How should Christians think about global warming?

This article is from Hank Hanegraaff, The Complete Bible Answer Book—Collector’s Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2008)
Get the Book

Global warming is hot…hot…hot! This morning I opened USA Today and encountered a full-page ad that begins as follows: “Rising temperatures. Disastrous droughts. Melting glaciers and polar ice sheets. Polar bears headed to extinction. The climate crisis isn’t on the way. It’s here.” CNN founder Ted Turner is similarly pessimistic: “We will be eight degrees hotter in 30 to 40 years and basically none of the crops will grow.” As a result, says Turner, “most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals.” Former Vice President Al Gore is equally emphatic. In his view, global warming is the single greatest threat facing our planet. Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe puts global warming deniers on par with holocaust deniers. And prominent Baptist pastor Oliver “Buzz” Thomas has gone so far as to castigate spiritual leaders for failing to urge followers to have smaller families in light of this global catastrophe. Says Thomas, “We must stop having so many children. Clergy should consider voicing the difficult truth that having more than two children during such a time is selfish. Dare we say sinful?” As global warming rhetoric continues to boil over, what is a Christian to do?

First, as Dr. Jay Richards, who holds a PhD in philosophy and theology, points out, we should learn to ask the right questions and to ask them in the right order. Our initial question should be: Is global warming a reality? The answer is a qualified, yes. If we appropriate accurate averages over a hundred and fifty years and carefully consider current satellite data, it appears likely that we are experiencing a slight warming trend. We must, however, exercise extreme caution in the extrapolation of trends. It is instructive to note that the first Earth Day (April 22nd, 1970) was observed amid the specter of a looming ice age. Indeed, four years later Time pontificated that the “tell-tale signs” of an ice age were evident “everywhere.” The second question is this: If the globe is warming, are humans a significant factor? According to Dr. William M. Gray, a PhD in the geophysical sciences and a pioneer in the science of forecasting hurricanes, “The human impact on the atmosphere is simply too small to have a major effect on global temperatures.” And Gray is not alone. A quick Google search is sufficient to demonstrate that global warming is far from settled science. Third we should ask: Is global warming necessarily bad? In response, Dr. Richards notes that a thousand years ago during a medieval warming period European agriculture experienced an increase in productivity. Moreover, more deaths result from cold winters than hot summers. While common sense might lead us to conclude that a warming trend is far less dangerous than a new ice age, reality is there hasn’t been sufficient study to be sure. One thing is certain, however: sensationalism, sophistry, and sloppy journalism have done little to advance the ball. One need only think back a few years to Al Gore’s dire warnings of global catastrophe as a result of the Millennium Bug. And Gore does not stand alone. Media, magazines, and ministers collectively rode the Millennium Bug hard. Indeed, when my primary research project—published as The Millennium Bug Debugged—revealed that Y2K would not even be a top-ten news story in the year 2000, I became the object of controversy and contempt. One well-known Christian broadcaster went as far as to suggest that I would have the blood of millions on my hands for causing complacency within the body of Christ. Truth is, the real danger is in the ready-fire-aim syndrome.

Furthermore, as Christians we should carefully consider the cost of having our eyes on the wrong ball. If we participate in promoting political policies involving trillions of dollars, there should be convincing evidence that global warming is, as Gore contends, the most pressing problem facing the planet. As Richards points out, the Kyoto Protocol (a legally binding agreement under which industrialized countries would reduce their collective emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2% compared to 1990) would cost the global economy tens of trillions of dollars. By comparison, providing clean water for areas of the world that currently have contaminated water could be accomplished for around 200 billion. It is a genuine tragedy that while Christian leaders were hyping Y2K in America, millions of God’s children were dying from malaria in Africa. And malaria is but one of the prevalent planetary problems. A whole range of issues from toxic waste to the war on terrorism could be addressed for a fraction of the cost. Point is: we dare not be wrong this time around!

Finally, what is incontrovertible is that Christians are called to be caretakers or stewards of God’s creation. As such, not only are we called to carry out the Great Commission, but we are commissioned to carry out the cultural mandate. In the words of cultural apologist Nancy Pearcey, we are to “develop the social world: build families, churches, schools, cities, governments, laws” as well as “plant crops, build bridges, design computers, compose music.” In other words, as crowning jewels of God’s creation we are to care for the created order. The tragedy is that those who approach catastrophic human-induced global warming with a healthy dose of skepticism are routinely castigated as environmental enemies. Moral judgments are meted out with breathless abandon on everything from the size of one’s family to the size of one’s family car. The aforementioned Baptist preacher, Buzz Thomas, goes so far as to judge those who have more than two children as “selfish” and “sinful.” In like fashion, leaders of the Evangelical Environmental Network have taken it upon themselves to posit that Jesus wouldn’t drive an SUV. They seem blithely unaware that their idiosyncratic fundamentalism often flies in the face of the facts. As should be obvious, there are myriad factors to be considered with respect to family size. Whether one has two or twelve children is less important than whether those children grow up to be selfless producers as opposed to merely selfish consumers. Likewise, fuel savings do not necessarily dwarf such factors as family size or family safety. As Richards has well said, “Fuel economy doesn’t trump the other factors, especially since some cars (such as hybrids) have better than average fuel economy, but require more energy both to construct and to recycle than do other, less fuel efficient cars. So an outside observer is in no position to make a moral judgment just by observing that you drive an SUV.”

In an age in which Christians are all too often characterized as “poor, undereducated, and easily led,” we should avoid lending credence to the stereotype. Instead we should commit ourselves to care for Christ’s creation with tender hearts as well as with tenacious minds.

For further study, see the Bible Answer Man broadcast with guest Jay Richards, March 18 and 19, 2008, audio CDs; available through the Christian Research Institute at

“God blessed them and said to them,
‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air
and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'”

Genesis 1:28

More Bible Answers with Hank

Will the Created Cosmos Be Resurrected or Annihilated?

How Can the Eternal Son of God Be the “Firstborn over All Creation”?

Will Adam and Eve Receive Brand-New Bodies in Eternity?

Do Naturalists Consider Chance the Singular Cause of Evolution?

Why Did Heliocentrism Triumph over Geocentrism?