This week the U.N. climate-change conference in Copenhagen comes to an end. The world leaders have gathered to consider man-made threats to the climate and to commit to aggressive emission reduction targets in their resolve to fight global warming.
As the conference went on, demonstrations and debates seemed to intensify. Some have wondered how accurate the science is behind global warming. Others who are sure we are on the brink of disaster, want to take drastic action now. Poor nations are wondering how much money rich nations will “pony up.” Western nations wonder how much China, India and developing nations will go along. Some on the left see this as an opportunity to bad mouth capitalism and enact vast transfers of wealth from the West to the developing world. Some on the right see this as a pro-socialist movement to dramatically re-order the world economy.
According to a Fox News Poll this week, a majority of Americans believe global warming is happening (63%). But fewer see it as a dire crisis (only 17%). About half of Americans believe that global warming is a man made crisis. Some think it is just a matter of normal weather patterns, while some think that global warming is caused by both climate patterns and people.
I have some opinions on this, but before I share them, I want to note how intrigued I am that conference participants are using Biblical language to describe what is going on. Listen to them. People are talking about salvation, redemption, the coming great tribulation, and the end of the world. Some climate scientists speak of the “grim truths” of climate change and warn that “the future of humanity lies in the balance.” They call us to “wake up before it is too late” (turn or burn!). They describe forbidding world scenarios of multiple global crises related to food, fuel, fresh water and finance, all influenced by climate change.
In an evangelistic-like speech, Prince Charles of Britain told world leaders at the summit that “we have seven years to save the world.” Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said that money will be the key to “saving the planet” from these catastrophic changes. Thomas Hayden, writing in National Geographic’s, “State of the Earth 2010” says that because of all this it is our mission “to preserve and redeem our planet.”
Such talk is extraordinary for a culture that is turning away from a Christian world view. They continue to use “the language of Zion” but in new ways so that salvation is no longer “of the Lord.” Now, we are our own redeemers. This is an odd twist on the old Westminster catechism question “Who is the redeemer of God’s elect?” In Copenhagen, some are answering—“we are!” In the catechism, the only redeemer is “the Lord Jesus Christ.”
May I remind you that the message of Christmas is that this broken world desperately does need a redeemer, but we are simply not up for the job. We are too weak, too broken, too internally compromised to be our own saviors. We desperately need help from heaven. Which is why the coming of the promised Son of God at Bethlehem, and his promised second coming, is “good news of great joy.”
In saying this, I am not against those who want to take responsibility for building a cleaner environment and living in ways with less impact on the earth. How can Christians be against that? Don’t we have a Biblical duty to be stewards of the earth? I am sometimes puzzled by Christians who dismiss the entire environmental movement as nuttiness. To be sure, there is some nuttiness in this movement. It is on display in Copenhagen! But the Bible is very clear in Genesis that we have a creation mandate to care for the earth. Adam and Eve, who represent us, are called to rule over the garden and take care of it (Genesis 2.15). This is our God given home. We are under assignment by the Creator himself to be earth-keepers.
Here is where the challenge comes. There are now 6.8 billion people on the earth. The human population has nearly quadrupled since the 1930s. It will swell to 9 billion by mid century. As population grows, so does the global economy. People are hungering for more of everything. This increases industry, trade and wealth. It means more cars, factories, airplanes, mines and demands for energy. It results in more pollution and emissions.
How resilient is the earth and its atmosphere? We are still finding out. Is it far-fetched to think that man is having an influence on the climate? I don’t think so. Satellites show we are leaving an imprint on the landscape and waterscape. As we pump more carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, it will also have an impact. Bottom line: it is good stewardship to think seriously about limiting emissions and building a clean power economy. How fast we move on this is a question I leave to the politicians.
But while we should be supremely responsible in how we care for this world, make no mistake about it, we are not the world’s redeemers. As time goes on, our planet will wear out. In Romans 8, Scripture says that creation “groans” and waits to be liberated from its bondage to decay. It waits for the glorious freedom of its redemption. But this redemption will not be brought about by us. It will be brought about by God’s redeemer, Jesus Christ, and God’s promised work of a new heaven and earth (Isaiah 65.17; Revelation 21.1). It is in this hope that we are saved.
I suspect many of those people in Copenhagen would lighten up a bit, if they stopped to consider that their big conference comes during the season of Advent and Christmas!