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 9, Day 6: Be Sure To Hide The Roaches

The Christian Post runs an Op-Ed by two evangelical climate scientists, desperately trying to shake off the Limbaugh-stink:

Rush Limbaugh doesn’t think we exist. In other words that evangelical scientists cannot subscribe to the evidence of global warming.

Specifically, during a recent segment on his radio show Limbaugh stated, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.”

Talk radio personalities often make hyperbolic statements. It is what their listeners expect and want to hear. But in this instance, Rush’s uninformed rhetoric is demeaning to Christians who care deeply about what humans are doing to God’s Creation and ignorant of the consequences that future generations will face if we don’t respond quickly to the challenge of climate change.

We are both atmospheric scientists who study climate change, having earned advanced degrees in our respective fields and having devoted our lives to increasing knowledge through scientific research. We know climate change is real, that most of it is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community. We are also evangelical Christians who believe that God created the world in which we live.

Good luck with that. Sept. 1:

It’s reassuring that some evangelicals acknowledge the existence of the burgeoning climate crisis, and recognize the urgency of action. On this issue, the nature of one’s faith is a trivial factor in comparison with the magnitude of the emergency.

That said, it is not enough for Katharine Hayhoe and Thomas Ackerman just to rebuke talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh’s assertion that Christianity is incompatible with accepting the evidence of climate science. The evangelical community must recognize the role it has played in supporting those institutions of denial which stand in the way of action. The Republican party owes its current power to evangelicals who were cynically and callously manipulated by politicians far more concerned with their own fortunes and those of their corporate paymasters than with the lives of their constituents. Now these same lawmakers are obstructing meaningful legislation on climate issues, thereby increasing the probability of a catastrophic temperature increase over the coming century — a secular Armaggedon wholly explainable by the laws of physics and chemistry.

And regardless of your faith, that’s not Good News.

Warren Senders

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 4, Month 1, Day 21: I Do Not Believe You Are An Idiot. My Choice Of Verb Is More Accurate: I KNOW You’re An Idiot.

The Anchorage (AK) Daily News reprints an Op-Ed from the Kansas City Star of a few days ago, titling it “The Costly Ignorance Of Climate”:

The overwhelming number of scientists who believe in climate change scored another “victory” in 2012.

Unfortunately, because of timid political leadership in the United States and around the world, the war against global warming is still being lost.

Scientists have long warned that man-made greenhouse gases are heating up the Earth. They added more evidence to their arsenal when the contiguous United States recorded its hottest year ever in 2012. The average temperature was 55.3 degrees, smashing the 1998 record by one full degree, an incredible leap given the usually small changes in these kinds of measurements.

The New York Times reported other worrisome facts: 34,008 daily high records were established at U.S. weather stations but only 6,664 record lows in 2012.

Worldwide, the average temperature is expected to come in as one of the 10 warmest ever, with all of those occurring in the last 15 years.

Always happy to mock the faithful. January 14:

There’s no doubt among people who pay attention to the evidence that climate change is a dangerous reality. Self-styled “skeptics” confuse incomprehension with intellectual honesty; the root of the problem lies in a word we hear too often in the discussion of the burgeoning greenhouse effect and its consequences. “Believe.”

Scientists’ relationship with reality is vastly different from the faithful’s relationship to their religions. You’ll never hear a religious adherent say that they’ve evaluated the data and are prepared to accept their creed’s validity within two standard deviations, and you’ll never hear a climatologist say they “believe” in climate change. Scientists accept the evidence for climate change because they understand how that evidence was collected and analyzed, and their evaluation of other possible explanations for that evidence suggests that the consensus explanation is the correct one.

To conflate the concepts of belief and understanding is to do both science and religion a disservice. And when this confusion makes concerted international action on global climate change less likely, it makes risible religion’s claims to moral ascendancy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 10: The Moans Of The Damned

The Whittier Daily News (CA) speaks about the question of faith and the environment:

Throughout all of California and the rest of the country, the faith community has been working for many years to preach the gospel of good stewardship of our shared environment.

Amid theological differences, we have fostered a shared sense of purpose and urgency that unites us in solidarity with our local and global communities, especially those most vulnerable to climate change.

