Global Warming

and

Christian Responsibilities

Joshua Tsang

[作者保留文章的版權]

(指導老師郭鴻標 博士)

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Introduction

        Global warming is a popular topic in current issues. Global warming has become “the status of a major threat,” as it threatens many people of “a trouble future” and impels apocalyptic dramas;” for instance, 2004 summer movie The Day After Tomorrow. [1] Since the end of 1980s, with global environmental issues worsening and a series of abnormal climatic phenomenon occurring, public and political concern for global warming issues rising, scientists have advocated to seek international environmental cooperation in order to lessen the effect of global warming by reducing greenhouse gases emission. Some environmental protection treaties were signed then. Thus, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC were signed in 1992 and 1997 respectively. UNFCCC outlines the general rules for reduction of greenhouse gases emission while Kyoto Protocol is further and specific restrictions of the kind of gases and of the reduction amount for the countries under the obligation.[2] However, even Kyoto treaty has been fully implemented, it does not seem that there is any significant impact on the warming trend.[3] 

 

What is global warming?

        According to the global warming theory, “carbon dioxide (CO2) - along with other man-made gases such as methane – will enhance the earth’s natural greenhouse effect to the point of an uncontrollable temperature rise.” [4] The direct effect of global temperature rise is the melting ice caps in both North and South Poles, and the expansion of sea water and the rising of was level. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that sea level is increased by 10 to 20 millimeters with the increase of average temperature of 0.6 during 20th century.[5] The melting polar ice caps increase sea levels and flood lower lying coastal areas. It is estimated that one metre rise in sea levels could make 200 million people homeless.[6] Thus, flooding may occur more frequently and seriously than before.

 

Causes of global warming

        Many people, including some scientists, suppose that “the major culprit in global warming” is the emission of “greenhouses gases” which is mostly coming from burning fossil fuels.[7] The greenhouse gases, including CO2, water vapor, ozone, methane, nitrous oxides, cholorofluorocarbons (CFCs), block the escape of infrared radiation and subsequently warm the troposphere. The interaction between the ozone in the stratosphere and water vapor in the troposphere serves to buffer extreme swings in temperature. The loss of ozone couples with an increase in greenhouse gases in the troposphere may cause serious, life threatening climatic changes.[8] Carbon dioxide is responsible for over half the increase in warming of the climate. Many people, including some scientists agree that the greenhouse effect is leading “the greatest and most rapid change in climate in the history of civilization.”[9] According to the estimate of International Energy Agency (IEA), before industrial revolution, the density of CO2 in atmosphere was around 280-290ppm.[10] After then, due to using of fossil fuels, such as coal, oil and natural gas, the density of CO2 was increased to 358ppm in 1994. If there is no restriction on CO2 emission, it is forecasted that the density of CO2 will be increased to 540-970ppm.[11]

        On the other hand, Jeffery Salmon,[12] points out that “actual greenhouse effect is a natural phenomenon” before human history. The greenhouse effect comes “largely from water vapor in the atmosphere which warms the earth by trapping some of the heat form the sun and keeping it in the lower atmosphere. Although carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases also trap heat, most greenhouse heating comes from water vapor. The warming effect of all these gases combined maintains average global temperature at a comfortable 65. Without the greenhouse effect, the average temperature would be about -10, and the earth would resemble the planet Mars.”[13] Thus, there is no strong correlation between the emission of “greenhouses gases” from human beings and current warming trend. Many scientists claim that the evidence for the “greenhouses gases” causing significant global warming is not convincing or solid. In contrast, there is scientific evidence indicating that the emission of carbon dioxide from power plants, cars and others has “only a marginal impact on the climate.” During the period from 1940’s to 1970’s, while the pouring of “greenhouses gases” into the atmosphere was increasing, global temperature was actually decreasing. The scientists were talking about the possibilities of heading towards “a new ice age” in that period. Indeed, it is very complicated for our climate mechanism. For instance, clouds have significant impact on climate change. The greenhouse effect from clouds “far outweighs any possible effect of man-made emissions.” It is very difficult to forecast “what kinds of clouds will form”, or if they will provide to “enhance or diminish global warming.” [14] Thus, it is hard figure out or estimate the actual influence of human-made “greenhouses gases” on global temperature. Salmon claims that the most likely causes of the global warming are “solar activity, perhaps in combination with galactic cosmic rays caused by supernovas,” as there is some good observable association between “solar magnetism output and terrestrial climate change.” This kind of climate change is unpredictable and “entirely beyond any human influence.”[15] In other words, the current global warming is due to natural climate change rather than human-made “greenhouses gases.”

