Policy Statement on Global Warming
The issue of global warming has become a topic of heated debate in the political and Christian communities in recent decades. It is a complex issue that sits at the very heart of the dispute between diverging environmental policies. Various groups are taking different approaches to this issue, and while all the groups agree that a warming trend is occurring, they disagree on its causes. Some conclude that global warming is primarily the result of manmade causes, while others believe that global warming is merely a phase through which our planet is going. The time has come for Christians to engage this issue, and, in order to do so in a responsible manner, they must be informed by a biblical worldview.
An understanding of God’s intended relationship between humanity and the natural world is the starting point for a Christian response to the issue of global warming. Genesis 2:15 reveals the biblical model of environmental stewardship by declaring that God put man in the Garden of Eden to “work it and take care of it.” This makes clear that God calls Christians to be stewards of the natural environment by both caring for and using what God has graciously given. Also, Jesus gives a clear biblical example of stewardship in His “Parable of the Talents” (Matt. 25:14-28). In this parable, the master praises his servants for their wise use of the resources entrusted to them. However, one servant was unwise in his use, and he was scolded harshly by the master. In this parable, Jesus provides a clear principle of good stewardship: a good steward is one who puts to good use what has been provided to him.
Good stewardship is about more than using resources, though; it also involves caring for those resources. This added dimension of stewardship is based in the goodness of God’s creation and the belief that God is the owner and giver of all. The very fact that God created the world gives it great value and demands our care. When He finished His creation, God called it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). David reaffirms God’s declaration when he proclaims, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1). Consequently, while man exercises considerable freedom in his use of creation, he is not free to abuse it, since God is the ultimate owner and ruler. Therefore, the desire to care for creation must be derived from an understanding of the intrinsic value of creation and its relationship to the Creator.
While it is clear that God demands proper stewardship of His creation, many have championed distorted views of this reality. Some have advocated using nature without any reservations, leading to environmental destruction. This is an anthropocentric way to view the world, focusing on what will most benefit man and making man the center of the universe rather than God. The other extreme view puts heavy emphasis on caring for the environment while downplaying or limiting its use for the good of man. This is a pantheistic view of the world, putting nature at the center of the universe rather than God. Neither is a proper biblical view of the environment. God demands that His people both care for and use what He has given. It is this balance between care and use that should drive Christian environmental policies, because any alternate view is distinctly unbiblical and unchristian.
One must use this proper view of environmental stewardship to address the subject of global warming. No one refutes that the planet is currently experiencing a warming trend. Many do, however, dispute its causes. The popular view among many politicians, the news media, and scientists is that global warming is being caused by the release of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere by pollution and the burning of fossil fuels. Once in the atmosphere, many scientists have declared, these CO2 gases act as “greenhouse gases,” retaining heat inside the earth’s atmosphere. They conjecture that this has led and will lead to increased temperatures over a period of time, eventually changing the climate of the earth. If true, this could have disastrous effects on the earth’s environment, oceans, wildlife, plant life, and economic system.
Because of these projected results, global warming has become a hot-button topic in environmental politics in the past couple decades, and there is increasing pressure from interest groups and European countries for the United States to take a strong position on this issue. In conjunction with the belief of manmade global warming, the Kyoto Protocol was put forth by the United Nations in 1997 to curb greenhouse gases and attempt to limit global warming throughout the world. The Kyoto Protocol targets the largest producers of carbon emissions in the world, asking them to sign on and agree to reduce greenhouse gases. Many European nations have agreed to this international treaty in recent years, but the United States has not, which consequently has led to constant pressure both nationally and internationally. Multiple national, international, and Christian groups have also made statements and signed documents encouraging the United States to take specific action on global warming. Despite political, religious, and national pressure, the United States, thousands of scientists, think tanks, interest groups, and religious institutions (like the Southern Baptist Convention) have refused to adopt parts or all of the manmade global warming theory and the proposed Kyoto Protocol because of multiple flaws, scientific unknowns, and potential economic problems.
Global warming is a very complicated subject and the Kyoto Protocol has complicated processes that could lead to complex results. However, there are some basic flaws and concerns with both the idea and premise of manmade global warming and the functionality of the Kyoto Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol’s policies insist that industrialized nations are the primary factor in the increased carbon emissions in the environment and the ensuing “greenhouse effect” which will increase temperatures and affect climate change. However, there are several factors that do not explicitly point to humans as being the primary factors in the greenhouse effect and the warming of the earth. In the twentieth century alone data show periods of warming and cooling that seem to be unaffected by human pollution. From 1900 to 1940 there was a strong pattern of warming of the earth’s surface temperature, and then from 1940 to the late 1970s, after a significant increase in greenhouse gas production from factories and automobiles, a slight cooling trend was seen. And now from the 1970s to the present another warming trend is occurring1. This points to a more cyclical pattern of warming and cooling rather than a consistently increasing warming pattern caused exclusively by man, as advocates of the manmade global warming theory would have people believe.
