Question: "How should a Christian view global warming?"
Answer: As Christians, we should be concerned about our effect on our environment. God appointed humanity to be the steward of this world (Genesis 1:28), not the destroyer of it. However, we should not allow environmentalism to become a form of idolatry, where the “rights” of an inanimate planet and its non-human creatures are held in higher esteem than God (Romans 1:25) and humanity created in His image. With global warming, as with any other topic, it is crucial to understand what the facts are, from whom those facts come, how they are interpreted, and what the spiritual implications are.
A careful look at global warming, as a topic, shows that there is a great deal of disagreement about the facts and substance of climate change. Those who blame humanity for climate change often disagree about what facts lead them to that conclusion. Those who hold humanity totally innocent of it often ignore established facts. Experience and research leads us to believe that warming is, in fact, occurring; however, there is little to no objective evidence that humanity is the cause, nor that the effects will be catastrophic. The idea of earth “wearing out” is an apt analogy. This entire world has been continually decaying since the fall.
Global warming “facts” are notoriously hard to come by. One of the few facts universally agreed upon is that the current average temperature of Earth is indeed rising at this time. According to most estimates, this increase in temperature amounts to about 0.4-0.8 °C (0.72-1.44 °F) over the last 100 years. Data regarding times before that is not only highly theoretical but very difficult to obtain with any accuracy. The very methods used to obtain historical temperature records are controversial, even among the most ardent supporters of the theory of human-caused climate change. The facts leading one to believe that humans are not responsible for the current change in temperature are as follows:
• Global temperature changes from past millennia, according to available data, were often severe and rapid, long before humanity supposedly had any impact at all. That is, the current climate change is not as unusual as some alarmists would like to believe.
• Recent recorded history mentions times of noticeable global warming and cooling, long before humanity had any ability to produce industrial emissions.
• Water vapor, not CO2, is the most influential greenhouse gas. It is difficult to determine what effect, if any, mankind has on worldwide water vapor levels.
• Given the small percentage of human-produced CO2, as compared to other greenhouse gases, human impact on global temperature may be as little as 1%.
• Global temperatures are known to be influenced by other, non-human-controlled factors, such as sunspot activity, orbital movement, volcanic activity, solar system effects, and so forth. CO2 emission is not the only plausible explanation for global warming.
• Ice Age temperature studies, although rough, frequently show temperatures changing before CO2 levels, not after. This calls into question the relationship between warming and carbon dioxide; in some cases, the data could easily be interpreted to indicate that warming caused an increase in carbon dioxide, rather than the reverse!
• Computer simulations used to “predict” or “demonstrate” global warming require the assumption of human causation, and even then are not typically repeatable or reliable. Current computer weather simulations are neither predictive nor repeatable.
• Most of the global temperature increase of the last 100 years occurred before most of the humanity-made CO2 was produced.
• In the 1970s, global temperatures had actually been dropping since 1945, and a “global cooling” concern became prominent, despite what is now dismissed as a lack of scientific support.
• The “consensus” claimed by most global warming theorists is not scientific proof; rather, it is a statement of majority opinion. Scientific majorities have been wrongly influenced by politics and other factors in the past. Such agreement is not to be taken lightly, but it is not the same thing as hard proof.
• This “consensus,” as with many other scientific theories, can be partially explained by growing hostility to those with differing viewpoints, making it less likely that a person without preconceived notions would take on the subject for research. The financial and political ramifications of the global warming debate are too serious to be ignored, though they should not be central to any discussion.
• The data being used to support anthropogenic (humanity-caused) global warming is typically based on small data sets, single samples, or measurements taken in completely different regions. This creates an uncertainty in the results that rarely gets the attention that alarmist conclusions do.
While the above list is not exhaustive, it does include several of the major points that raise doubts about mankind’s actual effect on global temperatures. While no one can deny that warming is occurring, “overwhelming evidence” of any objective type does not exist to support the idea that global warming is significantly influenced by human actions. There is plenty of vague, short-sighted, and misunderstood data that can be seen as proving “anthropogenic” global-warming theory. All too often, data used to blame humans for global warming is far less reliable than data used for other areas of study. It is a valid point of contention that the data used in these studies is frequently flawed, easily misinterpreted, and subject to preconception.
In regards to issues such as this, skepticism is not the same as disbelief. There are fragments of evidence to support both sides, and logical reasons to choose one interpretation over another. The question of anthropogenic global warming should not divide Christian believers from each other (Luke 11:17). Environmental issues are important, but they are not the most important questions facing mankind. Christians ought to treat our world with respect and good stewardship, but we should not allow politically driven hysteria to dominate our view of the environment. Our relationship with God is not dependent on our belief in human-caused global warming.