 

Global warming is a natural phenomenon?  

        But why there are few people believing that the current global warming is natural? It is mainly due to news media and politics. Since “bad news is good news” for the media, “the arresting and frightening items” in the news are always attracting readers, listeners and viewers’ attentions. Steve Schneider of Stanford, a leading proponent of the global warming theory, admits “ to capture the public imagination, we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we have. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest.” Besides, The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a United Nations(UN) body, reflects UN politics which favor developing countries, the majority of UN members. Their climate policies are supporting Kyoto treaty. It does “not only exempt the developing countries from emission standards, but also requires compensatory treatment from the wealthier nations for any economic restraints that new climate management policies may impose on these developing countries.”[16] Therefore, IPCC has inclination of exaggerating climate estimates or greenhouse effects. For example, greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increased by equivalent of a 50 percent rise in carbon dioxide over the last 100 years. Given the increase, the models used by IPCC would predict about 2 degrees increase over the period; however, temperature actually has increased by only 1 degree. In other words, IPCC models have exaggerated the greenhouse effect by a factor of two.[17]

 

Global warming and ecological justice

Ecological justice is related to environmental decision-making.

        During the twenty-first century, the most popular environmental issues include “climate change, availability of water resources and water pollution, and environmental damage caused by poor national and international management, etc.[18]

Ecological Justice is simply meant the principle or rule to maintain the equality or fairness of the eco-system. It is normally associated “with deontological approaches to environmental decision-making”.[19] Human good, which is the basis for ecological justice, includes “notions of human dignity, grounded the idea of restraint and honesty, kindliness, decency, caring, fairness and responsibility.”[20] It might imply the human force to “change institutional structures” by working with “political, economic, and social processes” to achieve ecological justice and environmental protection.[21]

 

Rights are given to humans without conflicting with natural law.

According to Aquinas’ definition, ecological justice is a virtue of the will, i.e., each is given what he or she deserves. Also, it implies ‘a certain balance of equality’ whereby ‘that which is correct is constituted by a relation to another, i.e., each is given according to their needs.[22] Aquinas also defines ecological justice as “the idea of positive rights,” i.e. rights according to human law, as long as they do not conflict with natural law. If anything is in contrast to the natural law or right, human will cannot fix it and make it fair.[23]

 

Every natural entity is entitled to enjoy fullness of its own life.

        Ecology is the “actuality of the relational as constitutive of all lives.”[24] Since all life forms are “mutually interdependent on each other and on non-life forms,” every natural entity is entitled to enjoy fullness of its own life on the basis of the principle of Natural law. Moreover, not only considering own interest, but also recognizing the world is created for others than human, leads to ecological justice for the earth.[25] Also, the logic of Aquinas’ ontology extends the bounds of justice towards animals, and consideration of mercy is highly necessary for the demands of ecological justice.[26] Besides, a more appropriate ecological framework for thinking about the relationship between humanity and the natural world today is kinship, rather than kingship. Thus, the human virtue of justice, in terms of human obligations, should take into account the importance of the non-human species as part of the overall ecological community.[27]

 

Ecology in biblical and theological basis

        Ecological theology is a subject to “link environmental concerns” with “Christian social justice framework.” The social justice issues might include “the just sharing of limited resources and the real cost of environmental problems” at perspectives of Christian.[28] Ecological theology can be divided in three classes: human centered (humanocentric), God centered (theocentric) and life centered (ecocentric).[29]

 

Christianity is commonly anthropocentric or human centered.

