Competitive Eschatology and Climate Denial

This post dates from 2011, but I think it deserves to be front-paged again.

For many years I have been thinking a lot about group minds and collective intelligence, with influences ranging from Thomas Malone (of the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence) to E.O. Wilson’s detailed examination of insect colonies and the nature of the “superorganism.” As I tried to extend the “group mind” concept across larger timespans, I found myself both depressed and elated. Elated because I was understanding more about why the “powers that be” didn’t seem to give a shit — and depressed for the same reason.

Thinking About Collective Intelligence

Accepting the reality of collective intelligence is not as big a leap as James Lovelock requests of us when he posits the Gaia Hypothesis, but it’s still a leap.

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Year 4, Month 4, Day 7: Only Sky

The Charleston Post And Courier (SC) runs a column from a religious apologist named Todd Levasseur:

I want to take this insight further to argue that religions also have ignored the climate crisis for 25 years. Mirroring American society at large, we see a slow but inexorable shift toward recognizing climate change as being a deeply ethical and religious matter, one that causes us to dig deeply and re-create our respective covenants with whomever we deem to be the creator’s.

Climate change brings an added urgency to the Holy City. We are at its “ground zero” with the emissions of the industrial economy set to trigger a predicted 3-foot rise in sea level this century. If climate models are correct, the standing water on East Bay Street during high tides is only the beginning, and the ports where cargo ships anchor will need to be raised quite a few feet.

We also are at “ground zero” for feeling the impact of ocean acidification, which can trigger the collapse of aquatic food chains and decimate our maritime economy.

Such scenarios call out for sober leadership from politicians and, especially, community leaders.

Religion historically has provided a seedbed from where our society could graft moral concerns onto progressive community change. Climate change may provide yet another occasion for the emergence of ecumenical, interfaith work.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. March 25:

The growing turbulence of a planetary environmental emergency may well bring together adherents of different belief systems in the recognition of a common adversary. But for such a confluence of diverse faiths to have an impact on the climate crisis will require religious adherents to practice a different sort of renunciation. The proximate cause of climate change is the greenhouse gas emissions of industrial society, but at root is something far older and more pervasive — the notion that our species is privileged by providence.

If we are to survive on a climatically-transformed planet, religious traditions can no longer invoke the will of a supernatural being to justify human ignorance of, and antagonism to, the natural world. The faithful must engage in a new form of spiritual discipline, leaving behind the magical thinking of medieval times and recognizing the hard truths offered by climate science about atmospheric CO2 and its impact on Earthly life. There is more genuine evidence for the greenhouse effect than for any of humanity’s thousands of deities.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 6, Day 23: Above Us Only Sky…

Heh. Here’s a head-scratcher, from the Christian Post:

When it comes to the issue of global warming, the label conservative and liberal won’t necessarily help you determine if an evangelical Christian is a proponent or skeptic. Why? Because even within the inner core of conservative evangelical circles people are divided over the issue, with both sides asserting that science is clearly on their side. Take The Christian Post, for example: Dr. Richard Land, CP’s executive editor, is among those who are skeptical that humans tip the scales toward global warming, while Dr. Joel C. Hunter, CP’s senior editorial adviser, believes controlling human behavior may be in order.

Moreover, the prospects for a global decision to control carbon because of warming have dropped precipitously over the last three years because of a worldwide economic downturn, much to the consternation of evangelical and secular activists alike. Skeptics are delighted. But activists also point to a recent article in The New Yorker, which reports that President Barack Obama will make climate change a priority if he gets elected to a second term.

So which side is correct? And how should Christians view the future of the global warming debate, both inside the Christian community and out?

These god-botherers make my guts tired. Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. Sent June 12:

When it comes to climate change, believers face two crucial questions.

The first addresses their relationship to scientific expertise: since climatologists are, in effect, planetary physicians, can members of the faith community accept the data and analyses of climate scientists just as they accept the advice of a medical specialist?

The second addresses an pillar of many Christian faiths: are believers who eagerly anticipate the Rapture ready to concede that our civilization is instead threatened by global warming — a wholly profane immolation of believers and infidels alike?

