Climate Change, an Existential Threat?

Let’s define the terms.  Climate refers to the long-term weather conditions.  “Weather refers to short-term conditions of the atmosphere while climate is the average daily weather for an extended period of time at a certain location… weather is what you see outside on any particular day… climate is the average of that weather” (What is the difference between weather and climate, oceanservice.noaa.gov).  Climate change refers to the “Changes in long-term averages of daily weather” (noaa.gov).  Existential threat “is a threat to something’s very existence –when the continued being of something is at stake or in danger” (dictionary.com). 

Climate change is believed by some to be a threat to human existence on earth.  Al Gore said in an interview with Judy Woodruff, “We have a global emergency… if we do not begin taking action very quickly… the consequences… could actually extend to an existential threat to human civilization on this planet as we know it” (PBS Newshour, One-On-One, 10/12/2018).  Alexandria Ocasio – Cortez told an audience on January 19, 2019 that she feared, “the world is doing to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate changes” (Ocasio-Cortez on Climate by William Cummings, Jan. 22, 2014, usatoday.com).  Nancy Pelosi made this statement, “The climate crisis is the existential threat of our times” (Pelosi Statement on Global Climate Strikes, September 20, 2019, speaker.gov).  Greta Thunberg said, “If the emissions have to stop, then we must stop emissions.  To me that is black or white.  There are no gray areas when it comes to survival” (How Greta Thunberg Transferred Existential Dread Into A Movement by Emily Witt, April 6, 2020, newyorker.com).

Is the climate changing?  Historians tell us that it has in the past.  The medieval warming period (c. 950-1250 A.D.) seems to have brought greater rain fall and crop production in northern Europe.  “Human civilization thrived when dramatic warming ushered in enhanced crop production and the more beneficial climate of the Medieval Warming Period” (Global Cooling, Not Global Warming, Doomed the Ancients, James Taylor, forbes.com; see also Ryan Reeves, Medieval Society, YouTube).  The Little Ice Age (c. 1300-1870) seems to have brought crop production decline (forbes.com; see also, How The Little Ice Age Changed History, by John Lanchester, newyorker.com).  It is now believed, by some, that the Little Ice Age is responsible for the especially dense wood which makes the Stradivarius violins so special (Does Climate Explain Prized Violins’ Tone? By Duncan Mansfield, Dec. 8, 2003, nbcnews.com).  1816 is known as “The Year Without A Summer.”  It is believed to have been caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, which occurred the previous year.  “Many residents of New England and the Canadian Maritimes froze to death, starved, or suffered from severe malnutrition… many others from the region pulled up their stakes and moved to western New York and the Midwest, where the cold was less severe.  In fact, the year without a summer is now believed to have been one major catalyst in the western expansion of the United States” (1816, The Year Without A Summer by Jamie McLeod, farmersalmanac.com; see also – 1816, New England Experienced Year Without A Summer, wmur.com). It was reported that the temperature had dropped 1/2 a degree F in the Northern Hemisphere between 1945 and 1968, and that the growing seasons had shortened by 2 weeks since 1950. The Newsweek headline on April 28, 1975 was “The Coming Ice Age.” Peter Gwynne wrote an article in it entitled “The Cooling World.” Yes, temperature changes occur. And fear sells

The data suggests that the climate has warmed in recent times.  “The Earth is generally regards as having warmed about 1o C. (1.8o F).  Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, around 1750” (Exactly How Much Has Earth Warmed And Does It Matter? By Earl J. Richie, forbes.com).  The EPA says, “Since 1901, the average temperature across the continuous 48 states has risen at an average rate of 0.16o F per decade” (Climate Change Indicators, epa.gov).  

Keep in mind that global temperature readings have only existed a short time.  “The oldest continuous temperature record is the Central England Temperature Data Series which began in 1659, and the Hadley Centre has some measurements beginning in 1850, but there are too few data before 1880 for scientists to estimate average temperatures for the entire planet.  Data from earlier years is reconstructed from proxy records like tree rings, pollen counts and ice cores…  However instruments are not perfectly distributed around the globe, and some measurement sites have been deforested or urbanized since 1880, affecting temperatures nearby.  Each agency uses algorithms to filter the effects of these changes out of the temperature record and interpolate where data is sparse, like over the vast southern ocean, when calculating global averages” (Why Does the Temperature Record… Begin at 1880, nasa.gov).

Is climate change good or bad?  This is debated.  Most think it is a bad thing.  Some are not of this opinion (e.g. Why Climate Change is Good for the World by Matt Ridley, spectator.co.uk). 

Is man a major cause of climate change?  This is hotly debated.  Our government says, “There are many ‘natural’ and ‘anthropogenic (human induced) factors that contribute to climate change” (Why is Climate Change Happening and What are the Causes?, usgs.gov).  Among the anthropogenic causes listed are greenhouse gases released into atmosphere, aerosols, and land-use changes.  We know that man can cause local changes in climate, e.g. urban heat islands, where cities are hotter than surrounding rural areas.

Thoughts From the Bible

1.  Stewardship

It is true that we are to be good stewards of God’s creation (e.g. Gen. 2:15; Deut. 20:19-20; 22:6-7, etc.)

Man can do great damage to his environment. Think – the Texas City industrial explosion disaster (1947); the Love Canal, Niagara Falls, New York disaster (1970s); the Bhopal, India Union Carbide disaster (1984); the Chernobyl, Ukraine nuclear disaster (1986) – to name a few.

Remember that Israel in the wilderness was instructed how to dispose of human excrement. Deuteronomy 23:12-14 read, “Also you shall have a place outside the camp, where you may go out; and you shall have an implement among your equipment, and when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and turn and cover your refuse. For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you and give your enemies over to you; therefore your camp shall be holy, that He may see no unclean thing among you, and turn away from you.”

2.  Promise

God told Noah, “While the earth remains, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease” (Genesis 8:22). 

This tells me that man is not as powerful as he thinks, and the earth is not as fragile as he thinks.  Seasons will continue.  Crops will continue to be produced and harvested as long as the earth remains.  We do not need to worry (Matthew 6:31-33).

3.  End

God, not man, will end this earthly existence.  Paul wrote, “We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed – in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).  Peter wrote, “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat” (2 Peter 3:10).  This will not be a gradual extinction.  It will be a catastrophic event.  It will be sudden destruction (1 Thessalonians 5:3). 

4.  Preparation

Let us remember that the end is coming.  “Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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