Skip to site content

Why Christians Cannot Ignore Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its fifth report in September 2013.
Sir John Houghton, a well-known Christian activist and former member of Kidlington Baptist Church in Oxford, had chaired IPCC’s Science Working Group for the previous two reports and noted the following points:

â—     It is extremely likely (that is, more than 95 percent probability) that human influence on climate caused most of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951-2010.

â—     There is high confidence that this has led to warming of the ocean, melting of snow and ice, a rise in global mean sea level and to more climate extremes with increased intensity.

â—     Further warming will result from continued emissions of greenhouse gases, causing changes in all parts of the climate system. Considerable reduction will be required if climate change is to be limited.

As climate change continues, it is the poorest in our world who will suffer the most, and so for Christians this is an issue of justice. The media picked up some of the key concerns for people around the world:

â—     For farming, there will be more droughts, more floods, less reliable rain and more water shortages, which will mean worse harvests and higher food prices for most regions.

â—     There will be more frequent storm surges, coastal flooding and increasing rise in sea levels. It will be harder for many fisheries to make a living, especially tropical ones, as the seas get warmer and more acidic and as coastal ecosystems change.

â—     Heat waves will pose increasing risks to health and lead to premature deaths. There will also be the dangers of violence as unstable food prices and more competition for resources will make conflict more likely. More people will be forced to move to make a living, and more people will be at risk from water-borne diseases.

Genesis 1-11 presents us with the picture of God the creator and covenant maker. The psalms develop this further and express creation’s praise (see Psalm 19; Psalm 104). The prophets describe human rebellion in breaking the covenant and the resulting destruction of creation (see Isaiah 24)

But God’s covenant with creation remains our true and enduring hope. Genesis 8:21-22 assures us that lasting change will depend on God’s activity in the face of human wickedness.

This provides the backdrop for the crucial Old Testament laws of Sabbath and Jubilee – principles that Jesus reaffirms in the gospel Sermon in the Mount. They offer us three principles for farming and food production:

â—     Sharing – with the poor

â—     Caring – for the earth

â—     Restraint – of power and wealth

As we expose our contemporary situation to their scrutiny, we recognize that there are imbalances in the world food system, unfair trading and a growing industrialization of agriculture, which is destroying the environment. Instead of keeping the Sabbath, we have a “Sabbath-less society.”

To be a Christian is to be involved in Christ’s mission of redemption of the whole world.

Every person is made in God’s image; every person is offered his grace and, in turn, the opportunity to labor together with God in the creation and recreation of the world.

Christians have a contribution to make. God created and entrusted the earth to humanity and will redeem the whole of creation (Romans 8:19-21).

In Christ there is a new creation, but as ever in the New Testament, there is a now-but-not-yet aspect.

We see the first fruits of the spirit, but still creation groans as it waits for God’s human creatures to reach their perfect humanity (Romans 8:18-23).

Paul places the redemption of human beings in the context of the redemption of the whole creation. Creation is brought back into relationship with God through the cross (Colossians 1:15-20).

This takes place as human beings find their restored relationship with the creator, through the cross, living as hopeful disciples.

It is this ultimate hope in God’s promises and purposes that is the foundation of Christian discipleship.

We live as those who are made in the image of God and cooperate with God’s transformative action in and for the world.

God is no absentee landlord but deeply and passionately involved in his world – accompanying, incarnate and present as Holy Spirit.

The gospel narrative that emerges from the New Testament is one that encompasses the whole of creation.

If we are to call ourselves a gospel people, the condition and well being of creation is not something to be ignored.

John Weaver is the chairman of the John Ray Initiative, an educational charity focused on connecting environment, science and Christianity in the United Kingdom. He was principal of South Wales Baptist College until his retirement in 2011 and served as the president of the Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) in 2008-09. A version of this article first appeared on The Baptist Times – the online newspaper of BUGB. It is used with permission.