As an atheist, I’ll take my chances with an End Times of genuinely Divine origin, but describing a civilizational collapse caused by industrial CO2 emissions as a fulfillment of the Book of Revelations is the eschatological equivalent of cheating at solitaire. If evangelicals look forward to the End Times, they must combat climate change, lest they find themselves fooled by a secular Apocalypse.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 5, Day 9: Please Don’t Wake Me, I’m Only Sleeping

The Fort-Wayne Journal Gazette runs the same WaPo editorial that has surfaced here before:

In his interview, the president expressed frustration that “internationally, we have not made as much progress as we need to make.” Surely, though, the inattention from leaders such as Obama has contributed to the slow progress at home, which is a major reason for the slow progress abroad. As a 2007 Foreign Affairs article explained, strong U.S. action is critical to international efforts to defeat this “epochal, man-made threat to the planet”:

“As the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gases, America has the responsibility to lead. While many of our industrial partners are working hard to reduce their emissions, we are increasing ours at a steady clip. … We need a global response to climate change that includes binding and enforceable commitments to reducing emissions, especially for those that pollute the most: the United States, China, India, the European Union, and Russia.”

The writer was Sen. Barack Obama.

So I figured, since it’s in the Christian heartland and all, perhaps the paper wouldn’t mind a little eschatology. Sent April 30:

Anyone who’s paying attention knows that fossil fuel interests use their massive financial resources to co-opt media voices and redirect the energies of legislators away from policies that would hurt their profitability. But when it comes to the issue of climate change, President Obama’s dilemma is complicated by a factor that is rarely if ever discussed in polite company: religion. The uneasy alliance of corporate and theocratic conservatives has brought about a situation where a significant percentage of Americans and their representatives in Congress are actively and eagerly anticipating Apocalypse, finding a Biblical rationale for inaction in the face of a rapidly mounting crisis. While religion may provide solace for many, it should not become the vehicle for an irresponsible failure to plan for possible disaster.

“Wait for the Second Coming” is not a valid environmental policy. If we are to achieve sustainability in America, we must repudiate the Rapture.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 5, Day 2: A 50-Watt Bulb?

The faithful are opening their eyes. Or are they? The News Virginian reports — you decide:

In “The Global Warning Reader: A Century of Writing about Climate Change,” Dr. Bill McKibben presents “The Evangelical Climate Change Initiative,” a 2006 document signed by 86 American Christian evangelical leaders. Signers include: Rick Warren (“The Purpose Driven Life”); W. Todd Bassett, National Commander of the Salvation Army; Ron Sider, President of Evangelicals for Social Action; and advisors and columnists for Christianity Today magazine. “In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord,” they said, “we urge all who read this declaration to join us in this effort” of teaching and acting on the following four claims.

1. “Human-Induced Climate Change is Real.” Among the evidence the signers studied was that collected by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) whose 1988-2002 chairman, John Houghton, is a committed Christian. They remembered that the science was settled enough for the Bush Administration to state in a 2004 report, and then at the 2005 G-8 summit, that humans were responsible for “at least some of it (climate change).” The IPCC, however, holds that human activities are responsible for “most of the warming,” according to the evangelical leaders.

2. “The Consequences of Climate Change Will Be Significant, and Will Hit the Poor the Hardest.” The signers emphasized the impact of even the smallest increases in human-caused world-wide temperature upon people in poor countries: tropical diseases, hurricanes, flooding, reduction in food crops, famine, and the vulnerability of refugees to exploitation and violence, even internal and external military oppression. “Millions of people,” they wrote, “could die in this century because of climate change.” They also noted the destruction it could bring to “God’s other creatures.”

I’m not going to take this one on faith. Sent April 23:

The rejection of climate change has long been a shibboleth of political conservatives, who have a record of denying inconvenient facts and expertise that goes back at least fifty years. Why, then, are evangelicals — one of the most consistently conservative voting blocs in the country — beginning to accept the scientific reality of global warming? While some may be encouraged, I am less sanguine about the motivations behind the faithful’s abandonment of long-held denialist positions.