Overall the scientific data is simply not conclusive enough concerning the human effect on climate change to take rash action on limiting carbon emissions. In fact, tens of thousands of scientists agree that there is no conclusive evidence for the manmade global warming theory2. Records prove that climates have changed in the past without human interaction, and most of the computer models that predict severe climate change are extrapolated from a very short span of data and use models and analysis that predict an ever-increasing temperature. Also, most models are based on surface temperature, but the real results should be developed from readings of atmospheric temperature. Scientists have weather balloon data dating back to 1957 and satellite data beginning in 1979, and both point to no significant warming trend. It has also been proven that a variety of physical, non-human factors can affect the extended rising and falling of temperatures. The El Niño effect in the Pacific Ocean (which is a common natural occurrence that warms the ocean temperatures and, in turn, the air) that was present in 1997 and 1998 and caused a natural warming during those years is one such non-human factor.
This El Niño effect led to increased temperatures in the late 1990s, and these temperature increases are often used to point to manmade global warming, without events such as El Niño being mentioned. It is true that man has played a significant role in the increased carbon emissions in the atmosphere. However, natural events such as El Niño create further uncertainties about the extent to which man has contributed to the global warming phenomenon.
Therefore, the most rational action to take would be to not blindly accept inconclusive evidence as pure fact and act irrationally upon it. Yet, the Kyoto Protocol does exactly this. It calls for extensive and expensive cuts in carbon emissions by those countries that produce the most carbon emissions, but since it does not target most of the developing world, the Protocol would have little effect on the global environment while causing enormous financial strain on world economies. According to popular extrapolated models (which have been proven to have biases3), global warming is supposed to increase the average temperature about 1 degree Centigrade by 2050, and, if Kyoto is put in place during that same time period, the difference between no action and the actions of Kyoto will be six hundredths of a degree (0.06), which is an environmental non-factor4. But, while it would impact the climate change to a nearly statistically insignificant number, Kyoto would have disastrous effects on the economy, as the estimated cost in implementing Kyoto would be between $100 billion and $400 billion5.
Beyond the overall cost of Kyoto, it is fatally flawed in its design. Since Kyoto is not targeting the developing world, most industries, instead of facing the environmental restrictions, would probably relocate to a less-restrictive, developing country. And, because of struggling governments with no ability to regulate environmental policies, the output of carbon emissions from those particular countries would likely increase over current emission numbers. These developing countries are also predicted to have the largest increase in carbon emissions in the near future, as they begin to rely more heavily on automobiles, industry, and technology. Thus, without regulating their carbon emissions, the regulation of the developed world through Kyoto would go for naught.
The Kyoto Protocol simply cannot be supported. It would cause incredible amounts of lost jobs (the Heartland Institute estimates 2.4 million jobs would be lost6), lead to increased poverty, and perpetuate a crippled American economy for a cause that will not be universally applied and will have little impact on the global climate.
After analyzing all the studies and information, it is clear that global warming is a complex issue without definitive answers. It is indisputable that humans have played a role in increased carbon emissions, and because of this, government and the people should constantly focus on trimming the rate and amount of carbon emissions, thereby producing cleaner air. Humanity and governments should take precautions to decrease carbon emissions and increase environmentally-friendly technology without crippling the world economy and causing an even greater poverty epidemic than already exists. One way to do this would be to decrease the amount and the concentration of carbon emissions without limiting them entirely. This would allow technology and industry to grow, while resulting in a reduction in carbon released into the atmosphere. This type of measure is in agreement with the action taken and principles stated by the United States in the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development in July of 2005.
While humanity is responsible for increased carbon emissions and should take results-oriented action, there is no conclusive evidence that a current warming trend is solely or even primarily due to human factors. Many factors impact climate change, and as recently as the mid-twentieth century there was a cooling trend even while human carbon emissions were unchecked. In fact, recent numbers have been inflated because of the El-Niño phenomenon. To base an entire global warming “world crisis” on the extrapolation of data from a short time period into decades and centuries of supposed increased warming using a hypothetical computer model is neither prudent nor effective. There may be a current warming trend on the earth, and humans probably have played a role in causing this trend. However, the degree of warming is not proven and the extent of man’s role has not been pinpointed. Thus, to take rash action, crippling economies and forcing families out of jobs over a phenomenon that could be largely impacted by weather patterns and cyclical warming and cooling trends in the oceans and natural environment, is both irrational and imprudent. Thus, continued research is vital to more clearly understand the root problems of potential climate change and discover if this is a problem which particularly impacts the current generation because of environmental disregard, if it is part of a large scope of warming and cooling patterns throughout history, or if it is simply an environmental non-issue.
The Christian view on global warming needs to be based on theology and reason, and this position on global warming has been developed under these guidelines. God has given man a biblical requirement for stewardship (Gen. 2:15), which means that humans should both use and care for the environment. Devaluing the use and overemphasizing the care for the environment is not a proper biblical practice and neither is the opposite. Biblical stewardship demands a dual relationship between use and care in order to develop industry and protect against abuse. In the current global warming debate there are simply not enough facts to mandate an extreme limiting of the use of natural resources to guard against “abuse” that only has hypothetical consequences and goes against the informed opinions of thousands of knowledgeable scientists and climatologists.
1 Sallie Baliunas, “Warming Up to the Truth: The Real Story About Climate Change,” The Heritage Foundation (22 August 2002)
2 “Instant Expert Guide: Global Warming,” The Heartland Institute (Chicago: Heartland, 1999), 7.
3 Pat Michaels, “Review of the 2001 U. S. Climate Action Report,” Cato Institute 3 June 2002, 2.
4 Ibid., 52.
5 Ibid., 56.
6 “Instant Expert Guide: Global Warming,” The Heartland Institute, 5.