewardship angle while valid and real just doesn't kick me in the guts like the social justice angle. It smacks too much of environmentalism or as my pastor puts it, "you're putting trees before people". I think stewardship is a fairly minor part of the Bible compared to the weightier matters of justice and mercy whose importance are stressed in Matthew 25 and Amos 5.

But I seem to be an outlier on this subject - all the environmental Christian groups seem to lead with the stewardship angle rather than the justice/mercy angle. I don't get that so maybe I'm missing the point.

2011-08-16 17:43:51
Paul D


Personally I think it is probably a mistake appealing to the social justice element. Although I understand why it would be used as an arguement from a Christian perspective, social justice is a re-marketing of socialism when looking at the political context. This then throws you into the traditional battles between Tory and Labour or Republican and Democrat, which usually results in the science being pushed to one side and shouting matches and accusations about political ideology.

Stewardship is more aligned to non-political views and to the science.

BTW trees are extremely important for people, your pastor needs to learn more about the world around him/her. In fact the pastors statement highlights the core of the problem in terms of politics. Both the left and right, emphasise people in the equation and ignore the fact that caring for people has to be balanced with maintaining the environment, including trees. Trees and green spaces reduce health bills, that is a positive input for both the right and the left and it puts people first.

No trees = no people and no future for people.

2011-08-16 18:04:55


Well I disagree John. I think the "stewardship" (which is too wishy-washy - what we are doing is abuse) thread and social justice thread are very tightly intertwined. I'm deeply involved in setting up a local A Rocha group and trying very hard to bind these threads together. "Greenie" groups are mostly involved in preservationist type activity - trying to restore land to a pre-human state (and I don't want to knock these restoration efforts), whereas biblical texts are more about man living in creation. Social justice  pushed wrong way is the real way to get the back up of conservatives too (not that I am adverse to pushing conservative assumptions) so I think you want to work towards presenting something which feels truly authenticate and be wary of cherry-picking biblical quotes. I was pretty inspired by this interview with Eugene Petersen when talking about Christian involvement in conservation. However, for climate change, I think some of the specific angles are the dishonesty of denial and the motivations of greed and consumerism, as well as the social justice side.

I'm not saying that I don't like what you have you written - especially the Amos reference - but I think you could extend the context. I wouldn't necessarily assume a right-wing audience either though I suppose that varies from congregation to congregation.

2011-08-16 18:23:40
Paul D


"Greenie" groups are mostly involved in preservationist type activity

I strongly disagree with that. That is 'conservation' which often leads to anti-wind turbine groups making a fuss of a landscape being spoilt.

2011-08-16 19:26:22
Paul D


"However, for climate change, I think some of the specific angles are the dishonesty of denial and the motivations of greed and consumerism, as well as the social justice side."

But these issues are just as relevant to a capitalist that has a long term view of business. Consumerism is a specific ideology that ignores long term consequences of ones actions. Now it could be argued that by definition capitalism or other right wing ideology doesn't care that a resource runs out or ignores the future in order to make a profit today. But that doesn't mean that one can not change the definition so that it does assess the consequences and thus adjusts it's decisions made today, without caring a great deal about the poor. The outcome maybe the same, but the focus maybe to preserve a long term business outcome.

2011-08-16 20:18:03


Paul D - sorry, that probably is an NZ perspective. I had reason to be looking around at the myriad of groups in the city and what they were doing. Seemed to reflect the national effort as well. Renewable energy projects present a major dilemma for environmental groups. The "biggies" here - Forest & Bird,  Greenpeace, etc. arent that interested in landscape visual protection for wind turbines but do get oppose sites where there is risk to fragile plant communities. Hydro dams are another story altogether. The main conservation efforts here are removal of exotic species (plant and animal, especially mammalian predators).


2011-08-16 21:08:44
Daniel Bailey
Daniel Bailey

John, all Christian faiths are derived from the Catholic Church (headed by the Vatican) which is itself but a Jewish sect.  That doesn't mean that the various faiths should kowtow to the Vatican.  But what the Vatican says should be read, understood through the lens of each faith's own teachings.

Let's examine Jesus' own teachings, from which stewardship is derived:

Matthew 22:36-40

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"

Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."


A similar passages is found in Mark 12:28-34

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.'  The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him.  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.


But most importantly in Luke 10:25-37

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

"What is written in the Law?" he replied. "How do you read it?"

He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

"You have answered correctly," Jesus replied. "Do this and you will live."

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"

In reply Jesus said: "A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.  A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.  So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.  But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.  He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him.  The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. 'Look after him,' he said, 'and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.' 

"Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?"

The expert in the law replied, "The one who had mercy on him." Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."

