Smarter people than me can give you all the scary specifics about climate change. All I can tell you is there’s a scary version and a super-scary version. To deny that is to deny obvious reality.
Which is why increasingly I think the “debate” over climate change is not whether the climate is changing but why it is changing and whether anything can be done about it. And here’s where I’d like to make a biblical appeal to evangelical Christians who don’t feel any responsibility to prevent further worsening of the climate: The why doesn’t matter so much to those of us (like me) who can’t cite the specifics of climate science. The what-to-do does matter to all of us who believe God has entrusted the earth to human care.
Turn to the Hebrew Scriptures and the story of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dream about the skinny cows and the fat cows, the skinny ears of grain and the fat ears of grain. It’s in Genesis 41. It’s a seminal story in biblical history not only because it demonstrates Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams through divine wisdom but also because it illustrates God’s provision for humanity through preparation.
Through Pharaoh’s dream, God reveals to Joseph a way to save Egypt from the coming calamity of seven years of drought. The seven years of famine will be preceded by seven years of plenty. Armed with this information, Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of laying in huge stores of food during the years of plenty to prepare for the years of famine.
Why the famine happens is not told and doesn’t matter. How the famine happens is not told and doesn’t matter. What does matter from a biblical standpoint is Joseph’s faithfulness to the God-given vision of preparation.
“If God has given humans dominion over the earth as caretakers, we have a divine mandate to be prepared, just like Joseph prepared for famine.”
Today, we have more God-given documentation of impending crisis than Joseph had through the interpretation of one dream. It takes far less faith to believe in climate change than it took to believe in Egypt’s distant, seven-year famine.
Christians, Jews and Muslims alike regard Joseph as a hero for taking seriously the vision and making a plan of action. We see Joseph as an agent of God’s mercy and salvation. Why can’t we see today’s climate scientists as the same kind of God-ordained forecasters?
And if Joseph is such a great biblical hero, shouldn’t we seek to emulate his actions? The only reason not to do so is if you believe God wants the earth to be destroyed – or, more specifically, God wants humanity destroyed off the earth.
Now there is a certain branch of Christianity that teaches an end-times theology of consumption and decline that would absolve Christians of any responsibility to prevent future global disaster. In fact, that brand of theology might encourage calamity in order to hasten the Second Coming.
That end-times scenario is not a majority Christian position in the world. Nor can it be supported biblically without excising Genesis 1 from the Bible. So unless you can claim that uncommon exemption, keep reading.
The biblical case for addressing climate change is simple: If God has given humans dominion over the earth as caretakers, we have a divine mandate to be prepared, just like Joseph prepared for famine. That’s it. Debating the why of climate change is not required to move us to action. Debating the who’s-responsible of climate change is not required to move us to action.
People of faith – particularly Christians and Jews and Muslims – should be leading the charge to make plans of action for the years of famine ahead. Even a leader like the notoriously hard-hearted Pharaoh would be motivated to act in response to much less information than we already have before us.