Young Evangelicals and Climate Change


Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

What might the application of this verse mean for the evangelical role in fighting climate change?  How might creation care and environmental justice help the “welfare” of the cities where live and work?  For me and many others, this is a “life” issue.  It is something that churches must address as part of their missions.

The college students behind Young Evangelicals for Climate Action (YECA) agree.  Check out Meera Subramanian’s profile of this group at Inside Climate News.  A taste:

Climate science isn’t questioned at Wheaton College the way it often is in the wider evangelical community. The school is a brick-and-mortar rebuttal to the myth that science and religion must be at odds with each other. When Wheaton students step into their-state-of-the-art science building, for instance, they are greeted with signs stating that a “sound Biblical theology gives us a proper basis for scientific inquiry,” and a display featuring locally excavated Perry the Mastodon, which carbon dating shows to be more than 13,000 years old.

The school is not alone in intertwining commitments to love God and protect the earth, often referred to as “creation care.” The Cape Town Commitment, a global agreement between evangelical leaders from nearly 200 countries, includes acknowledgement of climate change and how it will hurt the world’s poor (and it is required reading for Wheaton freshmen). Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University and an evangelical, has been an outspoken advocate for climate action. And in addition to YECA, there are numerous groups active in this arena, including the Evangelical Climate Initiative, Climate Caretakers, Care of Creation and A Rocha.

In late 2015, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)—the biggest umbrella group of evangelicals in the country, representing 43 million Americans—issued a statement accepting climate change, acknowledging the human contribution to it and encouraging action. YECA’s advocacy helped bring that statement, called “Loving the Least of These,” into being. In it, NAE argues that Christians should be compelled to care about climate change as a matter of social justice, equating those without the resources to adapt to failed farming or dry wells or rising seas as the modern-day equivalents of the widows and orphans of Jesus’s day.

Read the entire piece here.

12 thoughts on “Young Evangelicals and Climate Change

  1. There aren’t a lot of studies on air pollution and stillbirths, sadly, but IVF clinics have a financial interest in “successful pregnancies” so they’ve collected a lot of data. And they’ve found pregnancies end in stillbirths more often the closer the mother lives to a highway. There were about 100 third trimester abortions last year. There were about 26,000 stillbirths last year. I cannot understand how pollution is not a bigger deal to the pro-life movement.


  2. Hello again, Alex:
    I am still a bit skeptical of all of these studies which allege high death rates owing to air pollution. There is an academic bias to support studies which favor global warming alarms. Serious scientists, who write proposals for study funding showing the opposite, are generally not granted money. In other words, if you are a global warming denier, don’t bother applying.
    With all of that being said, I am all for healthy air, and I like your open market idealism. I suppose I am just distrustful of multinational groups setting policies for the whole world. The Chinese, the Indians, and the Pakistanis need to get their own houses in order.
    As an interesting aside, my father and hs siblings were reared in an Appalachian coal town during the first half of the 20th Century. One of my aunts told me that they couldn’t hang clothes out to dry when the mine was running because the there was so much coal dust in the air. It would cover the wet clothing. Obviously, everyone was breathing that dust. I personally would not have liked inhaling that stuff, but the only members of my father’s family who had respiratory problems later in life were the cigarette smokers. My point is that certain environmental studies can start with a bias. If a group of researchers wants to indict carbon fuels, it isn’t difficult to do.


  3. James, it might be my open market idealism, but I think you’re getting ahead of yourself talking about legislators and letter writing campaigns. The first step is deciding what energy *we* buy for our homes, and our churches. And like I said, we can make solar and electric vehicles affordable for China, Pakistan, India, Egypt, and others by buying it for ourselves, the same way we made cell phones affordable for everyone. Except instead of getting everyone on Facebook, the effect would be that it saves more lives than World Peace!
    Or if you just want to consider your direct effects on Americans, and don’t really think the market has that kind of power, it’s still true for America. More Americans die from air pollution than from war and murder combined. MIT estimates 200,000 Americans die from air pollution every year. 53,000 from transportation, 52,000 from power generation, the rest from industry, cooking, heating, and various. Surely that should be a significant factor in our personal energy choice if we value the sanctity of life.


  4. To clarify my own comment – if I personally really believed that an American holocaust was happening all the time, that every Planned Parenthood clinic was an Einsatzgruppen in disguise[1], sure, I’d care much less about the environment.

    And I’d find it easy to believe the stories that my wealthy political allies wanted to tell about how they weren’t really at fault for those environmental problems; after all, to use Fred Clark’s formation, they’re not Satanic Baby-Killers.

