Columns Government & Politics Mark Silk: Spiritual Politics Opinion

A religious opening for stopping climate change

Attendees line the streets with signs during the Rise L.A. For Climate, Jobs and Justice Rally in the University Park neighborhood of Los Angeles on Sept. 8, 2018. RNS photo by Heather Adams

“I don’t believe it,” President Trump said the other day in response to a question about the federal government’s latest report on climate change. ” It’s “not based on facts,” asserted Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Climate change denial is a species of faith—the non-evidence of things seen, as the author of Hebrews might have said. The GOP has made it a doctrine, and the party faithful have increasingly embraced it. In the first year of the Trump presidency, the proportion of Republicans who believe that global warming is caused by human activity, and that it has already begun, dropped from 40 percent to one-third.

At the same time, the Democrats’ contrary faith in the evidence of things seen has gotten stronger. In the first year of the Trump presidency, the percentage of them who believe that global warming is caused by human activity grew from 87 percent to 89 percent; of those who believe it has already begun, from 73 to 82 percent.

And what of our religious communities? It is a fact of our polarized society that their views “largely reflect [their] partisan or ideological composition,” as an ABC News poll put it last summer. But fortunately, not entirely.

Thus, while it is hardly good news that just 32 percent of white evangelical Protestants see global warming as a very serious problem, that’s better than the 25 percent of Republicans who do. Moreover, that 32-percent figure compares favorably with the 17 percent of white Protestant evangelicals who saw it as a very serious problem in 2013 and the 24 percent who did in 2015 (according to Pew surveys).

By comparison, the proportion of Nones who see global warming as a very serious problem has gone from 42 percent in 2013 to 46 percent in 2015 to 66 percent this year.

So is the glass half full or half empty? I’m going with half full.

No doubt, Trump will keep doubling down on his refusal to do anything about a situation in which he disbelieves except to exacerbate it. And as the movement for a Green New Deal grows within the Democratic Party, Fox News will go all out to demonize it.

But facts are stubborn things, and the facts of of warming temperatures and extreme weather events and flooding coasts will be impossible for all but the staunchest climate change deniers to ignore. Let us hope that white evangelicals, already less faithful in their climate change disbelief than Republicans in general, will be the thin edge of the wedge.

For as Hebrews 11 begins, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for.”

About the author

Mark Silk

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and director of the college's Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life. He is a Contributing Editor of the Religion News Service


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  • The best way to get religious conservatives to change their minds about the reality of climate change / global warming, whatever you want to call it, is for them to change the channel away from Fox News. That will require prying their remote control devices away from their cold, dead hands. Good luck with that.

  • I wonder if anyone has ever polled and compared those living in hurricane and flood ravaged areas or in the areas recently burned by wildfires about their thoughts on global warming compared to those in “safer”, “less impacted” areas?

    I suspect that it will take a direct hit for many of the climate deniers to start singing a different tune.

  • Comparing victims of California’s wildfires to, say, victims of Hurricane Michael in the Florida Panhandle is like comparing apples and oranges. Decidedly liberal Californians already believe in climate change whereas for those living in Trump country, nothing will ever change their minds, unless of course Trump changes his, which is unlikely to happen. For them it’s just the natural fluctuation of the weather. Besides which, it’s been cold in Trump country lately, so that proves that global warming is a Chinese hoax. Trump said so himself.

  • The canary in global warming is in the peak temperature charts. Look at the peaks and ask yourself what significant anti-Christ activity occurred about that time.

    How many denominations existed in 1800? How many bible translations and denominations jumped in number, beginning in 1880? Motion picture industry became the safe haven for the LGBT community to organize in the 1920’s, and of course we had the global wars. Abortion in the seventies produced an upward tick and same sex legalization has the same apparent coincidental effect on the charts.

    In the Scripture, there were always people that understood time and judgement. While our technology is making a difference and should be utilized to it’s fullest potential; the world must get back in tune with the Creator as we come into the last age of man’s earthly journey. The countdown has begun and it is up to man, how long this age will last.

    The Bible is as much about time as it is about judgement. It is not enough to only study the judgement.

  • Just putting this out there.

    Many people in the regions near the Gulf of Mexico vote for Pro-oil Republicans despite the numerous times said industry has attacked or destroyed the livelihood of its residents.

