In the next 35 years, 529,000 people could be killed due to climate change. It’s time for Christians to start taking the issue seriously.
A recent study from researchers at Oxford University published in the medical journal The Lancet looked at how changing weather patterns will affect the planet’s ability to grow enough food to adequately feed the global population, and the results are terrifying: They predicted that because of large scale agricultural changes, 247,970 could die in China alone by the year 2050. In India, the death toll could be as high as 136,970. In countries including Vietnam, Bangladesh and United States, thousands more are at risk.
Their predictions estimate a 4 percent overall decline in the consumption of fruits and vegetables and a 0.7 percent decline in red meat in the coming decades due to changes in agriculture practices, primarily due to weather.
And, the people who will be most affected are some of the world’s poorest—but not simply because they don’t have enough food.
The report doesn’t simply link climate change to an overall lack of food, but the availability of food required to maintain a healthy diet. They explained that the decline in some crops could lead to massive global health problems “by changing the composition of diets and, with it, the profile of dietary and weight-related risk factors and associated mortalities.” In other words, healthy food will be even more expensive and harder to come by, putting lives and health at risk.
Even though some of The Lancet report’s predictions about the specifics in food shortages have been disputed, there has long been widespread concerns about the effect climate change will have on the population—specifically the most vulnerable.
These are just the latest in many dire predictions about the results of climate change if humanity doesn’t start making some major changes to our consumption habits.
Because climate change is linked to an increase in severe weather events—like hurricanes, tsunamis and extreme temperatures—poorer countries that lack the infrastructure and resources to handle them leave millions at risk.
And, as the World Bank notes, those who depend on localized farming are also in danger:
Agriculture is one of the most important economic sectors in many poor countries. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most sensitive to climate change given its dependence on weather conditions, both directly and through climate-dependent stressors (pests, epidemics and sea level rise).
A ‘Christian’ Issue?
Among many Christians, “climate change” has become not a social justice or moral issue, but a political one.
In American political circles—where many conservative Christians align themselves more closely with the Republican party—views on climate change are often conflated with the political party that has taken action to prevent it. But, the danger of making it all about politics is that it can prevent us from examining the issue objectively. In order to do that—and weigh its true moral implications—we have to view climate change outside of the lens of a political issue.
But in such a heated political environment, that can be easier said than done.
Even among evangelical leaders, the issue has been divisive. When the “Evangelical Climate Initiative”—which suggested that Christian leaders need to do more to take the threat of climate change seriously—was first proposed in 2006, despite garnering signatures from dozens of well-known leaders, the National Association of Evangelicals refused to endorse it right away. Though they did eventually get on board (in 2007, they noted “profound changes occurring in the evangelical community” on the issue), the tension underscored on a conflicted response that is still going on in some camps of evangelicals a decade later.
While evangelicals are increasingly more likely to believe that climate change is caused by human activity, only 39 percent of churchgoers say it is “a serious problem.” Among white evangelicals, that number is just 24 percent, and only 50 percent believe climate change is happening at all.
The issue has gotten so much attention for its social justice implications that even Pope Francis has made it a key part of church dialogue. In his environmental encyclical last summer, he wrote,
A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. … A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity … Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.
His teaching specifically talked not only about our imperative to ensure that the poor will not be exploited at the expense of consumption by the rich, but also that we remember that we are called to care for the creation God has given to us.
In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the word “creation” has a broader meaning than “nature,” for it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance. Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.
A Risky Position
There’s a famous thought experiment some Christians reference when discussing the challenge of faith in the face of doubt. “Pascal’s Wager” (first proposed to by renowned philosopher Blaise Pascal) is this: “Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.”
In other words (and in very simplistic philosophical terms), if you choose to believe in God and you’re wrong, you essentially lose almost nothing (especially considering what there is to gain). If you’re right, you essentially gain everything, including eternal life.
For Christian climate skeptics, a sort of Pascal’s Wager is the very least that could be considered on the issue of climate change: If your skepticism is right—and despite evidence from countless sources—and climate change is not caused by man in any way, than a lack of action will maintain the status quo. However, if you are wrong, thousands of people will die. Yes, there is a “risk” that new laws may be passed, and there may be some unforeseen political implications, but if you take action, lives of the poor can potentially be saved.
At some point, more Christians will need to step up and take action if the scientists who have predicted the disastrous environmental results of continued consumption are correct.
A choice will have to be made, even among the skeptics.
Think about the consequences of inaction, and wager, then, without hesitation.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.