Interestingly, the passage in Luke is extended into the Good Samaritan story; this means that the GS story is to be interpreted within the same context.  Therefore, Loving thy neighbor as thy God also applies to the heathen (and various terms for them) and those who cannot help themselves.  This is the origin of stewardship, coupled with Genesis 9:1-3

 Then God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the earth.  The fear and dread of you will fall upon all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air, upon every creature that moves along the ground, and upon all the fish of the sea; they are given into your hands.  Everything that lives and moves will be food for you. Just as I gave you the green plants, I now give you everything. 

So while compassion for those who cannot help themselves is important, that derives from the Good Samaritan story, which is tied directly into stewardship and Faith itself.  Thus, one cannot be true to one's Christian God if one is not also faithful in stewardship.  As the consonance and consiliance of the above passages make clear, all hangs on that.  And on that, we will all be judged. 

Indeed, that's why I participate in this forum.

2011-08-16 21:47:36


Paul D said:

But these issues are just as relevant to a capitalist that has a long term view of business..... The outcome maybe the same, but the focus maybe to preserve a long term business outcome.


But the typical business/corporate view these days seems to be near-term: the "long term" is the end of the quarter.

The corresponding Biblical citation seems to be Cain's, "Am I my brother's keeper?"

2011-08-16 22:17:55
Paul D


The "biggies" here - Forest & Bird,  Greenpeace, etc. arent that interested in landscape visual protection for wind turbines but do get oppose sites where there is risk to fragile plant communities. Hydro dams are another story altogether. The main conservation efforts here are removal of exotic species (plant and animal, especially mammalian predators).


Well I think it is justified that 'fragile plant communities' and other species are valid reasons for assessing whether a project is worthwhile or not. I think in NZ you probably have more spaces that would be worthwhile protecting and are genuinely natural.

Here in the UK, there aren't many wild spaces, in fact it probably is reduced to a few square miles at most. The thing is most spaces that look natural in the UK are completely artificial and managed.
You get people here opposing a wind farm on farm land or they think a conifer forest is natural and the trees must at all cost be protected, despite the fact that the forest was probably planted just 100 years ago and the developer has promised to plant twice as many replacement trees and create other habitat features.
Here conservation tends to be a politically conservative thing with the idea of protecting features for their amenity value rather than wildlife habitat value. Having said that, there is quite a bit of crossover and cooperation between different groups, in order to achieve a goal.

I am a volunteer tree warden and we are quite a mixed bunch, a few Conservative councilors or ex-councillors are members, along with environmentalists and others. The one thing we agree on is that trees are important.

Stop Climate Chaos is probably an example of the UK scene:

The member organisations represent a wide range of views. For example Campaign to Protect Rural Britain probably is more about conservation and actively campaigns against some wind farms!

2011-08-16 22:19:52
Doug Mackie
Doug Mackie

Andy S beat me to it re foreign language. I agree that the issue is probably perceived by some believers as a Three Laws of Robotics type problem:

1  A [descriptive noun] must obey any orders given to it by nonhuman beings.

2  A [descriptive noun] may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

3  A [descriptive noun] must protect its environment as long as such protection does not conflict with the 1st or 2nd Law

The whole point of the Robotics Law stories is to examine how robots that are apparently violating the Laws are actually just interpreting them in ways people had not foreseen. Perhaps this is the correct approach to take. Make it clear that appearing to break the 3rd Law is in fact breaking the 2nd. (I doubt any would accept it as a 1st Law). No offence is meant. When I mean to cause offence it is obvious.

2011-08-17 02:35:46
Andy S


JC: Was speaking to John Reisman, a communicator who talks to conservative groups - and he says conservatives can smell a liberal a mile away. People can tell if you're one of them.

I wouldn't actually pretend to be a conservative but I've been immersed in business culture for so long I've learned the language, even if, since I'm now a consultant working from home, I'm relieved that I'm not speaking it all day long any more.

What some people on the green side sometimes forget is that conservative people in business have values and ideals, too. Really, they do, it's not all about power and money. But ideals often lead to folly even more than vices do. That's partly what I was trying to get at with the last of my Ridley posts.

What are some of those values?

  • Integrity, professionalism, speaking the truth even against your personal interests.
  • Pride in building a better world.
  • Freedom, individual responsibility for one's actions.
  • Property rights (already highlighted in one of Grypo's posts).

I think we might get more traction appealing to some of those values rather than simply denouncing CWM's for being ignorant money-grubbers. The risk, of course, is that it can appear to your own side that you've sold out by adopting the Shibboleths of the enemy. Hey, now I get to use a Bible quotation:

Gilead then cut Ephraim off from the fords of the Jordan, and whenever Ephraimite fugitives said, 'Let me cross,' the men of Gilead would ask, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he said, 'No,' they then said, 'Very well, say "Shibboleth" (שבלת).' If anyone said, "Sibboleth" (סבלת), because he could not pronounce it, then they would seize him and kill him by the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites fell on this occasion.
Judges 12:5-6, NJB