The Gospel and Ecology

I could substitute Global Warming or Environmentalism or Creation Care or any number of other terms for the word Ecology in the title on this page. Merriam-Webster defines ecology as "a branch of science concerned with the interrelationship of organisms and their environments." So, I figured it was the broadest term to use and seemed to encompass the rest. But, of course, all those terms overlap and interrelate with one another.

Certainly the most pressing topic in this area is global warming because it is the ecological issues that threatens our survival as a species and our eternal relationship with God. If one believes in God, and believes that God created our world, and that God commanded us to be good stewards and care for it, then we really should be on our knees repenting for the harm our lifestyle, especially our selfish and greedy political choices, have caused to God's creation.

Let's start, as is usually best, with the bible. It shouldn't be overlooked that God begins Man's story in a garden (the Garden of Eden) and Jesus spends his last night in another garden (the Garden of Gethsemane). The bible starts with the story of creation which tells us about the relationship man is to have with the earth. Genesis 1:26 says:

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.

The key word here is "dominion." But, what does that mean? Are we free to do whatever we want with the world and it's creatures? God further explains what He means in Genesis 2:15:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

Barnes' Bible Commentary explains the hebrew words for "work" and "care" could also be interpreted as "serve" and "keep guard" or protect.

Matt26-36 jesus in gethsemane

Our job, indeed the very reason for creation, is to care for and protect God's creation. While we are to enjoy the earth and its bounty, we are not free to destroy it. We are expected to be fruitful, but so is the rest of creation. Genesis 1:20-22 says:

And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth."

Psalm 104 is a beautiful chapter in the bible. It's hard to read that and not want to be a "severe" environmentalist. Here's verses 10-18:

He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains. They give water to all the beasts of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. The birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches. He waters the mountains from his upper chambers; the land is satisfied by the fruit of his work.

He makes grass grow for the cattle, and plants for people to cultivate--bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts.

The trees of the LORD are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. There the birds make their nests; the stork has its home in the junipers. The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the hyrax.

How can we live with the damage we cause to God's beautiful and "good" creation? When the springs dry up; the trees die; the birds are gone -- what do we say to our grandchildren? What will say to God?

In Colossians 1:15-20, the apostle Paul says:

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

Wow! So Jesus is over all creation; all things were created for him; all things were reconciled through his blood on the cross. "All things" means all things and surely includes all of creation. So, this issue of the environment, of creation, of ecology -- these are truly hard-core gospel things that Jesus died on the cross to reconcile.

This is substantiated by perhaps the most famous verse in the bible, John 3:16:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

The original greek word for "world" in John 3:16 is "kosmos" from which we get the English word, cosmos. So, not only did God love, and give his son, for the people in the world, but indeed for all of the cosmos, the universe -- yes, for creation.

In Revelation 11:18 we read:

The nations were angry; and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your saints and those who reverence your name, both small and great--and for destroying those who destroy the earth."

"The time has come for...destroying those who destroy the earth."

I won't delve too deeply into the theological implications of all this. Frankly, I don't think I'm qualified (maybe no one really is) to do so. For instance, I'm not going to opine whether these passages mean that our pets can go to heaven since Jesus died for them. I'm just not going there at all. And, I won't speculate about what specific acts constitute the kind of thing the word "destroy" in Revelation 11:18 is talking about. But, I am saying that clearly, "all things;" the "cosmos;" and caring for all of creation is really important stuff and directly linked to the gospel of Jesus. That much should be clear to all. It's a topic that should be thought about, discussed, preached about, and a "core value" of every Christian and every Christian church.

So, hopefully we all agree that ecology, global warming and creation care should be important to every Christian. Now, we need to get a bit "wonky" and get into the science of it all to understand what the problem is and what we can do about it.

John15-1 the vine and the branches

Actually, it's really not necessary to get hyper-technical about it. We can just look around and see the evidence of global warming all around us. We can just read the paper or watch the news and the evidence is overwhelming. It's not a coincidence that seemingly every year now is one of the hottest in human history. It's not by chance that every year we shatter the prior years' records for tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and all manner of "natural" catastrophes.

Since the Industrial Revolution, carbon dioxide levels have shot up to levels far in excess of what humans have ever seen before. This has trapped heat and moisture in our atmosphere and that energy is what is causing the increasingly violent, deadly and costly weather events we see all around. As temperature increases, so does moisture content in the air. Even the extreme cold events we sometimes see (more rarely than the heat of course) is also caused by global warming which has thrown weather patterns off and sometimes when the warm air pours into where cold air should be -- cold air is pushed into areas it normally wouldn't be. But, all in all, undoubtedly global temperatures are up each year and are having devastating effects on the world. God's world.

NASA has compiled comprehensive and compelling evidence of global warming; its man-made causes; and its devestating effects. That website, alone, provides all the information you need. But, here's some more helpful things to study.

The primary cause of global warming is the dramatic increase in fossil fuel carbon emissions, especially Carbon dioxide (CO2). Other "greenhouse gas emissions" include methane, nitrous oxide, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

The concentration of C02 gases in the atmosphere jumped incredibly after the industrial revolution to levels never before seen in human history. And, you can see many charts that show the close relationship between C02 emissions and global warming. [For more, check out the charts here and here.]