        Ecology in Christianity is often regarded as anthropocentric as there is a common belief that human beings and superior to animals. It is also believed that “the earth and all living creatures are for human need.”[30] Kjellberg, a urban eco-theology scholar states that “the anthropocentrism of earlier Christian theology is inadequate. What is needed is what he calls a ‘cosmological holism’, which understand creation and incarnation, doctrine and ethics, together.” Besides, Barth points out that there is “no theological assertion without its ethical correlation.” It is not only Christian anthropology for determining human activity, but is also for “all the propositions of the creed.” Christian faith carries the “whole Trinitarian economy of creation, reconciliation and redemption to its reflection on the world.”[31]

        Thus, the basis for environmental ethics should not be human concern centered. The idea of human made in the image of God and caretaking role in Genesis suggests that there is “a mandate for care of the earth, rather than its exploitation. If we fail to nurture the earth, we fail in responsibility as stewards of creation.”[32] Rather, the basis for environmental ethics of Christian approach should be bio-centric as all of creation shares to some extent in the image of God, not human beings only. Moreover, the practical issues of the environmental crisis show that “an anthropocentric attitude is unhelpful and potentially damaging.”[33]

 

In the Old Testament

        In Genesis, the whole world is good when it is created and all creation exists for the glory of God. The interpretation of ecological theology in Genesis is more anthropocentric and theocentric.[34] Genesis 2:15 is the example of anthropocentric ecological theology, “an ecological understanding of our organic selfhood,” intrinsically related to the “tilling and keeping of the garden.” This is the concept of earth stewardship as God instructs human beings to ‘take care of the land.’[35]

        In Genesis, God promised to bless the animals and human beings (Gen.1:22& 1:28). However, “the corruption and inclination to evil in humans” disrupted human relationships with God and with other creatures (Gen. 3:17 -22; 4:9-14; 6:5-8). Also, it provoked the anger of God; thus, God withdrew His blessing and pronounced the flood. After the flood, the eternal covenant was established, the ordering of creation reflected right relationships between human beings and God, where the prosperity of the land depends on the peoples’ obedience to God’s covenant. Nevertheless, the blessing of fruitfulness was renewed and God promised cosmic stability to the world (Gen.8:17; 8:22; 9:1).[36]

        Besides, “land” is an integral component of the Old Testament thought regarding the ecology. We may see in many places in the O.T. that Israel’s identity is the land and its prosperity. Their prosperity is dependent on their relationship with God. For examples, God punished Israelite for profaning the holy name by taking away their land (Ezek.36:21-23).[37] Also, we may see “Israel eschatological hope for coming of Messiah to bring justice on the earth (Isa. 58-61) and the harmony of all creation (Isa. 65-66).”[38]

 

In the New Testament

        In the Gospels, it is not a strong theme for the relationship between Jesus and the nature.[39] Jesus’ parables (Matt.6:28-29) repeats the frequent expressions of “wonder and thankfulness for creation” which might be found in Psalms, Isiah, and elsewhere in the Old Testament.[40]    

        In Acts, God’s providential care of creation can be seen in Paul’s evangelism at Lystra (Acts 14:8-15) and at Athens (act17:16-34).[41]

        In Roman, there are other spiritual forces contributing to the ecological crisis which are not specifically associated with human activity, i.e. non-human environment. Nonetheless, the major effects of the suffering of creation can be regarded as “arising from the results of human sinfulness” (Roman 8:18-23).[42] Further, if human has no sincere repentance, “sin’s outcome will be eternal death.”[43]  Paul wants to tell us that, as believers, we have a responsibility “to help liberate creation from its bondage of decay brought on by the fall of humankind.”[44]

        In Colossians, Christ served as “the means of reconciling the disharmony of creation.” The reconciliation the whole of creation to Christ Himself is by His death. The redemption of Christ is supposed to include all creatures or whole of creation, “whether things on earth or things in heaven”(Col.1:20) . An alternative idea of Christ is to “draw out the creative role of Christ in creation (1:16) but restrict to the redemption role of Christ (1:20-23) for humanity.” The third idea is that Christ is “the foundation of all things”, but “all things” refer to human kind alone in this case. In other words, Christ’s creative and redemptive work is restricted to humanity only.[45] The “sphere of grace and redemption” of Christ is as important as “the sphere of creation” of Christ in the New Testament, especially in Colossians.

        In Revelation, it is about “God dwelling in a new heaven and a new earth.” The “hidden dwelling of God,” that we are waiting for on the earth now, will be “completed in the new heaven and new earth” (Rev. 21:3). Moreover, it describes “a cosmic vision that includes the whole social order and totality of nature” (Rev.21:1-8).[46] Therefore, redemption of humanity is set between “the frame work of creation and the re-creation of the natural world which is now abused by human sinfulness.[47]

        For some conservative Christians, they claim that since God will soon destroy creation, we do not need to worry about its preservation or betterment. Other Old and New Testament texts seem to share a similar vision; for instance, Peter tell us that “the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare….That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat”( 2 Peter 3:10-12).[48] On the other hand, living fully in God’s kingdom while we are on the earth indicates a positive valuation of creation since life is carrying on in the material world. Finally, God’s close and restorative relationship with creatures throughout creation and redemption implies that our present earth will not be destroyed, but it will be transformed, at the eschatology.[49]

 

Global warming is an ethical issue that Christians are responsible for?

