Myths and False Narratives about Global Climate Change

Myths and False Narratives about Global Climate Change

The Major Objections from Climate Deniers

by OFT, Saint Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox parish

The Orthodox Church has been warning its members about climate change for over thirty years. Beginning with HAH Patriarch +Dimitrios in 1989, the Church has been concerned about this issue because of the moral, ethical and spiritual principles which mandate taking good care of God’s creation. The Scriptures, the Saints and Church fathers and mothers emphasize this as well. Today human experience shows that storms are becoming stronger, average temperatures are increasing, dreadful forest fires are more numerous, and ocean levels are rising. Climate scientists affirm all of this and provide detailed measurements that document the changes now taking place in the world’s atmosphere.

 Nevertheless political and economic considerations intervene and deny the seriousness of climate change. This is the primary reason why such a wide variety of opinions and false information exists about climate change. One consequence of this misinformation, sometimes deliberately promoted by companies whose financial interests are involved, is that a high level of distorted perspectives exist about climate change. This is why discussions in parishes sometimes begin with different assumptions about why climate change is taking place or how serious it is. This then causes a variety of perspectives. Because parishes lack a common grasp of facts, differences of perspective and opinion can cause discussions to spiral out of control. 

As Orthodox Christians we strive to discern the truth about God, Jesus Christ and even the conditions that confront the Church and our life in society. Clearly there is a truth about this issue, but what is it? Our film THE FACE OF GOD: THE ORTHODOX CHURCH AND CLIMATE CHANGE begins this search for an honest and accurate view of climate change. It seeks to define our vocation as protectors of God’s handiwork. As Christians, alternative views are not a valid option or merely some secondary aspect of our Orthodox Christian journey. We must study to understand what is happening and take action to address what is degrading and corrupting God’s good creation.

To initiate our journey into an accurate and honest view about climate change, let useliminate some of the falsehoods that have been perpetuated. Here are a few of the most common myths that deny or obscure climate change and our ancient responsibility to take good care of God’s creation which is also our common home as long as we are in the world. 

1. The climate has always changed.

Yes, the climate has changed throughout history, but scientists say the climate change we are now witnessing is happening more rapidly than any previous shift in climate. What makes this change so serious is that it is caused by human beings putting more heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. In particular, this means the burning of fossil fuels – coal, gas and oil. 

Carbon dioxide, but also methane and several other gases, collectively called “Greenhouse gases,” are implicated in most of the climate changes in Earth’s past. 

Whenever those gases have receded, the global climate became colder. Whenever they have increased,the global climate became warmer. When changes were massive and rapid (as they are today), the consequences for life on Earth become dire – in some cases causing mass extinctions. In all of the world’s major climate changes, they took place gradually over long lengths of geological time. The changes happening now are taking place rapidly and inside the lifetime of people now living. 

According to climate scientists, global warming occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere. The nature of carbon dioxide is such that it holds onto heat and retains the warmth that might otherwise radiate out into space. Like a glassed in greenhouse,the warmth of the sun is retained and so the planet warms.

In the United States, the burning of fossil fuels, primarily to produce electricity or for transportation, is the largest source of heat-trapping pollution. Coal-burning power plants are by far the biggest polluters. The country’s second-largest source of carbon pollution is the transportation sector, which generates about 1.7 billion tons of CO2 emissions a year.

Curbing dangerous climate change requires very deep cuts in emissions, plus a transition to the use of alternatives to fossil fuels. The good news is that we’ve started a turnaround: CO2 emissions in the United States actually decreased from 2005 to 2014, thanks in part to new, energy-efficient technology and the use of cleaner fuels. And scientists continue to develop new ways to modernize power plants, generate cleaner electricity, and burn less gasoline while we drive.

The challenge is to be sure these solutions are put to use and widely adopted. The infographic videos below describe how the rise of CO2 in the atmosphere (measured in parts per million) correlates with the Earth’s temperature and climate change. 