The action that results from this shared sense of purpose goes far beyond a congregation’s four walls. People of faith bring shared principles – such as working for the common good, caring for our neighbors, and working for economic justice – into the public policy arena.

For example, the California faith community strongly supported the passage and implementation of Assembly Bill 32, California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. This bill, which was fully implemented on Jan. 1, 2013, aims to cut carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, addressing both global -climate change as well as regional air pollution.

But even policy change in itself is not enough to address the crisis we are currently facing as people of faith struggle with the power to indelibly alter God’s Creation and affect the lives of many generations that come after us.

The environmental crisis is at root a spiritual crisis. To remedy this we must begin to build a new relationship with the earth. That means answering the call to be good stewards of Creation and understanding that the “environment” is not a nebulous “out-there” reality; rather it is intimately connected with our lives and our spiritual development.

This value system is not incompatible with economic growth. On the contrary, the clean technology sector is a major factor in building California’s economy. According to a recent Next 10 report, the clean tech sector grew by 53 percent from 1995-2010, while jobs in the wider economy grew by 12 percent. When we care for the environment, we are caring for the health, livelihood and economic situation of our neighbors and ourselves.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning. Sent January 5:

Attempts to reconcile the demands of long-term sustainability with Christian theology are more complex and problematic than they seem at first blush. While many modern Christians have rejected the notion of Armageddon, a substantial number still advocate for a final apocalypse; a concluding spasm of terrifying violence yielding to a paradisical afterlife for true believers.

The sustainability so desired by environmentalists is predicated on the notion that humanity’s future is open-ended, that our species has a place in the web of Earthly life and a part to play in the long-term history of our universe. These wholly laudable concepts are on a collision course with the notion that the world is destined to end conclusively and explosively, providing an eventual reward for the faithful. For the “faith community” to credibly preach environmental stewardship, it must direct its attention to the many self-described Christians who still hew to End Times theology.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 10, Day 21: The Air, The Air Is Everywhere

The Jakarta Post opines that the faithful are motivated to do something about climate change as a consequence of their beliefs. Okay, if you say so…

The Green Bible is a 2008 edition of the Christian holy book, published by HarperCollins. There are more than 1,000 references to the Earth in the Bible, and this 2008 copy is printed on recycled paper using soy-based ink.

Likewise, Islam’s Koran also contains numerous surahs (chapters) that both enlighten and command Muslims to use and not abuse the natural bounty the Earth provides. “Do not commit abuse on the Earth, spreading corruption.” (Al-Ankabut 29:36) is just one example.

Meanwhile in Bali, adherents to Hinduism, the island’s majority faith, believe in the trihita karana. This is the belief that happiness derives from the relationship between people and God, the relationship between people and people, and the relationship between people and nature.

Religious writer and scholar Fachruddin M. Mangunjaya raised a profound question in a recent paper on climate change and religion: Who were the first environmental campaigners? Answer: Followers of the world’s religions.

Fachruddin, a lecturer in biology at the National University in Jakarta, told a September 2012 climate change writing clinic for youths in Jakarta that religion had been a major mover, which had established numerous world civilizations.

Now with environmental crises and the impact of climate change casting threats on human civilization, people are returning to religious teachings and reassessing their meaning of and obligations in life.

I’ll believe it when I see it. Oh, wait… Sent October 14:

When it comes to taking meaningful action on climate change, many followers of the great religious traditions find inspiration and motivation in their beliefs. But it is a grave error to assume that all religiously-driven individuals will be receptive to the scientific facts of the climate crisis. In the United States, many devout Christians decided long ago that science could only be regarded as an enemy of their faith — and this antipathy towards scientific method and results carries over into their attitude towards environmental problems, which are strongly identified with the scientists who research and describe them.

A significant minority of Christians also adhere to doctrines which preach the imminence of a “day of judgement” in which the Earth as we know it will be destroyed and afterlife preference given to “true believers.” It is self-evident that such a belief is antithetical to any notion of sustainability as a desirable goal.

If we are to reconcile the directives of faith and the long-term requirements of our planetary environment, religious leaders must work with scientists in the interests of our civilization, our species, and the web of life of which we humans are a part.