        As there is no convincing scientific evidence for the cause of global warming because of human activities, it is hard to say global warming is an ethical issue. If global warming is only political or academic issue, it should not be an ethical issue, and Christians are not responsible for that. However, Christians should keep an independent and objective mind to look at the analysis for the cause of global warming. If the cause of global warming involves human responsibilities; thus global warming is an ethical issue, so that Christians are responsible for. Even the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities contribute insignificant effect on global warming, they might still be pollutants in the air, and they might somehow affect the stability of eco-system. For instance, the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) would deplete ozone, which protects human beings and fragile ecosystems from the damaging effects of the sun’s ultra-violet radiation, in the atmosphere.[50]

 

Christians responsbilities     

        As Christians, we should first admire and praise God as Creator for all His creation work because motivation of caring for the environment “flows from our desire to glorify God.” We should keep the Sabbath, or Sunday, as “a day of worship and rest.” The principle of the Sabbath is extended towards “the whole creation” which includes land in the Mosaic law of Sabbath rest. “In the seventh year the land is to have a Sabbath of rest (Leviticus 25:2),” it provides a chance for the land to “recover its fertility.” In the church, we should teach “care of creation” as part of our stewardship whether in Sunday school or preaching.[51] 

        As we “mandate for care of the earth,” (Gen. 2:15), if we fail to nurture the earth, we fail in responsibility as stewards of creation. If the social structures of our contemporary world are inclined to “the destruction of the divine creation that sustains us,” we are responsible to counter and oppose them. As reference to the goal of Anabaptist environmental ethics, the practical conversion is to convert the social structures “from environmentally destructive behavior to ecologically sustainable behavior.”[52] In practice, care of creation includes preserve of scarce resources, better use of resources, good management of human activities and reducing emission of pollutants.

        At environmental level, alternative energy sources have to be developed and non-renewable elements such as oil, gas and minerals should be preserved for future generation use. Also, wilderness and wetlands should be preserved in order to maintain the eco-stability.[53]      

        At personal level, as good stewards of the land or environment (Gen2.,Rom.8), we should have a simple lifestyle. We should “live more simply and share our possessions, so that others may simply live.” Thus, we need to adjust “our demand in the marketplace and reduce the volume of our waste.” Also, we should have a lifestyle to “counter pollution and destruction of the environment” as the environment or earth “is a part of the circle of life” (Psalm 24:1). It is hard to do that unless we are willing to imitate simplicity and selflessness of Christ and to “take up our cross and deny ourselves for sake of Christ and our neighbors”[54] 

 

Conclusion

        In our treatment of the environment, we have a choice between the “sacred and the profane.” If we view the earth as a sacred gift of God and treat it accordingly, we will sing a song with “beautiful lyrics.” On the other hand, if we mistreat the earth by continuing to participate in pollution and destruction, we will sing the “lyrics as profane as most of today’s rap music.”[55] No matter if we are Christians or not, and no matter if the cause of global warming is human-made; we are responsible to take care the environment and live harmony with the society surrounding us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Dean-Drummond, Celia E. A Handbook in Theology and Ecology. London: SCM Press, 1996.

 

Dean-Drummond, Celia E. The Ethics of Nature. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004.

 

Derr, Thomas Sieger ,“Strange science”, First Things no 147 N 2004, p 5-7.

 

Gorringe, T.J. A Theology of the Built Environment: Justice, Empowerment, Redemption. Cambridge: CUP, 2002.

 

Nicholas, Bruce, “Our Christian Response to the Global Environmental Crisis”, Evangelical Review of Theology 28(2004)2, 119-129.

 

Redekop, Calvin ed. Creation & the Environment: An Anabaptist Perspective on a Sustainable World. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

 

Salmon, Jeffrey, “Greenhouse Anxiety” Commentary, 96 Jl 1993, p 25-28.

 

Sittler Joseph. Evocation of Grace:Writing on Ecology, Theology & Ethics. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Co., 2003.