How Greenhouse gases warm the earth

The Greenhouse Effect and Global Warming

Climate 101: Ozone Depletion | by the National Geographic Society

2. Scientists disagree about the science of the climate crisis.

Actually, over 97% of genuine climate scientists say that climate change is happening now. If some disagreement, it comes from a tiny fraction of individuals who are not climate scientists. 

Real climate scientists who check and verify their findings through published peer reviewed reports are virtually unanimous about the underlying data that supports information about global climate change and its origins by human activity. 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the U.S. publishes the following statement about climate change:

Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97% or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: “Climate-warming trendsover the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition,most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.”

View the videos below for a spectrum of more detailed information from top scientists: 

Dr. James Hansen: “Why I must speak out about climate change”

Dr. Michael E. Mann, “On The Impact Of Climate Change Denial”

Dr. Christiana Figueres, Architect of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, Interview

Michael E. Mann, “On the Race to Save the World From Climate Change”

3. The average person can’t do anything about such a big problem as global climate change

Climate change is the result of an overemphasis on fossil fuel energy, abuse of the land and forests, and generally on the consumer mentality. As a society we take too much of the world’s resources and the planet cannot sustain our level of consumption. 

We are witnessing the effects of a lifestyle that uses too much of the world’s resources, too many fossil fuels, and that forgets to live within the capacity of the world’s biological and ecological systems. As a human civilization, we are collectively creating an exhaust from our lifestyles that is harming and polluting the atmosphere of the planet. 

Yes, one person’s actions alone are not going to stop the climate emergency. But one person who repents of harmful actions can change his or her life and, in turn, influence others and the communities in which they live and work. We are all on this planet together and will have to cooperate to correct the errors in our social vision and behavior. 

As an op ed in The New York Times reports, “One house with solar panels can lead to others in the neighborhood installing solar panels of their own. Likewise, we tend to conserve our electricity consumption when our utility bills tell us how our usage compares with our neighbors,” 

Our present predicament is a call to repentance in how we design our lives. We each have to change how we choose to live. Ordinary people can take the lead in making corrections. Regular citizens can call their elected officials and make sure they’re making decisions about energy and lifestyle in ways that help our world address climate change. Such actions can lead to changing the world much faster than we might think.

From National Geographic: 

Cars replaced horses within 15 years in many places. For thousands of years we got along without plastic, and then in a few decades it was everywhere. Throughout history, we’ve been both ingenious inventors and quick to adopt new technologies. With popular will and the right policies, we’ll have no problem creating new energy and transportation infrastructures, goods made without toxins or carbon emissions, biodegradable plastic substitutes.

Yes, we can make the changes that are before us. It is simply a matter of priorities and recognition of the problem. These changes take place one person at a time. This is why the individual person is the critical foundation for the changes that are important for our world to make. 

4. Why should I do anything? The financial markets will take care of the problem.

Free market capitalists believe that the market can solve all issues. But is this concept really true? Industrial capitalism, following the lead of the market, and promoting industrialism, mechanized agriculture and consumerism generally, has in less than 200 years, made the climate 1.2º F. hotter , and is certain to push it at least two degrees higher than the pre-industrial average by 2050.

 It is true that many corporate leaders see the market as the ultimate expression of human rationality. They have believed the so-called “mechanism of the free market” would spur the correct allocation of resources to meet the Paris target of a two-degree cap. This is pure ideology following the economic philosophy of the all-knowing market which has over and over again been proved plain wrong.

HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has bluntly declared,

 "Climate change is ...closely related to our model of economic development. An economy that ignores human needs ...leads to exploitation of the natural environment."
(HAH, June 5, 2018, Athens).

HB Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexey II says something quite similar: 

"Solutions to the environmental crisis are to be found in the human heart, not in the economy, technology or politics."

(HB Alexey, Social Policy of the Russian Orthodox Church,Moscow, 2000).

Church leaders repeatedly warn us that the climate issue is every person’s issue. 

"No single initiative or institution, no nation or corporation, neither science nor technology, are in a place to respond to the ecological crisis alone, without working closely together.... An economy that ignores human beings and human needs inevitably leads to an exploitation of the natural environment."

(HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Athens, June 5, 2018). 

In April of 2017, HAH Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew was invited to address the World Councilof Churches meeting in Canberra, Australia. In the following statement he provides key insights about climate change. 

"The environmental crisis cannot be solved without a genuine conversion of human actions. In this sense, ecology is linked with economy. A society that does not care about the well-being of all human beings is a society, that mistreats God’s creation, is blasphemy. For this reason, the ecological challenge of our Churches is to awake the world to the irreversible destruction of God’s creation because of human sinful actions.The necessity of ecological education is not only a problem for our states, but should also be the problem of our Churches." ...

"Scientific knowledge, supported by statistics and climatic models... has confirmed that the climate is changing because of human activities and that such change will prove disastrous for life on this planet"...

As Rev. Deacon Sergei Kapral aptly states, “The Church knows. The Church knows very well what the [corrective] measures and actions should be,” (the film, “The Face of God,” 2020).

"Unless we all perceive in our attitudes and actions, as in our deliberations and decisions, the faces of our own children – in the present and in future generations – then we shall continue to prolong and procrastinate the development of any solution; we shall persist in obstructing or restricting any implementation."
..."We strongly believe that churches cannot be indifferent to the suffering or abuse of children that exists in the world, particularly those who are wounded or refugees. Let us therefore develop ways to end violence against children and young people in our contemporary society. Let us promote better participation and integration of our children and youth in the worship and in the life of our churches. Let us make our children and youth aware of the responsibility of Christians in the environmental crisis and educate them to adopt adequate behavior and actions facing issues such as water and climate change.'' 

Several conclusions: 

A first lesson is that a healing of this problem requires everybody. All sectors of society must participate. This means all parishes and all parishioners are part of the grand solution to climate change. Everyone has a role to play in ths global challenge. 

Second, any presumption of a market-led initiative to solve climate change is utopian thinking. The market is only one part of the global panorama of systems and processes that humans have established to guide our interactions. 

Third, Rebecca Henderson, Professor of Business Economics at the Harvard University School of Business, says is that unchecked capitalism destabilizes the environment and harms human health.She makes the case for companies to step up and help fix the climate crisis they’re causing. In fact she bluntly says, “Business is screwed if we don’t fix climate change.” And it is not the market mechanism that will save the day. “To save the climate, we have to reimagine capitalism.”

See her video statement on why business should fix capitalism as one step in fixing climate change.

A fourth conclusion surprises many parishioners, even clergy. In the Book of Revelation, just as in the Gospel of Matthew, there is a scenario of the Last Judgement. The Apostle John, guided by the Angel of Inspiration, reports that the prophets and the saints and even the little people who fear the Lord find their reward, but he adds, “those who destroy the earth, God will destroy” (Rev. 11:18). This should be good incentive for all Orthodox Christians to avoid being destroyers and become part of the great team that works to preserve and protect God’s good creation.

So why the difference in these two accounts? It’s a mercy. It’s like a second chance. If a person failed to discern Christ in his or her neighbor, then what did you do to the earth?

5. Orthodox Christians should worry more about other important issues, but not climate change and science.

The history of Christians caring for God’s creation goes back millennia, dating all the way back to the creation story in the Book of Genesis. The Bible is a strong and frequent voice for care of the earth. The Scriptures repeatedly call believers into care of God’s earth. 

Throughout the Church’s long history, countless saints and theologians have recognized that it is our duty to care for God’s creation.

In our day, Orthodox patriarchs and hierarchs across all jurisdictions are unanimous in their commentary about the importance of taking good care of God’s creation. 

This is not just a European issue as some have suggested. Across the United States and through all Orthodox jurisdictions, clear and vigorous agreement exists about the need to address global climate change. 

Why is this? It is because climate change has a monstrous capability to disrupt the ecological support systems of the planet and society, harm the health and wellbeing of young and old alike, drastically increase mortality (the death rate), and possibly even bring a collapse to the biological systems upon which human life depends, and then to civilization itself. 

