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Religion and Climate Change


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Religious people, by virtue of their numbers and influence, are crucial to achieving the broad community acceptance of Anthropogenic Global Warming necessary to address it's causes and it's mitigation effectively. There appears to be a broad a range of views on the issue amongst religious people, from accepting the mainstream science through to vigorous condemnation of it as a kind of green religion and something inspired by Satan. I'm doubtful that the latter will be open to reason but there must be a lot who currently disbelieve the science that can be reached, perhaps by other means. How?

 

I had wondered if restating things in terms of religious symbolism might cause some to reassess; the brimstone stinking coal and it's gases, dug up from the deep bowels of the earth, that burns with a terrible heat and stench can be - for a time - a key to wealth and power beyond all prior imagination, not to mention power great engines of war for smiting enemies with destructive force never before known. But there is a catch with a cost; for every portion burned for momentary benefit the heat transferred to the world at large will be magnified a hundedfold, to persist for tens of generations. It's a bargain with the devil, where the glittering prize entices people to ignore the fine print. ("Now hang on a minute - what was that bit you just said?" "You mean about the world getting irrevocably hotter and more hellish? Don't worry - the planet is huge. All the navvies with all the shovels in the world couldn't dig up and burn enough to make the world noticeably hotter! Even Arrhenius could tell you that!" "No, not that - tell more about the wealth and power and great engines of war for smiting enemies!").

 

Perhaps God buried so much of the stuff deep underground to prevent its excessive use, yet with enough near the surface as a temptation and test of moderation. Certainly there were religious people near the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution that vehemently opposed the use of coal, although for it's stink and health effects when burned inefficiently and close by as household fuel.

 

That style of rhetoric means saying some stuff I don't actually believe - me seriously doubting the existence of God or Satan - even if there are rhetorical means that allow me to do so (like this) whilst making it clear I'm not being literal; yet I think that kind of symbolistic framing does still embody a lot of truth. If attempts at reason with people who believe only God can change the climate or that climate science is part of a new "green" paganism or The Devil's work, is it ethical to put it to them in such terms?

 

I believe the real issues are ethical ones and as far as I can see the vast majority of religious people do perceive their religious teachings and beliefs as ethical. They can often be as well informed as people who are not religious and we do see religious leaders and movements that see it as a matter of intergeneration ethics to act on emissions. Others may see the benefits of fossil fuels in terms of prosperity and reduction of human suffering with the conclusion that to deny humanity these "God given gifts" would increase human suffering. I think they are failing to consider harms that are not immediately and visibly apparent, but I think many of those can, in theory, be persuaded that those harms do exist and that it is, in the longer term, a poor exchange. But it is those who do not accept the science that most need to be spoken to in terms they understand to be persuaded - persuaded that it is a true problem that is only unlike that of any other problem of dealing with consequences of human action that we have to live with in it's scale and duration. In some senses the problem can be described as Biblical in it's scale; I don't altogether understand why a large bloc of religious people reject that the (God given) gifts of observation and reason could be essential to proving humankind capable and trustworthy as custodians of this world, but it could be the kinds of reasons and reasoning being used that prevents effective engagement.

 

I think the climate problem (and other great challenges with living within a finite world) can be understood broadly as a great, inevitable and unavoidable test, not only of the ethics of individual behaviour, but the worthiness of our collective behaviour via our institutions and organisations - and with the one interdependent with the other. It requires ethics to be applied beyond that of individuals and over timespans much greater than the lifespan of individuals. I don't think it takes religious belief to perceive our ability to live within the limits of this world as an unavoidable test of our collective intelligence and inventiveness, of our institutions and our systems of regulation as well as our individual and collective ethics; this is something where I think religious belief and science based understanding not only can find common ground, but where it's essential that we do so.

 

(Minor edits done for grammar and clarity)

Edited by Ken Fabian
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Well the catholic church has adopted an official stance. That might help a bit.

 

Yes, and, as I understand it, there was an actual effort that including inviting leading scientist to The Vatican, to better understand the science prior to The Pope's pronouncements.

 

I would note that Australia's Archbishop Pell has a history of strident objection to climate science, including likening it to a new green paganist religion to be rejected by good Catholics. He also promoted such views via handouts to every child at catholic schools in the lead up to a previous election in Australia as well as addressing the Global Warming Policy Foundation - with a thorough reiteration of most of the main climate science deniers' arguments. He may be keeping his views more to himself because of the current Pope but not without some criticism.

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The Dalai Lama also advocates action on climate change, but unfortunately (in this context) most Buddhists don't listen to him and those Westerners that do listen to him probably aren't climate change deniers.

 

Came across this page: looks like most religions are already on board to some extent. Maybe they should organise a global interfaith meeting for all religious leaders, the goal being to make a joint declaration on the presence of climate change and actions required by the faithful. Wouldn't just be amazing for climate change but for the world in general to see faiths able to unite.

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From afar it does look like religion has a powerful influence within US politics and also like those religious views that tend towards climate science denial lending weight to denial by many politicians. This may not be an accurate reflection, despite some of the Presidential candidates making utterances I took that way. Australian politicians are less likely to express their religious views so openly but they are certainly there. And I suspect for some it verges on being a crusade kind of war, where being misleading and deceptive and even outright lying about their true views and intentions is viewed as something forced upon them by a creeping evil of Political Correctness.

 

The Archbishop Pell example I used looked to me like a mixture of seeing human progress built on fossil fuel use as reducing human suffering and therefore unquestionably good - thus those calling them bad and demanding their use be restricted and replaced must be dangerously misguided. That, combined with aversion to 'alternative', hippy style embrace of non christian, paganistic beliefs, widened to include anti industrialisation style environmentalism such people often espouse. To me it looks like he took the willingness of those demographics to loudly promote the climate issue as evidence of them being it's source - which in turn looks like accepting the framing by early opponents of climate action of climate change being an issue driven and led by a ratbag, irrational fringe. They may have been some of the loudest voices but only because the mainstream was keeping heads down and mouths closed. That framing was, I think, largely political expediency, aided by the failure of mainstream politics - their silence or criticism of the science - to take the scientific advice seriously, cementing the view that such people and their unwelcome solutions were at the issue's foundations. Wjhilst Pell himself felt quite entitled to pronounce on the falseness of climate science, his main criticism of The Pope's position was that The Church shouldn't be doing science or pronouncing on the truth of climate science.

 

I don't know how theology sees human prosperity and suffering - whether God sees it in relative terms or absolute? Because there are more people today living malnourished and in poverty than the entire global population back when The Industrial Revolution was gaining momentum, even if more are prosperous and relieved of sufferring in proportion to total population.

Edited by Ken Fabian
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