    [1] I call that the extreme pro-life position because I know there are pro-life people who don’t feel that way (like our host) and I don’t want to tar them with the same brush.

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  5. Alex,
    I went to the WHO site. The headline figure they used as an estimate was 4.8 million deaths from external air pollution. It was an estimate. The site also listed between three and four million death estimates from internal pollution which equates to cooking and heating fumes. I am not trying to be cute here, Alex, but this second type of pollution could be remedied by transitioning to freeze dried foods, heavy woolen clothing, and top notch sleeping bags. I couldn’t believe the WHO had the audacity to lump internal cooking and heating with air pollution from factories and internal combustion engines. Of course, it allowed them to achieve a more alarming aggregate figure.
    I found some other sites on the subject where the findings were more tempered. Instead of the dramatic seven million figure there was a more modest set of estimates about the supposed number of months taken from people’s lives because of external air pollution. What did this air pollution supposedly cause? The studies suggest stroke, heart disease, COPD, and other respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. The problem is obviously establishing a proximate link between a man in China having a heart attack and the air pollution. He might have been a heavy cigarette smoker.
    But a lot of these disputable facts are not all that relevant for our legislators. The most polluted countries were not in North America. The Chinese, Pakistanis, Indians, Egyptians, and others were the big air polluters. Maybe the environmental crusaders at Wheaton College should start a letter-writing campaign to the heads of state in these countries.
    Again, Alex, I like breathing clean air. I don’t even like going to Los Angeles. Yet to assign cosmic moral import to China’s industrial policy is a bit of a stretch. Their abortion policies are doing more harm to life.


  6. Alex,
    I will take a look at the study if I can find it. I need to read the specifics regarding the soecific connections. It might be difficult for these WHO people to certify that the primary cause of death was respiratory failure due to air pollution. Just because a person who lives in a polluted area dies does not mean that they were killed only by air pollution. I would guess that these 7 million deaths are in Second or Third World settings where more immediate health hazards than dirty air exist.


  7. Oh yeah, no, don’t take my word for it James. I’m glad your skeptical, it’s an incredible claim. But it’s the conclusion of the World Health Organization. “WHO estimates that around 7 million people die every year from exposure to fine particles in polluted air”. If you can find a more reputable source that says a significantly lower number I’d be happy to discover I was wrong.


  8. Alex,
    I am not sure you can document the charges about air pollution killing more people than all those other causes. Don’t get me wrong; I am not for air pollution. I just don’t think it is the boogeyman you suggest.


  9. Unless you are the secretary of energy you are putting the cart before the horse. Our first question should be what energy should *I* use… and since pollution kills more people than war and murder combined and air pollution kills more third trimester babies than abortion, our energy choice needs to reflect how much we value the sanctity of life! (Not to mention the impact on life from ocean acidification and climate change and pollution’s impact on God’s creation.) Thank the Lord, he has provided us another way, through solar and electric vehicles! And since they are technologies, like cell phones, the faster we adopt them the cheaper they become for everyone!
    And, pardon if I’m putting words in your mouth John, but the real issue addressed by this post has nothing to do with solutions. It’s that the church is not accepting that climate change is even relevant problem, or real.


  10. This subject, like many others, has two sides. For the time being certain fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas might be the most cost-effective way of providing energy to less affluent consumers. I have not really examined the subject but would guess that there are plenty of competing studies on both sides of the issue. And don’t forget nuclear power as an alternative. Of course, dyed-in-the-wool environmentalists are going to oppose this energy source on principle. They will quickly abandon their concern for the energy needs of the poor if they don’t approve of the source. The poor and needy must buckle under when their evangelical betters deem it meet. “We at Wheaton and the NAE know what is best for you.”


  11. Republicans represent a lot of interest groups. Christians would be wise to discern when republicans are representing Christian interests, and when they are representing, say, fossil fuel interests. And while there’s nothing wrong with working to make republicans represent Christian interests, it’s important Christians don’t start to represent republican’s other interests. When each person starts to realize climate change is real, all those prominent Christians who said climate change was incompatible with the Bible or God’s character, or Christianity have just said the Bible and God and Christianity are incomparable with reality. And they are proving that prominent Christians don’t know God or the Bible, and they can’t be trusted to tell the truth. And for what? To defend fossil fuel interests?


  12. This is a case where the rhetorical power of what I’ll call the extreme pro-life argument squeezes out a lot of movement energy.


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