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 2, Month 12, Day 30: May He Touch You With His Noodly Appendage

The Mankato Free Press (Mankato, MN) runs a piece about an evangelical Christian with some scientific background who is attempting to win over her flock:

Hallelujah to spreading the word about climate change.

That’s what climatologist, and evangelical Christian, Katharine Hayhoe is doing.

She doesn’t think being a scientist and Christian cancel each other out. She has chosen to be vocal about her trust in scientific data while retaining her beliefs as a Christian. She is married to an evangelical pastor and is the daughter of missionaries.

And she has a lot of guts for putting herself out there to spread the word about how real global warming is. It can’t be easy to be a scientist in the South where in the past few years conservative Christians have been claiming climate change is a hoax.

Her own words give a clear impression of how levelheaded she is: “People ask me if I believe in global warming. I tell them, ‘No, I don’t,’ because belief is faith; faith is the evidence of things not seen. Science is evidence of things seen. To have an open mind, we have to use the brains that God gave us to look at the science.”

Well. Every little bit helps; if she can get this community to wake the hell up, more power to her. Only if our species survives can we gradually wean the majority of humans away from the delusions of religion. The Mankato Free Press has a 275-word limit, so I let myself expand a bit.

Sent December 26:

When fundamentalist Christians deny measurable reality in their rejection of global climate change, they undercut their own credibility. The commonly accepted picture of evangelicals is that they are almost pathologically vehement in their rejection of science and scientific thinking; while a few do believe planetary warming exists, these folks are readier to attribute it to an impending Armageddon rather than the greenhouse effect, an empirically verifiable phenomenon caused by too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most “true believers” have no problem accepting the evidence of science when it does not pose immediate conflicts with their biblical ideology. They vaccinate their children against polio, ride in airplanes, use the telephone and the internet, share photographs, drink pasteurized milk and in most respects confirm the validity and efficacy of scientific methods. What makes climate change so different?

Simply: the fact that Republican politics relies on oil companies for money — but on fundamentalist Christians for votes. Preparing for the threat of runaway climate change will require a dramatic change in America’s energy economy which will mean reduced profits for Big Oil. These corporate malefactors have responded by heavily funding a great deal of disinformation in our media — and conservative Christians have swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

Kudos to Katharine Hayhoe for her readiness to spread the word, and her readiness to express the urgency of the crisis from the perspective of her faith.

Warren Senders

Month 3, Day 5: Armageddon Out Of Here

I read this article about arctic methane releases in the Times of London this evening. I sat down to write in a very disturbed state, and this is what emerged. At the moment I can’t think who I should send it to…so I’ll send it to the Boston Phoenix for the moment. They probably won’t publish it, so I’ll eventually send it elsewhere. If anyone has a suggestion, I’d welcome it.

Have you written your politicians today? Your media?

The news of ever-increasing methane releases from beneath the Arctic seabed is great news for those wishing an end to human civilization. Dominionists eagerly awaiting the End Times are no doubt delighted to learn that (according to a just-published article in the journal Science, and reported in the London Times) the sub-sea permafrost that has kept gigatonnes of CH4 locked in for millennia is now melting. Because methane is 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide in trapping heat, this will accelerate the greenhouse effect even further.

Even better news for these folks is that all this methane has not yet been factored into the prediction models of climate scientists. All those silly “worst-case” scenarios presented by Al Gore and the IPCC? Hopelessly optimistic.

As I said, good news for those awaiting Ragnarok or the Armageddon.

Some of us, however, would rather have a good life for our descendants than a climatic Apocalypse, no matter how spectacular.

We would like to see an international effort to deal with the methane release (and other elements of the climate crisis) before it is too late. We would like to see all the nations of the world form a unified response to this common threat, combining our resources, skills and innovations to keep our planet safe for our children and their children and their children’s children after them. We would like to see the United States of America leading this effort, earning the gratitude of generations to come.

With the climate crisis exacerbated by an ignorance crisis, humanity is facing a threat of unimaginable size and severity. Now is not the time to give in to the political posturing of Rapturists eager to meet their Maker in a final conflagration.

Warren Senders