 

 

賴品超生態神學〉。郭鴻標,堵建偉。《新世紀的神學議程》下冊。香港:基督從學會,2003

 

李何清、羅永青:全球暖化與全球正義〉《應用倫理通訊》第32 (2004)111-8http://www.ncu.edu.tw/%7Ephi/HRAE/index.html

 



[1] Thomas Sieger Derr,,“Strange science”, First Things (no 147 N 2004), 5.

[2]李何清、羅永青:全球暖化與全球正義〉《應用倫理通訊》第32(2004)111-8http://www.ncu.edu.tw/%7Ephi/HRAE/index.html

[3] Derr,,“Strange science”, 5.

[4] Jeffrey Salmon, “Greenhouse Anxiety” Commentary, (96 Jl 1993), 25.

[5] 李何清、羅永青:全球暖化與全球正義,頁1-8

[6] Celia Dean-Drummond,. A Handbook in Theology and Ecology (London: SCM Press, 1996), 11

[7] Derr,,“Strange science”, 5.

[8] Redekop, Calvin ed. Creation & the Environment: An Anabaptist Perspective on a Sustainable World (Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000), 44.

[9] Dean-Drummond,. A Handbook in Theology and Ecology, 10.

[10] Parts per million by volume, 1 ppm is 1/1,000,000.

[11] 李何清、羅永青:全球暖化與全球正義,頁1-8

[12] executive director of the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington, D.C.

[13] Salmon, “Greenhouse Anxiety”, 26.

 

[14]李何清、羅永青:全球暖化與全球正義,頁1-8

[15] Derr,,“Strange science”, 6.

[16] Derr,,“Strange science”, 6.

[17] Salmon, “Greenhouse Anxiety”, 27.

[18] Celia Dean-Drummond, The Ethics of Nature(Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 29.

[19] Dean-Drummond, The Ethics of Nature, 45.

[20] Ibid., 48.

[21] Calvin ed. Creation & the Environment , 208.

[22] Dean-Drummond, The Ethics of Nature, 46.

[23] Ibid., 48.

[24] Joseph Sittler Evocation of Grace:Writing on Ecology, Theology & Ethics (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman Publishing Co., 2003), 85.

[25] Dean-Drummond, The Ethics of Nature, 30.

[26] Ibid., 47,95.

[27] Dean-Drummond, The Ethics of Nature, 96.

[28] Calvin ed. Creation & the Environment, 208.

[29] 賴品超生態神學,郭鴻標,堵建偉:《新世紀的神學議程》下冊(香港:基督從學會,2003),頁427

[30] Dean-Drummond,. A Handbook in Theology and Ecology, 18-19.

[31] T.J Gorringe, A Theology of the Built Environment:Justice, Empowerment, Redemption(Cambridge: CUP, 2002),4.

[32] Dean-Drummond,. A Handbook in Theology and Ecology, 73.

[33] Ibid., 74.

[34] Ibid., 20.

[35] Calvin ed. Creation & the Environment , 201.

[36] Dean-Drummond,. A Handbook in Theology and Ecology , 21-22.

[37] Ibid., 26

[38] Bruce Nicholas, “Our Christian Response to the Global Environmental Crisis”, Evangelical Review of Theology 28(2004)2, 123.

[39] Dean-Drummond,. A Handbook in Theology and Ecology , 28.

[40] Calvin ed. Creation & the Environment, 157.

[41] Nicholas, “Our Christian Response to the Global Environmental Crisis”, 123.

[42] Dean-Drummond,. A Handbook in Theology and Ecology, 31.

[43] Calvin ed. Creation & the Environment, 204.

[44] Ibid., 201.

[45] Dean-Drummond,. A Handbook in Theology and Ecology, 33.

[46] Ibid., 35

[47] Nicholas, “Our Christian Response to the Global Environmental Crisis”, 123.

[48] Calvin ed. Creation & the Environment, 158.

[49] Ibid., 169.

[50] Dean-Drummond,. A Handbook in Theology and Ecology, 11-12.

[51] Nicholas, “Our Christian Response to the Global Environmental Crisis”, 129.

[52] Calvin ed. Creation & the Environment , 203,205.

[53] Nicholas, “Our Christian Response to the Global Environmental Crisis”, 128.

[54] Ibid., 129.

[55] Calvin ed. Creation & the Environment , 179.