The Orthodox Bishops during the period between 2004 and 2007 intently studied this problem in the Moral and Ethics committee of what was previously called SCOBA (the Standing Conference of the Canonical Orthodox Bishops of America). After three years of study, presentations and dialogue, they developed a formal declaration about climate change.

6. The Bible clearly states in Genesis 1:28 that humans are given “dominion” over the earth. This gives us the right to do with the world as we see fit.

That is a Protestant misreading of the Bible and specifically the concept of dominion. 

Genesis 1:28 reads, “God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’”

What does “have dominion” mean? The word dominion comes into English from the Latin word, dominus. This simply means “Lord.” We are to treat the creation as Jesus Christ would treat it. This further means we are to enter into the mind of Christ and bring the love and care and concern for its ultimate purpose into our own hearts and vision and behavior to rightly live upon God’s world so that our actions glorify and praise Him for the goodness of the gift of creation. 

It does not mean we may do whatever we please to the earth. Dominion is further informed by the mandate “to dress and keep the creation.” Other translations render this as “protect and serve” the creation. This indicates that dominion implies a kind of service and implies a thoughtful use of the world for the benefit and good of all life. 

For a right dominion we pray that the Lord bless and keep us. Thus we follow the Lord, and enter into his prior love and care for the world. On at least ten occasions, we are told that “The Earth is the Lord’s” (Cor. 1:10:26). This means it is not ours. The earth was here before us and it has been given tous as a gift to treasure and leave in better condition that we inherited it. These basic principles allow us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking means, on the basis of the Genesis account which grants humans ‘dominion’ over the earth (cf.Gen 1:28), an unbridled exploitation of nature. Nosuch thing is true. Some Protestant clergy might claim this, but this is not the ancient Christian understanding which Orthodox inherit from the saints and patristic writers. For Orthodox Christians, dominion means love, service, respect and care. 

Further, dominion is a call, following Jesus Christ, to serve as priests of creation. This means we are not only to serve the earth, and steward its resources, we are to consecrate it with praise and thanksgiving back to its Creator-Maker. 

HE Archbishop Elpidophoros, writing to the clergy and faithful of the Greek Archdiocese of America,makes this calling explicit in this Pastoral Letter of September 1st, 2019: 

"As Orthodox Christians, we must admit our failure to integrate our theology with our practice. Now those problems have intensified, while the challenge requires amore urgent response by the Church.
Our response, however, is fraught with difficulties and barriers because we are captive to a mentality of consumption and greed that is fundamentally foreign to Orthodox Christianity and contradictory to the spirit of communion and generosity. Instead, we are called to participate in the “cosmic liturgy” of creation (St. Maximus the Confessor), where “everything that breathes praises the Lord."
(Psalm 150:1), where “the heavens and the hills, the trees and the animals exalt the name of God” (cf. Psalm 148:4–13), and where every drop of water and grain of sand offer glory and gratitude for the presence of the Creator.
Of course, we all recognize that we can no longer desecrate God’s creation, whose origin and destiny are inseparably identified with ourselves. What we refuse to do is take the next step that is required of us as priests of creation, which entails consecrating creation to the Creator. Avoiding desecration is only a partial response to the ecological crisis; accepting and advocating consecration is the fulfillment of our divine mandate to “serve and preserve the earth” (Gen. 2:15). Such a sanctification and offering to God of “His own of His own, on behalf of all and for the sake of all” (From the Divine Liturgy) also unleashes the transformative potential and restorative capacity of all creation for healing and wholeness.
However, in order to heal the earth, we must purify our hearts and transform our habits. Every act of defilement on the body of creation is ultimately contempt for the Body of Christ. Whereas when we demonstrate respectful consideration for the earth’s natural resources, then we can also begin to discern the perspective of the kingdom “on earth as in heaven” (From the Lord’s Prayer).''

This statement gives us a genuine Orthodox Christian understanding of the depths hidden in the biblical mandate to take dominion over the creation of God. 

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