Changing the Climate Change Conversation

 

The Scripture readings in the weekday and Sunday lectionary cycle this time of the year are heavily laden with images that, for some people, call to mind the end of the world in which creation itself (the seas, the sky, the stars, etc) turn nasty and bring havoc on humanity.   Such biblical imagery, coupled with the ever increasing volume of media reports about rising seas, warming temperatures, raging fires, and “climate change” have led more than a few faithful Christians to ask: is the world ending?

This is a topic worthy of several blog posts, but I can offer a couple of points for perspective in this particular article. For one, a careful reading of the Scriptures in their entirety would suggest that many of its images about the destructive forces of creation have more to do with ancient ways of explaining God’s supreme power over the earth to a pantheistic world (that believed stars were gods) than with an actual, literal desire on God’s part to destroy the earth in some fiery show of might. We must be cautious in an overly literal reading of those passages.

Granted, it is a doctrine of the Church that there will be a final judgment and a second coming, but not necessarily in a way that will bring floods, fires, locusts, etc. God seeks to perfect and renew his creation, not destroy it. And the new heavens and the new earth that are envisioned in the Scriptures are quite likely these heavens and this earth, in a perfected, glorified, sinless state. Sinners will be punished and the righteous will be saved, but how exactly that will look is mysterious.

God’s plan for creation, and this earth, includes the human family by design and by intention. We are the crowning of his creation, and we are its stewards and managers according to the ancient Jewish and Christian worldview.

This leads to a comment or two about “climate change” as it is discussed these days in so many sectors. Without debating the merits of the scientific observations about the climate of the earth, it needs to be stated that one glaring problem of the whole societal discussion is that it lacks a solid grounding in philosophy or in an explicitly Christocentric worldview. This is a serious difficulty because without those things, we will be mistaken in our conclusions about the nature of the problem and what to do about it.

On the philosophy front, to give a very simple example, we are unable to answer the question using pure science alone of whether or not any change in the climate at all is a good or a bad thing. The term “climate change” itself is intentionally vague and misleading. The climate is always changing because creation is a dynamic system. Species have appeared and disappeared all throughout history, long before modern civilization. Therefore, the fact that the climate is changing, all by itself, does not offer any ethical or moral guidance about what it means. It is philosophically equivalent to pointing at a car passing by and saying “it’s moving.” More helpful questions or observations would be: is it driving itself? Is it going to crash and cause injury? Is it a police car that is legally allowed to drive at a high rate of speed? Where did the car come from and where is it going?

The “extra” questions are those that pertain to “teleology” and “epistemology,” which is the study of purpose, ends, design, and meaning in existence. Those areas naturally give rise to ethics- what is “good” and “bad.” Modern science has intentionally divorced itself from those essential areas of inquiry because it denies design or purpose. Therefore, all that science can say is “the climate is changing.” By itself, in isolation, it is a very unhelpful comment.

No, what is needed is information about what the authentic role of humanity is relative to the rest of creation. We have always tinkered with our surroundings, and to demand that we reach some plane of existence wherein we do not impact our surroundings is contrary to our design and nature as creatures.

More important is the question of what is the ethical, good, and responsible management of our surroundings and of creation. For that, we must turn to divine revelation and to questions of sin, conversion, grace, virtue, vocation, divine plan, and God’s perfecting of his creation of which we are (as was stated above) an essential element.

But, modern science has also intentionally divorced itself from any reference to divine revelation, which means it has left itself no means to answer its own pressing questions. What is worse, such a worldview actually leads to the destruction of humanity (and creation) not its rescue, which is the great unspoken lie or trap in the current discussion on climate change. At base, it is an anti-human endgame and conversation. Which is why so many are so suspicious of it.

The polarized divide between the climate change alarmists and the “deniers” of the evidence can only be bridged by a return to philosophy and revelation. We are responsible for the earth because of our God-given vocation and purpose. No other truth will unite us. No other truth will authentically protect all of creation.

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About Father Nathan Reesman

Father Reesman is a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He is the Shared Pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, and also of Saint Frances Cabrini Parish, both in West Bend, Wisconsin.
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