Tag Archives: Young Evangelicals for Climate Action

The Debate: Breaking the Silence on Climate Change

When Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump squared off Monday night before 100 million viewers, they covered a lot of important ground – including their visions of prosperity, security, and the direction of our country.

Outside the debate venue, a group of students and young people from Young Evangelicals for Climate Action joined hands to pray and demand that the moderator and candidates address the threat of  manmade climate change to humans and God’s creation. Observing the debate from home, I’d have to say that their prayers were answered, if only just as a start.

Young Evangelicals for Climate Action praying outside the debate venue

Young Evangelicals for Climate Action demand that candidates present climate change plans at Hofstra Univ.

Yes, Clinton did stake her flag on making the U.S. “the clean energy superpower of the 21st century.” She even got specific: “We can deploy a half a billion more solar panels. We can have enough clean energy to power every home. We can build a new modern electric grid. That’s a lot of jobs. That’s a lot of new economic activity.”

And she challenged Trump on his longstanding climate denialism: “Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it’s real.”

Of course, Trump denied the charge: “I did not — I do not say that. I do not say that.” The mid-sentence change in verb tenses (“do” not “did”) provided a bit of a fig leaf for the billionaire. As almost everyone knows, Trump tweeted the “Chinese climate hoax” idea in 2012. In fact, he has been recorded on video or in his tweets eleven times calling global warming a hoax, as recently as July 26, 2016.

So, “I did not” clearly doesn’t fly. But “I do not” is one of those imponderables: As-I-stand-on-this-stage, I do not? Well, okay then. We’ll wait for tomorrow.

Well, in fact, tomorrow arrived. The morning after the debate, Trump’s campaign manager said that the candidate has traded the “climate hoax” narrative for new story: “He believes that global warming is naturally occurring,” said Kellyanne Conway.

Naturally occurring. Well that’s something. In the last month, Mr. Trump has learned a lot of new things. He’s discovered that there is no hoax going on, despite four years of being certain that the opposite was true. But even more remarkable, he’s learned that global warming is happening due to natural causes, not manmade carbon emissions.

Natural causes? So, where he did he do his research on this? We decided to look:

  • Maybe the U.S. National Academy of Science? We checked, but no luck there: “Scientists know that recent climate change is largely caused by human activities,” they write in a landmark study, “from an understanding of basic physics, comparing observations with models, and fingerprinting the detailed patterns of climate change caused by different human and natural influences.”
  • Okay, how about the world’s largest scientific society – the American Association for the Advancement of Science? Hmm, strike two. Their website banner trumpets the conclusion before you even get to the details: “Based on the evidence, about 97% of climate scientists agree that human-caused climate change is happening.” We kept looking.
  • How about the peer-reviewed science journals, like Science or Nature? More bad news. They virtually all agree that “climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”
  • Well, there must be someone. How about any American or international association of sciences from any discipline whatsoever? We checked. Again, no dice. Just this summer, 31 scientific societies representing millions of geologists, chemists, biologists, agronomists, mathematicians and researchers from many other specialties wrote to Congress to inform our leaders that “greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver” behind climate change, and warned of “broad negative impacts on society, including the global economy, natural resources, and human health.”

We’re not giving up, and will let you know when we find where Trump got his new scientific information, or whatever else he may have found instead.

In our view, this debate was not wasted. People are now talking. Twitter is abuzz with references to climate denial. Perhaps voters may see their choice this year as a choice for the future of the world’s ecosystems. That would be redemptive, we think.

Young Evangelicals, thank you for your prayers and your demand for open discourse. Whatever our political leanings might be, we now have a fuller idea of where our country – and our world – might go regarding the climate crisis in the next four years. Clinton promises to lead a transition to a clean power economy. Trump promises to stop the transition – stop the Clean Power Plan, the global Climate Accord struck in Paris, and to turn back the clock on the burning of coal to where it was when our grandparents were young.

We have a choice. And the faithful witness of Young Evangelicals has helped us to see it more clearly.

Climate Denial: Have Christians Become Irrelevant?

I’ve just gotten back from a beautiful spring day in Boston, where I took in a brilliant theatre performance of “The Whale,” Samuel Hunter’s moving story of the perpetual struggle between the sanctity and beauty of people, and the standards and rules by which we make sense of the world. The characters in the play were all deeply flawed. But notable among them was an archetypical religious person – a Mormon teenager on “mission.”

Of course, the teen is the perfect religious foil for people wrestling with profound human concerns: He exudes blind certainty with respect to irrelevant and implausible doctrines, and relentless sincerity in “saving” others from being different from himself. For me, as a public adherent to the Christian faith, I sat in the audience torn between relief that the playwright had plucked the low-hanging fruit of a Mormon door-knocker, and the discomfort of knowing that the role could have been filled almost as easily by many of my co-religionists – or perhaps even by me.

