What does the Bible say about climate change? The short and obvious answer is ‘nothing’ – in the way that it says nothing about a number of other 21st century issues.
The longer, and more important, response is that it says a great deal about the earth, about humans and society. This deeply biblical message is one that must infuse our thinking as we search for answers that are faithful to the challenge of humans impacting the climate of our planet.
There are at least two important biblical concepts that speak emphatically to the subject of climate change:
God’s creation is richly diverse.
The Bible testifies to this over and over again. It attests to the pleasure God feels, and invites us to share, about his good handiwork.
We all agree that this means keeping our surroundings – air and water—clean and safe, but it means much more as well. I can’t say it better than Psalm 104:
"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 air nest by the waters;
They sing among the branches
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
Teaming with creatures beyond number –
Living things both large and small….
They all look to you to give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
They gather it up,
When you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things…"
Or consider Job 12: “But ask the beasts, and they will teach you; the birds of the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth and it will teach you; the fish of the sea, they will inform you. Who among all these does not know the hand of the Eternal has done this?”
Each part is related to the others, and God sustains them all.
The picture is that God’s creation is a unity - an infinitely complex web of life, all important and all functioning in ecological balance. The springs pour into ravines, which then sustain the lives of the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the wild donkeys. Each part is related to the others, and God sustains them all. Where human activities alter the chemistry of the atmosphere so that radiation patterns change and habitats are disrupted, the delicate balance of interacting species is upset, and living forms struggle and sometimes disappear. This is something we can observe happening today. Creation care means respecting the intricate nature of everything that God has made and enabling humans to live within nature’s constraints.
God has special concern for vulnerable and defenseless people.
Climate change is now already impacting the vulnerable in harmful ways. The message that we must share God's concern about this speaks loudly throughout the entire Bible:
- The Lord….raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; he seats them with princes and has them inherit a throne of hour. For the foundations of the Earth are the Lord’s; upon them he has set the world. 1 Sam. 2:8
- Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. Exodus 22:22
- Anyone who oppresses the poor is insulting God who made them. To help the poor is to honor God. Prov. 14:31
- The Christian who is pure and without fault, from God the Father's point of view, is the one who takes care of orphans and widows, and who remains true to the Lord--not soiled and dirtied by his contacts with the world. James 1:27
Each year we hear stories about how climate change is today impacting lives of the vulnerable in the world. As the Earth warms, the long-standing patterns of climate and weather are disrupted and extreme weather events have become increasingly common. The poor are especially affected. Marginal farmers without access to protective measures struggle to support good crop yields; drought and floods are more frequent; seacoasts are being inundated with saline water.
The elderly have diminished ability to cope with high temperatures – more than 10,000 elderly people perished in France due to persistent high heat in August 2003. Children too are more vulnerable when exposed to extremes of heat and also to physical events like hurricanes and floods; their developing immune systems more readily succumb to stresses of poor air quality.
The biblical message is one that challenges Christians everywhere to minimize further degrading of the atmosphere that supports all life on this Earth.
Around the world, vulnerable societies face the extinction of centuries-old ways of life. For example, ways of life that have allowed the Inuit to survive for hundreds of years in what is for most people a harsh environment, are now threatened by changes induced by humans far south of the areas where the Inuit live. The human rights of the Inuit to decide their own life style and habitat have been threatened as a result of these changes in nature.
In South Sudan, the scale of climate change is unprecedented; the reduction of rainfall has turned millions of hectares of land into desert. Access to water is the difference between life and destitution. Climate change is creating unavoidable pressure on people through migration, displacement, food insecurity and impoverishment, in some cases ending in conflict.
The biblical message is one that challenges Christians everywhere to take personal steps and to support corporate political action that will minimize further degrading of the atmosphere that supports all life on this Earth.
Canada has a new climate action plan, but its emissions-reduction targets aren’t sufficient to meet Canada’s Paris Agreement goals. You can urge your Member of Parliament to support meaningful climate action in Canada on the Centre for Public Dialogue's Action Centre.