Global warming. This topic evokes strong emotions and reactions from many different camps. The debate often occurs in only the political realm with the scientific evidence entering to support a specific agenda, causing controversy and distrust between differing groups. But we can diffuse the rancor by allowing the scientific data to speak first and then determining the course of action that best benefits humanity. RTB’s position incorporates such an approach.
The Bible clearly teaches that God designed Earth to be inhabited (Isaiah 45:18). Although God has put a pause on creating, he continues to sustain our planet’s habitability (Psalm 104:27–30) and uses creation to instruct humanity (Psalm 19:1–6; Job 12:7–10). God also charged humanity with caring for creation (Genesis 1:26–31, 2:15–17; Proverbs 8:6–8).Humanity’s sinful nature affects both creation and our ability to care for it (Genesis 3:17– 19. By focusing only on either our dominion over creation or our charge to care for it, we will inevitably fail to properly fill both roles. If we reason that “God designed the Earth so well that our actions are inconsequential,” we will fail to properly care for it. However, if we minimize that God gave us dominion over creation for our benefit, we are prone to place more value on the Earth than on humanity. God gave us dominion over this planet so we need to understand and use it responsibly.
Within those broad boundaries, it helps to break the discussion into four questions.
1. Does the evidence show that Earth is warming?
There are still uncertainties in the data, but the bulk of evidence indicates that the planet has indeed become warmer over the last hundred years. This question generates little discussion amongst the research published in peer-reviewed journals. Instead, the debate focuses on the next question.
2. How much does humanity contribute to the warming?
Humanity’s contribution is difficult to quantify because of the myriad variables that affect the global climate. Astronomical effects, from Earth’s eccentricity to solar activity, affect how much radiation Earth receives from the Sun. Atmospheric influences from greenhouse gases, aerosols, and cloud cover affect how much of the Sun’s radiation actually warms the Earth and how much is lost to space. Geological processes such as volcanic activity and glacial movements, and anthropogenic factors such as fossil fuel burning and raising livestock also play critical roles in Earth’s climate. Although scientists don’t have a final answer, it seems human activity contributes somewhere between 20–80 percent of the warming seen over the last 150 years.
3. If Earth is warming, how big a deal is it?
This question does not have a good answer yet. Throughout Earth’s history, temperatures have ranged much higher1 and lower than today’s values. However, the available scientific data does not settle whether these epochs were less habitable.2 Even with the scientific uncertainties, RTB takes a position that humanity arrived during the optimal period in Earth's history. Therefore, if human-induced warming has the potential for a significant decrease in Earth’s habitability, we should be more proactive than reactive.
4. What should we do about it?
Frequently, the only “solutions” to the global warming issue that receive publicity come from the liberal environmental movement and seem untenable or overly burdensome. However, proponents from all political viewpoints can and should develop a reasonable plan to address the potential changes that global warming might bring. We should support only solutions that contain two key components. Those plans will (1) benefit humanity (to avoid worshipping the creation) and (2) address the relevant problems affecting Earth’s climate (to be good stewards of creation).
For more details on the scientific issues surrounding global warming, listen to our 4-part I Didn't Know That! podcast series where we interview climatologist Kevin Birdwell. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4
1. Peter K. Bijl et al., “Transient Middle Eocene Atmospheric CO2 and Temperature Variations,” Science 330 (November 5, 2010): 819–21.
2. Carlos Jaramillo et al., “Effects of Rapid Global Warming at the Paleocene-Eocene Boundary on Neotropical Vegetation,” Science 330 (November 12, 2010): 957–61.