Climate change; a divine promise broken?

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

Genesis 8:22. The Bible. New International Version

After the period of the biblical flood, Noah emerged from his arc and God spoke these words to him, promising to never have a similar, all-consuming, flood again as long as the earth would exist. Even the most pessimistic of climate change advocates would not envision the literal end of the world as the end-stage of our fast progression to the impending global catastrophes caused by global warming. The quote can be read as a ‘black on white’ promise of the resistance of our planet to changes that would negatively affect its cycles. Earlier in Genesis 1:26-28 God says to Adam “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” These passages stating humankind superiority over the animal kingdom and the earlier mentioned stability of the earths cycles is the foundation for the Lynn White hypothesis. This hypothesis states that the Judeo-Christian theology asserted man’s dominance over nature and subsequently is one of the drivers behind the ecological crisis we are facing today. Later research in 1989 found that the question whether people believed in the Bible was a very strong indicator for their environmental concern, with believers being significantly less concerned for the state of the environment than non-believers. Apart from the anthropogenic worldview that is generated from this passage which propels humans destructive behaviour towards the earth, believers may also feel lacking in their capabilities to impact the climate and life on earth. Amongst many believers, it is thought that God is capable of saving the planet if climate change would become a real threat and humans should trust God in this.

The climate religion.

On the other had there are also people that refer to the exact same passage in Genesis 1-26:28 as a call to stewardship. Stewardship is the belief that humans are borrowing the earth from God and that we have the responsibility to pass on the planet to future generations in an acceptable state. This principle is found in many of the Dutch Christian parties programmes, such as CDA, CU and SGP. As with other parts of society, awareness of the issue of climate change has been growing in religious communities from all over the world and all religious beliefs. In 2015 the Vatican released Laudato Si, the second encyclical letter of Pope Francis in which the Pope stresses that it is essential for humankind to address the issues of global warming, pollution and mass extinction, as a part of their divine duty. The letter specifically stated that the Catholic Church does not wish to take on a political role in the debate, but they deem this issue as transcending politics. It is interesting to note that this call to action against climate change is seen worldwide, across religions. In 2015 other major religions also released letters and statements urging their followers to take action: the Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis, the Islamic Climate Declaration, the Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change and the Church of England even released a Policy of National Investment Bodies. In this policy they advise their shareholders, who control a budget of about 13 billion pounds, to pursue carbon-neutral society and actively strive towards greenhouse gas emission push company boards to implement ethical standards. In the letters, the IPCC is frequently referenced as is other research, to further signify the importance and the urgency of the issue at hand. It is at (the least) very interesting to see that religion seems to be on the side of science in this issue, something that has definitely not always been the case.

Many perceive the open support from religious leaders to be very effective in gathering support for climate change as an estimated 84% of the global population is religious in some way2. This is the reason One Million Dollar Vegan offered to donate 1 million dollars to a charity if the pope were to go vegan for lent. Research has shown that Catholics are more positive towards pro-environmental measures after reading stewardship messages and Laudato Si3. However, while the support of the religious figures will probably not hurt the movement for climate action, it has been found that political orientation is a more accurate characteristic to predict peoples ideas about climate change, with little difference between Catholic and non-religious individuals (figure 1).


Figure 1. Catholics view on climate change. Pew research centre 2019.

Climate change is a global issue and one we have to solve in a global effort. While it is unfortunate that even the Pope cannot quickly change his followers minds as a quick fix, the change visible in the religious community is certainly a positive one. It is important to be aware of the drivers of peoples beliefs on global warming, be it a passage from a holy book or something else. Either way, it is to be hoped that action against global warming is taken soon and we will not be overtaken by another biblical flood.

References

1. Lee D, Blocker TJ, Eckbergt DLEE. Varieties of Religious Involvement and Environmental Concerns: Testing the Lynn White Thesis. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. 1989;28(4):509–517.

2. PEW reseach centre. Religious landscape. 2017.

3. Shin F. Green as the Gospel : The Power of Stewardship Messages to Improve Climate Change. University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign Jesse.

4. White L. The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 1967;155(3767):1203–1207. doi:10.1080/08109020802657453



3 thoughts on “Climate change; a divine promise broken?

  1. I feel like, indeed, in order to produce an actual global change, it is important to look at religion because so many people take it as a base for their actions! Very interesting perspective, and it is also nice that you brought up the positive religious examples!
    Though I wonder if some of the bigger religions also are cultivating climate skepticism instead.

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  2. I greatly enjoyed your post, it made me think a lot and probably gave me some ideas on how to spread the awareness on climate change! I was raised catholic by my family and I went to church every Sunday, for about 18 years, before I moved to Amsterdam. In the Italian culture, attending the mass is more of a tradition than a religious thing (at least until you become old enough to develop your own religious belief). Often, as in my case, there is no possibility to avoid going to church and listening to what the Pope said that weekend. Moreover, even if many families are not religious, catholicism and the Church are so implanted in the society and school system that it is almost impossible to not be affected by what the Pope says.
    I did not know about the Laudato si’s claim for a change in lifestyle and consumption, neither about the vegan for lent campaign. Even though I think that pressure on the diffusion of such claims and campaign was made by other powerful entities in Italy, I am sure a message claiming for a diet-change, if spread by the Pope, could effect many believers. While I have been trying to convince my grandparents that climate change is not just a theory, but something that is going to affect me extensively, and that avoiding meat has a beneficial impact and it is not only something that my girlfriend told me to do, a message from the Church and the Pope would have probably convinced more than I did. After this, I will definitely show them the passage in the Laudato si and hopefully something like the lent campaign would happen again and start to effect the public opinion.

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  3. Hey, thank you for writing this post! It gives me a bit of hope that religious communities and people are taking responsibility for their actions and don’t just rely on their religion for everything to turn out well. I was wondering, what kind of effect have these published letters/statements had on the respective communities? Is there a shift in individual behavior regarding consumption seen, or maybe more that small religious communities are taking some kind of action together?

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