For many years my primary motivation for engaging in creation care and climate activism has been the fact that environmental destruction in general kills millions of people already and that climate change in particular will most likely kill off hundreds of millions of people in the near future.
Since killing people is bad, according to Jesus’ ethics, we should care for creation and stop heating up the climate. In fact, some scientists have suggested that all of humanity will be extinct because of climate change. That is, not only will people die in Bangladesh or New York, but every single one of us might die because of this inconvenient market failure caused by industrialism and greed.
Of course, not all scientists are saying that we will become extinct because of this. While it is universally acknowledged that many other species will be terminated just as we have already killed off half of the world’s animals since 1970, and that humans are already dying because of climate change, whether we will commit communal suicide through our carbon emissions is not as clear.
But they can’t rule it out. One of the scariest phenomena in climate research is called feedback loops, which basically means that a warmer planet will start to heat up even faster compared to what it does in the climate we have today. For example, a smaller arctic will lead to less reflection of sunlight back into space, and a melting tundra will release giant pockets of methane in the atmosphere, which is a greenhouse gas.
These feedbacks may come to a point where global warming is unstoppable, to the extent that even if we stop emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, Earth will eventually become like Venus.
Nothing can live on Venus. Hence, the existence of groups like the Extinction Rebellion.
Science aside, how should Christians respond to these claims? We know, based on the eschatological prophecies in the New Testament, that the last days will indeed be tough times where there will be natural disasters and wars. Revelation 8 is famous for including some terrifying descriptions of natural disasters, that may have sounded ridiculous for non-Christian positivists during the industrial revolution but sound all too familiar to us today:
The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up. The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed. The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter. (Rev 8:8-11)
Yet, extinction of all humans isn’t something the Bible talks much about. It would of course bring lots of serious depth to Jesus’ rhetorical question: “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 8:18). But when He describes His second coming in Matthew 24, and when Paul prophetically speaks about it in 1 Thess 4, it seems quite clear that at least some people will be around, including Christians.
Technically, this does not exclude the possibility of ourselves bringing our own extinction – He might step in right before the final strike as He intervened when Abraham was about to kill Isaac. In fact, such a scenario would be an awe-inspiring, global application of the verse “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23).
However, I tend to fall back to my original motivation: climate change kills lots of people here and now and will kill even more in the future – that’s bad enough. As followers of Jesus we have to change that.
Micael Grenholm is editor-in-chief for PCPJ.
Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice is a multicultural, gender inclusive, and ecumenical organization that promotes peace, justice, and reconciliation work among Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians around the world. If you like what we do, please become a member!