Saturday, June 19, 2010

Religion and Global Warming - Seriously

I decided after making my climate change posts to go and read a bunch of what various authors have to say about climate change.  I read a ton on the internet and ordered a bunch of books from the library and in most cases I found what I expected to find.  There was one very dramatic exception though, and it is in the book titled Why We Disagree About Climate Change.  I fully expected this book to be a bunch of skeptics arguments about why climate change is not happening or even some kind of middle ground talking about the many suggested responses.  What I did not expect was someone trying to talk about climate change in the context of religion.  What that sort of thing seems tailor made for me to read and talk about it certainly surprised me to see it.

The author talks a lot about how religions view climate change and what sort of action they advocate in response to it.  He obviously knows a lot about climate but he seems to be seriously lacking in knowledge about religion.  For example:

There is a reverence for life - a sacredness - that is central to nearly all religious writings, even if expressed in different ways. There is also a belief in the innate value of the entire created order, the material universe brought into being as an expression of the creative will of God, or the gods.

I don't know what religious writing Mike Hulme has been reading that suggest these things but it sure isn't the Bible.  This is strange since Mike claims to be a Christian, so one would think that if his holy book (and one that is a basis for several of the largest religions in the world) held exactly the opposite views that he does he would know.  Unfortunately for anyone hoping for objective reporting this book espouses the view that religions all agree that climate change is real and that we have a duty to stop it and to put the welfare of future generations first in our thoughts and considerations.  The Bible does *not* have sacredness of life or value of all creation as a central theme.  Sacrifice, burning, wanton destruction, murder and war are enshrined as central to God's desires and hopes.  Though God does advocate helping widows and orphans he also advocates heinous crimes against anyone violating any of his laws (or anyone not born a Jew) and displays virtually no respect or reverence for anything that isn't human.

This sort of view isn't surprising.  People don't read the Bible, nor do they actually concern themselves with what it says, which is good and bad.  It is good in that there is practically no value in knowing what the Bible says when it comes to making decisions, but it is bad in that they can continue to do whatever they want content that the Bible has something in it that justifies their actions.  It is all well and good for a few religious people to say that their religion has various 'pro-earth' concepts buried in it, but by and large they are simply assuming that their religion epitomizes their own values when in fact there simply is not consensus among those that follow the religion nor agreement from official religious sources.

Like in many other situations it is well and good to say you feel one way, but simply assuming that any group you belong to must agree with you and that your group must have been founded on those principles is simply hubris.  This is all entirely aside from the matter that it is quite trivial to be against bad things and quite difficult to come up with good solutions.  The author does at least acknowledge that religions have not been any more successful than the rest of us in coming up with solutions that actually work.


  1. Sky,
    While living (in the '70's) in the little country of Nepal, sandwiched between the growing giants China and India, I came to the realization that we are just a generation or two away from really being screwed by the population growth and the rapid industrialization of those two countries alone. Whether we cut a tree or plant a tree here is pretty moot in the big scheme of things.
    I've also arrived at this conclusion. Earth is both a beautiful and a vulnerable planet. We should both enjoy our limited time on it, and worry about it (and take reasonable individual actions based on those worries) - in that order.
    I believe that AGW is an irrefutable fact but I also believe that there are 3 other major contributors to climate change that are independent of we human beings. They are 1) solar fluctuations, 2) geologic activity (volcanoes), and 3) fluctuations in ocean currents. Nuthin' we can or should do about those 3, but I agree with you that we should all take on the battle against AGW, each in our own way. But first and foremost - enjoy our brief sojourn on this planet.
    Uncle Mike Z.

  2. You are entirely right that if the developing world decides to ignore AGW what we do here in Canada cannot stop climate change. I personally don't see how any sort of global consensus on climate change is going to work since even Kyoto with its very modest goals is not going to be met by the vast majority who signed on. Even then, even if we all met our Kyoto goals we would still be ratcheting up the CO2 tremendously going forward. It is a good idea to reduce emissions and a good idea to work on greener technologies but the real fact of the matter is that there will be a lot of warming over the next century or two and we are going to have to find a way to deal with it. Barring some kind of *major* energy innovation or a drastic change in the way humans think global warming is going to happen.

  3. I'm really confused... does the author of this book think that religious people are by-and-large interested in stopping climate change?

  4. Well, he is convinced that religions have a central theme of sanctity of life and the natural world. He is convinced that religious leaders are by and large very supportive of the environmental movement and against climate change in particular. It isn't entirely clear if he thinks that random Joe is more or less likely to strongly support action against climate change based on religious preferences.

  5. I listened to a podcast a year or so ago where the lecturer suggested that, if we really want to do something about AGW the industrialized west must, to some degree, subsidize positive global energy solutions for poorer countries.

    I'm assuming this means spending tons on tech development (solar, wind, nuclear, etc) then showing poorer countries some of the money to make it happen.

    As your resident pinko commie I am of course on board with this.

  6. I don't think that I know how to joke properly on the internet..... Hopefully that last sentence won't confuse anyone too badly. I was serious about it being public policy direction that I support.

  7. If you have seen "The Great Global Warming Swindle" or just wondered what it was about when Sky mentioned it, check out an excellent analysis of issues with movie:

  8. If you want another very interesting dissection of the movie you can check out:

    However, there is some completely crazy stuff at the end where the audience is asking questions of the panel and they constantly bring up things attempting to link the environmental movement to the eugenics movement. I don't know where that comes from but it sure blows my mind.

  9. See, I'm really puzzled how someone could get the idea that religious leaders are generally supportive of environmental causes. I don't think that has anything to do with reality. Is the author just assuming that since he's religious and he supports the environment that other religious people do too? Religion is one of the main ways that the "climate change is fake" idea is sold. If you go look for articles on the net about why we shouldn't believe in climate change you'll find a lot of them on religious sites that also have articles about why we shouldn't believe in evolution. There is a large group of religious leaders who basically believe they are at war with science, and so they oppose on principle anything that scientists have started agreeing on in the last couple of decades (obviously stuff from before then has largely gotten too ingrained into society to deny).

    As you say (or at least imply), people generally think whatever they think and then just figure that their religion is supportive of or provides a justification for those things. Religious leaders have a big impact on what people think, but religions themselves don't affect very many people (just religious scholars and a few mavericks, probably).