Will Christians Help Save the Planet?
Perhaps. But only if they stop debating the reality of global warming and start addressing it.
By J. Matthew Sleeth, M.D.
The news of Greenland’s melting icecap is the latest in a long list of scientific warnings. In 1992, hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates, signed a joint declaration titled “The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity.” These 1,600 scientists accurately predicted the magnitude of global warming, species extinction, and destruction of the earth’s complex ecosystems. Their words went largely unheard and unheeded.
Fourteen years later, these predictions are becoming more and more evident and alarming. The earth is ill. It is literally running a fever. Global warming can be seen, felt, and heard by all of us, including the one billion people added to the earth’s population since 1992. In the past year a catastrophe occurred that should have galvanized all into action: the virtual destruction of New Orleans.
Incredibly, some smug self-interest groups dismissed the loss as unrelated to rising sea levels and global warming, rationalizing that New Orleans’ flooding was a fluke because it was built right on the ocean, below sea level, and it had lost most of its barrier islands. But a quick look at America’s prime real estate brings home a sobering fact: from Miami to New York City, dozens of cities are built on the ocean, their infrastructure is below sea level, and few have any barrier islands.
Recently, scientists tolled a new warning: the Greenland ice sheet is melting at double its previous rate. As a result, a volume of water equivalent to Lake Erie is being added to the North Atlantic annually. All mankind appears to be marching double time toward the edge of a cliff, blindfolded.
Now a group of Christians has issued a statement, “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.” This declaration makes four fundamental points:
First, “Human-induced climate change is real.... Evangelicals must engage this issue without any further lingering over the basic reality of the problem or humanity’s responsibility to address it.”
Second, “The consequences of climate change will be significant, and will hit the poorest hardest.” Millions of them will die as a result.
Third, Christians are commanded by God to care for each other and the planet. “Love of God, love of neighbor, and the demands of stewardship are more than enough reason for evangelical Christians to respond to the climate change problem with moral passion and concrete action.” Our responsibility for life is non-negotiable.
Fourth, the need for action is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches, and individuals must act now to reduce the burning of fossil fuels that are “the primary cause of human-induced climate change.”
The declaration is signed by 86 church leaders, including Rick Warren, author of "The Purpose-Driven Life"; Duane Litfin, President of Wheaton College; and Todd Bassett, National Commander of the Salvation Army. This group is not easy to ignore, but neither were those scientists who signed the warning in 1992. Do they have a prayer of succeeding in an arena where so many have failed?
I believe that they do. The light of hope can be seen in the statement’s conclusion. It declares, “We the undersigned pledge to act.” Rhetoric, no matter how true or poetically stated, will not solve our global crisis. It failed those scientists in 1992. Why? Because they did not pledge personal action. They did not hold themselves personally accountable.
When a person puts the needs of others ahead of his own, and when his words align with his actions, we call that person a moral leader. When a group of these people acts in concert, without regard to personal gain, there is the promise of a movement. The force of a movement eventually leads to societal change. The members of the Evangelical Climate Initiative have begun a moral movement. For their movement to succeed, they and their organizations must take real steps to lower their environmental impact. They must hold themselves personally accountable to the world and to God.
Two thousand years ago, a small group of Christians faced hungry lions in order to carry out Jesus’ command to “love one another.” Today, Christians and our leaders are called to action again. We must change our ways of living to assume the responsibility our Savior asks of each of us. Using only efficient light bulbs, driving less, buying hybrid cars, moving to smaller homes, consuming less, and spreading the good word about how to live in harmony with all of God’s creation may seem like minor actions, too little too late, but if all of us pitch in instead of tuning out, there may still be time to save our planet and ourselves.
As a scientist, physician, voting American and evangelical Christian, I concur with the leaders’ closing plea, “In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we urge all who read this declaration to join us in the effort.”
With God, after all, all things are possible.
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J. Matthew Sleeth, M.D., is a former emergency room director who now writes, preaches, and teaches fulltime on creation care. Chelsea Green Publishing will release his book, "Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action," this May. His last piece for SoMA was Can We Prevent Future Katrinas?
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