Environmentalists are interested in the long-term survival of the planet; talk to a “tree-hugger” and you’ll hear someone whose worries about humanity’s future in the year 3000 motivate them to conservation and the wise use of resources. By contrast, evangelicals eagerly anticipating the End Times may have little reason to practice sustainability. Is climate-change acceptance among conservative Christians accompanied by a growing conviction that industrialized humanity needs to change its ways to avoid catastrophe? Or are they cheering on the burgeoning greenhouse effect, assuming that the souls of the faithful will be providentially rescued from a disaster of Biblical proportions?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 4, Day 30: “I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

According to the Christian Post, some of the God-Botherers are apparently, um, seeing the light:

A professor at an evangelical university in Southern California claims that evangelicals are becoming more convinced of the evidence for man-made global warming ahead of Earth Day this Sunday.

Mark McReynolds, assistant professor of Environmental Science at Biola University, said, “Evangelicals, like the rest of our society, are coming around to the real evidence of global climate change. It is a big, complicated topic, with many implications for us in the U.S.”

“Climate scientists are in near unanimity that the evidence speaks loudly for human-caused climate change and the general public is slowly understanding the issue and its implications.”

McReynolds’ remarks come as Biola University prepares for a series of events to observe Earth Day next week. Titled “Creation Stewardship Week,” the events from April 23 to 27 include participation in the Global Day of Prayer for Creation Care, a tour of the faculty-student run Biola Organic Garden, and the screening of the film “No Impact Man,” which is about a family that tries to live a lifestyle without high environmental impact.

It’s still a little clunky, but if this story has any legs, I’ll send out a few more versions in the next few days. Sent April 21:

When I hear that evangelicals are beginning to accept the reality of global climate change, my emotions are mixed. While it seems a positive development that members of many Christian groups no longer reject the validity of climate science and its analyses, the question necessarily arises: how many of you agree that climate change is real, only because you see in the burgeoning greenhouse effect a harbinger of the End Times?

I am puzzled by those who enthusiastically assert that the Lord’s wishes involve the utter destruction of His own Creation. But the introduction of vast quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere makes Armageddon a matter of chemistry, not theology. It would be reassuring to know that evangelicals who are coming to accept climate change are not doing so from an eager anticipation of apocalypse, but from a desire to preserve the infinitely majestic web of earthly life for future generations — a wish I, an unbeliever, can wholeheartedly embrace.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 6, Day 23: The Last Trump — A Competitive Sport?

June 9: Mitt Romney’s tactical waffling on climate change has lots of Republicans up in arms. The idiot wing of the GOP (which is almost the entire party by now) is terribly upset. Mitt is going to keep plugging away at this; he’ll alienate the teabaggers, but I think he’s hoping to attract disaffected Independent environmentalist free-market libertarians, both of whom are certainly watching his campaign with interest at this point.

The New York Daily News mentions Romney as a counterpoint to Rick “Google” Santorum:

“I believe the Earth gets warmer, and I also believe the Earth gets cooler,” Santorum said. “And I think history points out that it does that. The idea that man, through the production of carbon dioxide – which is a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the man-made part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas – is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd .”

He then said the issue was an “opportunity for the left” to take more government control.

“It’s been on a warming trend so they said, ‘Oh, let’s take advantage of that and say that we need the government to come in and regulate your life some more because it’s getting warmer.’ It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life.”

The issue of climate change has been heating up the 2012 GOP race.

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made headlines earlier this month when he broke from far-right orthodoxy and said he believes humans are partially responsible for climate change.

I had a sudden realization about these assholes, and incorporated it into this letter, which went out on June 9:

There is hardly anything that can bring down the wrath of modern Republicans than acknowledging fact-based, testable scientific reality. Enter Mitt Romney, who wants to bring the climate change debate to the table in the upcoming primary season. While Mitt doesn’t actually think we should do anything about the greatest threat human civilization has ever faced, his willingness to entertain the notion that carefully executed scientific research might have something to tell us is in itself a notion utterly repellent to Tea-party Republicans. The GOP’s anti-intellectual core is also overwhelmingly likely to believe in the Biblical Armageddon, suggesting that their rejection of climate science may be nothing more than eschatological jealousy; if civilization is going to end, they want to be certain their team gets the credit. Those of us who would like the human race to endure and thrive for eons to come, however, are watching with appalled fascination.