  • “what significant anti-Christ activity occurred about that time”

    Christian fundamentalism.
    Christian belief adoption of a position of science denial

    You are railing against the idea of treating certain classes of people as human beings. A position which although adopted by your sect is deeply immoral and an expression of your personal bigotry.

    So according to you gays cause global warming. LMAO!

  • I believe that. Even as BP destroyed marine life in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon incident, dessimating the Louisiana seafood industry, Louisiana’s petulant former congressman now Attorney General Jeff Landry infamously held up a sign during President Obama’s SOTU address in January 2011 which read “Drilling = Jobs,” in protest of Obama’s moratorium on deep water drilling. How’s that for cognitive dissonance? That let me know that the oil industry puts a whole lot more money in the pockets of congressmen than the seafood industry does.

  • Facts are indeed stubborn things, but the days even a few members of the media are no longer pretending that the Global Warmers have automatically got their facts straight.

    Most recent example was yesterday’s New York Post (Nov. 28) in which Bjorn Lomberg pointed out a few juicy problems. “The media got it all wrong on the new US climate report” was the headline.

    Other watch-out words like “Concerns” and even “errors” appeared in NY and DC media, although definitely slanted with the Big Sales Pitch that the scientists had fixed all the “concerns” and that those errata “didn’t affect” the report conclusions (of course they didn’t, we musn’t rock the GW Boat.)

  • Sadly I think you are right. big Oil has more clout than the seafood industry. The same goes for tourism. I wonder if anyone ever added up the losses for both those industries?

  • I called no one the anti-Christ, the context is all activity that is opposite to the Word of God, is the meaning. Don’t add to the Word or take away from the Word is the original word. A denomination splits because they disagree about the Word, obviously one or even both do not have understanding of the Word. This is also true for all LGBT that disagree with the Word and or change the wording to their satisfaction.

    I am not railing at all, on the contrary, I am espousing the idea that as the number of God’s true believers declines, there is the real possibility that God will be removing his beneficial care taking of the planet. Gays do not cause global warming. When gays indoctrinate others in a manner that causes those individuals to oppose the Word of God, true believers decline and this is what leads to the increased temperature.

    If you could pretend to believe in God for a moment, ask yourself why should God maintain the planet, when there is no longer any of His people on it. The final outcome as written is that the earth burns up. I am not looking forward to that, regardless of the cause.

  • Shorter version of your last post “God hates [email protected] and I have nothing of value to say on this topic”.

    You are not actually disagreeing or disputing what I said.

    All you are doing is trying to rationalize what is clearly personal animus and bigotry in one of the most spineless ways possible. Pretending it is not a personal opinion but simply God’s will. Evidently Bruce = God.

    The fact that your little bigoted rant has zilch to do with this topic, I would say you are obsessed in your hatred and need to demonize gays for its own sake.

  • Whenever people start referring to “The Word” that’s usually a pretty good indication that they’re a biblical fundamentalist and what they really mean is “The Inerrant Word of God” as laid out in the New International Version of the Bible, not those liberal versions like the New Revised Standard Version that Episcopalians tend to prefer, the one based on real biblical scholarship rather than conservative polemic. Once you start pointing out the various inconsistencies in Holy Writ is when their mouth starts foaming and they get tongue-tied. I no longer even try to reckon with them. It’s not worth the trouble and you always end up in the same place – the point on the circle right where you started.

  • Usually with that crowd “The Inerrant Word of God” means anything they want it to be at the moment to justify a personal position. A spineless way to justify acting badly to others. Nothing more.

  • I tend to agree, although when one considers to what extent the oil industry supports Louisiana’s entire economy the explanation comes more clearly into focus. Thankfully crawfish are raised on inland farms far away from the Gulf and they make a better etoufée than shrimp anyway, so all is not lost.

  • Hey, while your on the bible channel.did you see that science has finally proven that all people descended from the same two individuals. Surprise, one was a woman and one was a man.

  • They haven’t proven anything. It’s a theory and the best evidence points to that conclusion.

    This was 135,000 years ago and they didn’t live in the same place or even the same time (probably thousands of years apart).

  • Bigot says what? Tell me again how gays control the weather and cause natural disaster with their presence. I need a good chuckle.

  • They think God would never kill the vast majority of humans and then pretend to have read the entire bible.

    One word: Noah.

  • Bjorn Lomberg is a political scientist. And with a professional orientation tin economics who believes that short term adaptation to impacts is feasible while money is spent on research to mitigate impacts. When he says unlikely, that is an opinion, not fact.

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