What is climate change?

Climate change

Is climate change real?

There is broad-based agreement within the scientific community that climate change is real. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration concur that climate change is indeed occurring and is almost certainly due to human activity.

What are the causes of climate change?

The primary cause of climate change is the burning of fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, which emits greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—primarily carbon dioxide. Other human activities, such as agriculture and deforestation, also contribute to the proliferation of greenhouse gases that cause climate change.

While some quantities of these gases are a naturally occurring and critical part of Earth’s temperature control system, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 did not rise above 300 parts per million between the advent of human civilization roughly 10,000 years ago and 1900. Today it is at about 400 ppm, a level not reached in more than 400,000 years.

Increased burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate change.

(Photo: Chris Conway/Getty Images)

What are the effects of climate change?

Even small increases in Earth’s temperature caused by climate change can have severe effects. The earth’s average temperature has gone up 1.4° F over the past century and is expected to rise as much as 11.5° F over the next. That might not seem like a lot, but the average temperature during the last Ice Age was about 4º F lower than it is today.

Rising sea levels due to the melting of the polar ice caps (again, caused by climate change) contribute to greater storm damage; warming ocean temperatures are associated with stronger and more frequent storms; additional rainfall, particularly during severe weather events, leads to flooding and other damage; an increase in the incidence and severity of wildfires threatens habitats, homes, and lives; and heat waves contribute to human deaths and other consequences.

Climate change: the debate

While consensus among nearly all scientists, scientific organizations, and governments is that climate change is happening and is caused by human activity, a small minority of voices questions the validity of such assertions and prefers to cast doubt on the preponderance of evidence. Climate change deniers often claim that recent changes attributed to human activity can be seen as part of the natural variations in Earth’s climate and temperature, and that it is difficult or impossible to establish a direct connection between climate change and any single weather event, such as a hurricane. While the latter is generally true, decades of data and analysis support the reality of climate change—and the human factor in this process. In any case, economists agree that acting to reduce fossil fuel emissions would be far less expensive than dealing with the consequences of not doing so.

What the Bible says

Now that we’re working with a specific definition of climate change, let’s go back to the question at hand: does the Bible say there will be climate change? The answer is No, because nowhere does the Bible use that term. But the answer is also Yes in the sense that the Bible does say that in the time just before the second coming of Christ the earth will be in upheaval and human society will be suffering from tremendous conflict, hunger, disease, and natural disasters. And, as we shall see, there’s a significant similarity between what the Bible says will come and what the threat analyses we’ve examined say will come.

Near the end of His ministry, Jesus met privately with His disciples, and they asked Him what the signs of His coming would be (Matthew 24:3). Jesus answered them in astonishing detail. In verses 6 and 7 He said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.” Jesus meant that just before His return we will see conflict between nations, tribes, regions, and ethnic groups. Indeed, we should expect a severe increase in conflict at all levels of human society.

This mirrors the conclusions of climate change impacts by the CNA mentioned earlier, that we can expect to see a significant increase in global instability, conflict because of “threats to food and water supplies for a fairly large portion of the world’s population.” Jesus said this will happen, so we should not be troubled when it does.

In the second half of Matthew 24:7 Jesus said that “there will be famines and earthquakes in various places.” In other words, we should watch for significant increases in hunger and earthquakes. We’re seeing marked increases in both of these.

It’s worth going a little deeper into earthquakes. We’ve already seen that climate change is causing increased famine (hunger) and disease. Can earthquakes also be linked to climate change? The answer is Yes. Dr. Bill McGuire, in his book Waking The Giant: How a Changing Climate Triggers Earthquakes, Tsunamis, and Volcanos, explains that the earth is in a dynamic state where even small changes in force can bring it to a tipping point. We’re currently seeing transfers of water because of a drying climate in the earth’s temperate regions, along with rising sea levels and increased atmospheric moisture, which is enough to push the earth’s crust to a tipping point that results in dramatically higher seismic activity levels, namely, earthquakes.

While the language used by the Bible and climate-change scientists is quite different, there’s definitely a relationship between the conclusions that are drawn by the two sources.

Why these things will happen

But the Bible goes further than informing us what will happen. It also tells us why these things will happen.

In Genesis 3:1–7 we learn that Adam and Eve disobeyed an express command of God, choosing instead to believe Satan’s lies. Adam and Eve had been given dominion over the world, but when they yielded to Satan, their dominion passed to him. The Bible calls him the “god” or “prince” of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The problem with sin is that it separates human beings, and indeed all of creation, from God. In Romans 6:23 we learn that the result of sin is death, not just of human beings and animals but also of the earth itself. Romans 8:21 tells us that “the whole creation [world] has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” We know that this suffering is the result of sin and separation from God. And it’s from this suffering and death that God rescued us by paying the death penalty for us through His Son. This extraordinary act is an expression of the character of God—that even though we have rejected Him and completely ruined the spectacular earth He created, He’s still doing everything possible to restore us to everlasting life with Him.

The Bible doesn’t use the term climate change, but it does describe in some detail what happens when creation is separated from its Creator. This separation cannot endure much longer, for even now all creation groans under the burden of sin. On the horizon we see the fulfillment of some of the most critically important prophecies in the Bible. In His mercy, God provides a multitude of signs that the earth is reaching a termination point. You may agree or disagree with the idea that humans are accelerating climate change. The subject is a charged political issue with vocal adherents and detractors. But whatever your persuasaion, it’s safe to say that the Bible describes an escalation of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes as Christ’s second coming draws near. It’s a dire prediction, and without Jesus, it’s a future that would be cause for alarm.

Be that as it may, the importance of climate change pales to insignificance in comparison to the importance of Christ’s coming and the creation of a joyful and sustainable society that’s in perfect harmony with its Creator. The next time you read yet another study saying that climate change is accelerating beyond all expectation and that the impacts are coming faster than expected, remember that the Bible predicted these things two thousand years ago. And remember that, terrible as the results of climate change are on our world, they are also indicators that the coming of Jesus is very near.

How, then, should a Christian view climate change? We should view it skeptically and critically, but at the same time honestly and respectfully. Most importantly, though, Christians should look at climate change biblically. What does the Bible say about climate change? Not much. Likely the closest biblical examples of what could be considered climate change would be the end times disasters prophesied in Revelation 6–18. Yet these prophecies have nothing to do with greenhouse gas emissions; rather, they are the result of the wrath of God, pouring out justice on an increasingly wicked world. Also, a Christian must remember that God is in control and that this world is not our home. God will one day erase this current universe (2 Peter 3:7-12) and replace it with the New Heavens and New Earth (Revelation 21–22). How much effort should be made “saving” a planet that God is eventually going to obliterate and replace with a planet so amazing and wonderful that the current earth pales in comparison?

Is there anything wrong with going green? No, of course not. Is trying to reduce your carbon footprint a good thing? Probably so. Are solar panels, wind mills, and other renewable energy sources worth pursuing? Of course. Are any of these things to be the primary focus of followers of Jesus Christ? Absolutely not! As Christians, our focus should be proclaiming the truth of the gospel, the message that has the power to save souls. Saving the planet is not within our power or responsibility. Climate change may or may not be real, and may or may not be human-caused. What we can know for certain is that God is good and sovereign, and that Planet Earth will be our habitat for as long as God desires it to be. Psalm 46:2-3, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

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