Global warming deniers often talk about how the earth was actually warmer hundreds of thousands or millions of years ago and thus argue the current warming is natural. The problem is the connection between C02 and warming -- that (CO2 cause) is man-made and has never been seen before. So, it is over and above any natural warming cycle. Additionally, yes the world likely has been warmer before. But, crucially, not when humans were around. Humans won't survive in the future (at least not in large numbers or outside of caves) if we don't turn global warming around.

A 2009 study reported in the journal Science found that "The last time carbon dioxide levels were apparently as high as they are today -- and were sustained at those levels -- global temperatures were 5 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit higher than they are today, the sea level was approximately 75 to 120 feet higher than today, there was no permanent sea ice cap in the Arctic and very little ice on Antarctica and Greenland."

Unfortunately, C02 levels and global warming have only gone up since that report. See C02 Levels Highest in History and Carbon Levels Peak.

Who is responsible the most for greenhouse gas emissions? You got it, Americans by far. This chart shows how US greenhouse gas emissions are far larger than any other country in the world and thus, it is our selfish, indulgent, lifestyle (i.e. 2 cars in every driveway) that is causing the most damage to God's creation.

A 2008 study by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program demonstrated the connection between global warming and the increasingly extreme weather events we have witnessed. Those events have only become more common and more extreme since then. See 2011 and 2012 record breaking tornadoes; and record Texas drought among other things.

Dr. Kenneth Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research has stated:

It is irresponsible not to mention climate change in stories that presume to say something about why all these storms and tornadoes are happening.

ABC News has done lots of reporting on the fact that our wild and destructive weather is likely to get worse and worse as long as we continue to warm our planet.

Even worse, global warming will harm the poor first through drought and famine caused by, among other things, melting glaciers and drying up water sources in Africa.

Bangladesh is an example of a poor country that's uniquely vulnerable to flooding caused by global warming because it's low-lying, highly populated areas border on the Indian Ocean. The poor people of Bangladesh contribute almost no carbon pollution, yet they suffer more and more each year from the wealthy world's carbon habit.

But, it's not just the poor in Africa and other third world countries at risk. A heat wave in Europe in 2003 killed many elderly people who could not afford air conditioning and instead relied on fans to cool off. Unfortunately, they didn't realize those fans also accelerated dehydration which lead to tens of thousands of deaths. Similar heat waves, causing similar deaths among the poor in the United States, are discussed in detail at Heatwaves and Global Climate Change.

God is surely angry about the harm we have done, and continue blatantly and without apology to do -- especially to his poorest and most vulnerable children; the "least of these." Given our complicity in harming the environment (more than any people ever before), shouldn't we tremble at the thought of standing before God at the judgment seat and spending eternity with him?

John6-9 boy with loaves and fishes

This is where many people are wrong about "evangelical Christians." There is a common misconception that evangelicals don't care about the environment because we expect the world to end any day now anyway. But, for the Christian, even if the world were to end today, our lives would not end. We will spend eternity with God. We realize that how we live our lives in the short time we have on earth will greatly impact how we spend eternity. So, Christians, certainly Evangelicals, have great incentive to care a lot, and do a lot, for God's creation.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbors. To obey God; to follow Jesus; to be a Christian -- we must do things to care for God's creation and sacrifice to reverse global warming.

What do we do? That's actually the easy part to understand. We need to do things in our personal lives to conserve energy, limit pollution, and use renewable energy rather than fossil fuels as much as possible.

But, of course, our individual actions alone are not going to be sufficient. We are going to need to change our society so that we move in a big way to renewables and away from fossil fuels. This will require political action to change public energy policy so that it reflects the Christian values of love and sacrifice rather than greed and selfishness.

Cap and Trade is an obvious thing to do to begin to fairly price energy created through use of fossil fuels. We don't currently price in the damage and expense these fuels cause our health and the environment. If we did, renewables like wind and solar would be cheap in comparison. It seems whenever there is a proposal to subsidize development of renewable energy sources or even efficient transportation (like high-speed rail) we hear the fossil fuel industy, and its protectors, railing about subsidies and "socialism."

Yet, we subsidize oil companies through various special tax breaks and even much more -- by building roads and bridges which are almost entirely funded by the government. Talk about a subsidy! That's the biggest subsidy there ever was. If renewables could compete on a level playing field (either equal subsidies or no subsidies) they (and mass transit) would be far cheaper than fossil fuels and driving gas-powered vehicles.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Matthew 7:12

As Ken Caldeira has said:

[Global warming and what to do about it] is fundamentally a moral issue, not an economic issue. Given what we know now, it is simply unethical to impose risk of grave damage on future generations just so that we can have a few more consumer products today.

I would just add that it is simply stupid to ignore this problem. By making short term investments and sacrificing we can convert to clean energy which in the long-term will create jobs, increase our security (not reliant on oil from other countries), and save Gods good earth along the way.

If you are looking for specific changes in public policy, you won't find any better ideas than at our choice.

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