At home again this morning, the news served up a fresh reminder of why our culture sees religion the way it so often does. As we all know, the world’s climate scientists meeting in Yokohama had just released their most dire warnings ever about the impact of manmade climate change. Last September, their science report had finally put to rest any serious scientific debate over the basic facts of global climate change and its principal causes. Today, they’re telling us that the crisis is not one we’re leaving for the grandkids: it’s landed already, and it’s threatening to starve the poorest and most vulnerable humans right now, with worse to come. And while some Christians leapt to the defense of the world’s climate victims, others again dusted off their nearly incomprehensible claims that they know more than the scientists, and that it’s all an alarmist conspiracy.

September’s IPCC science report was the fifth in a three-decade series of global assessments of the state of climate science – each one more certain than its predecessor. The science is now 95% sure that the planet is dangerously warming due to human greenhouse gas emissions and human changes in land use. We’re using way too much coal (for electricity), oil and gas; and we’re destroying way too many forests and wetlands. We’re as sure of this as we are that smoking causes cancer. Never 100% sure, of course. That would be doctrine, not science. But 95%. Denying this is like betting the kids’ college fund on a 20-to-1 hunch.

This week’s impact report tells us more about what the climate science conclusions actually mean to people, other creatures and their habitats. And it’s not pretty. With high or very-high confidence, the world’s climate researchers now agree that during the current century, our disruption of the climate will mean:

  • Lower crop yields, increasing hunger, and higher food costs, all of which will land hardest on the poor and on poor countries.
  • Failure of rural communities due the drying up of fresh water systems on farms.
  • Collapse of fishing communities due to the failure of marine ecosystems in warmer and more acidic oceans.
  • Flooding or inundation of coastal communities as melting ice sheets and thermal expansion accelerate sea-level rise.
  • Increase in human migration as climate-change refugees look for new places to support themselves and their families.
  • Acceleration in the extinction of species of plants and animals, which is already at historic highs.

Among Christians, the Evangelical Environmental Network was first out of the blocks. More hunger? More thirst? More destroyed communities? Harm to the poor? This isn’t all that hard for Christians, as you would assume. EEN released the following statement:

“The current Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report provides even more evidence for what we have known for some time: climate impacts have and will continue to hit the poor the hardest, those least able to cope with the consequences, especially children and the elderly.”

Ben Lowe, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action

Ben Lowe, Young Evangelicals for Climate Action

And then came Young Evangelicals for Climate Action: “We can now see the impacts of climate disruption growing in our country and all over the world,” said Ben Lowe, the group’s spokesperson. “This is a moral issue that requires our church and political leaders to wake up and step up. The decisions they make today affect not just the present, but also the rest of my generation’s future.”

Of course. This is what you would expect from people whose Bible sets forth explicit commands for feeding the hungry and thirsty, and caring for the poor and the sojourner. Indeed, the consensus of evangelical Christians declarations calling for urgent moral action on climate change is consistent and overwhelming.

But it wouldn’t be long before a much more sinister voice would speak up. The Cornwall Alliance, a group that claims to be both scientific and evangelical, managed to convince The Christian Post that it had produced a “scientific report” that found key evidence that the world’s scientists had ignored.

“The human impact on global climate is small,” they claimed, “and any warming that may occur as a result of human carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gas emissions is likely to have little effect on global temperatures, the cryosphere (ice-covered areas), hydrosphere (oceans, lakes, and rivers), or weather.”

In effect, they say, you can believe the world’s climate scientists, and the broad consensus of research that they have conducted, or you can believe us – us Christians (maybe?) who know better. Never mind that we don’t conduct any of the climate research ourselves. Never mind that we don’t represent a single Christian denomination. Never mind that the world’s actual climate researchers warn of profound injustices perpetrated upon the poor of the earth – starvation, inundation, displacement and the wars and atrocities that generally accompany such traumas – even though they’ve contributed little to the problem.

In 2012, the Christian Reformed Church and its 1,300 congregations in North America specifically analyzed the Cornwall group’s claims and publications. “Considering the limited number of authors and their lack of religious credentials,” they wrote in a 130-page report, “it is somewhat disingenuous to label these as evangelical documents.” They continued: “Because of the absence of biblical references, presence of other ideologies commingled in its theological background, and outright denial of science on the issue of climate change, we do not discuss further the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship or recommend it for study.”

And finally, said the Christian Reformed Church, “The positions expressed in the Cornwall Declaration are in general inconsistent with our perception of biblical stewardship and with our observations of what is occurring in our world today.”

But … somehow, they persuaded The Christian Post to give them equal time, and to buy their flimsy claims to legitimacy – long since debunked by both scientists and churchmen.

And so the secular culture has yet another reason to dismiss and to revile those who cling to faith in the Creator of Heaven and Earth. The global community is struggling with existential threats, among them the collapse of ecosystems under the weight of climate change. Do Christians have something real to offer? Or are we no more relevant than that Mormon teenager on Mission?