Climate Change: Economics, Relationships and Theology

A new report on climate change authored by 13 U.S. government agencies builds on what we already know. If we don’t change how we live on this planet, the planet will change how we live on it. We will see this in more destructive weather patterns like hurricanes and tornados, an increase in devastating fires, increasing food shortages and rising sea levels.  The response of the Occupant, not surprisingly, is to bury the report and attack the credentials of its authors and the agencies they represent. It is a report of his administration. Go figure. 

Climate change has been news for thirty years. A New York Times article cited reports built on 100 years of data beginning with the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius. He was the first to estimate the impact of coal burning on the temperature of the planet.  It is now accepted by 97% of scientists that greenhouse gases have widespread detrimental effects.    

As usual, statistics only tell part of the story; the rest of it is economic, relational and theological.  Over 85% of the world’s energy comes from burning coal.  It is the most economical fuel in the world.  There are over 1200 new coal plants in varying stages of construction throughout Asia.  It is the most accessible source of energy for developing nations to satisfy their increasing need for electricity as they raise themselves out of poverty.  It is difficult to sell the idea that the world shouldn’t be burning coal when the Occupant is rolling back regulations on coal burning here in the United States.  If the richest nation in the world isn’t concerned, why should the poorest nations stop accessing the main component of their economic growth? 

This is where the economic meets the relational.  Despite the Occupant’s “America First” rhetoric his coal policies do not serve the American people or the planet.  It traps coal mining states in an economic niche that costs its residents dearly.  We will see an increase in black lung disease and deaths from mining accidents as the “need” for coal increases. Meanwhile the government continues to roll back health care reform and protection for workers in general.

Falling back on a cheap energy source also stunts investment in alternative energy sources that are better for the planet, like solar and wind. It is interesting how government subsidies continue to go to the coal and oil lobbies while monies for alternative energy have all but dried up.  It may have something to do with the fact that the acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal industry lobbyist.

All of the above demonstrates a striking selfishness regarding others and the planet.  Many are quick to say “not my problem,” except it really is.  The earth is not a limitless resource.  There is a limit to how much the planet can absorb of the impact humanity has on its water, soil and air. We are seeing the edges of that limit drawing closer.  There is a plastic ocean floating in the Pacific that is three times the size of France. We are now realizing how short sighted it was to ship our trash out to sea and hope “the ocean will take care of it.”  This is just one example of many.    

We are admonished in Hebrew Scripture to be stewards of the earth’s bounty.  We are told to “till the earth and keep it” (Genesis 2:15).  To be a steward means to care for something on behalf of another.  We are stewards of the earth on behalf of the Creator.  This is the second creation narrative in Genesis. The problem is that the first Creation narrative in Genesis 1 is more familiar. In this narrative it states that humans are to have “dominion” over the earth.  That has been interpreted as permission to exploit the earth, its resources and its people in the name of progress. The word “dominion” is a translation error.  When translated correctly both creation narratives agree that humans have a sacred duty to care for the earth and its vast resources.  It is troubling to think that hundreds of years of plundering the earth is encouraged by one mistranslated verse of scripture.

Being good stewards means that we are as concerned for others as we are for ourselves.  It is what most of the gospel, and a good part of the Old Testament is about. In a practical way it means being as concerned for coal workers in Tennessee as we are for the people of Japan in the wake of their nuclear disaster. It means we are as concerned about drought and famine in other parts of the world as we are about our own grocery bill.  It means we are as concerned about the oil pipeline traversing Native American lands as we are about the price of gas at the pump.  It means we are as concerned about our carbon footprint as we are about the price of cucumbers.  It means that we see ourselves as members of a global community whose well being is intimately tied to our own. It means we take seriously the responsibility we have to “till the earth and keep it.” 




6 thoughts on “Climate Change: Economics, Relationships and Theology”

  1. Hi Pat. Thank you. I’m interested in this topic which is part of a theology course which I am swimming with. Not a lot about this topic as a Direct issue so thinking of starting a new ‘Climate Change and Theology” fb Site for exchange, info and ideas etc. Do you think that it would be of real interest to some?
    Value your feedback.


    1. Hi Tony, I think it is a great idea! There are few places where we can reflect spiritually and theologically about climate change. It is a missing voice in the dialogue. Sign me up! Pat


  2. Hi Pat. the new FB group is set up and is open to the public at large and is now nearly 24 hours old! Will do some “marketing” next week. So please join up; it is titled: Theology and Climate Change. Best wishes and have a great Sunday. Tony.


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