No, God won’t take care of climate change

Conservationists and religious folk need to find harmony for a healthy planet.

 

Christine Colbert is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. She lives and writes in Washington.


Not long after President Trump decided that the United States should withdraw from the Paris Agreement, Michigan Republican Rep. Tim Walberg told his constituents that if it turned into a “real” problem, God would “take care of” climate change.

Social media buzzed with dismay and alarm over the Michigan congressman’s attitude, since it runs counter to overwhelming scientific evidence concerning climate change.

Yet if you live in a religiously conservative state, as I once did, Walberg’s statement would not be surprising. I was born and raised in a Mormon family in Utah, where the word “environmentalist” is still considered by many to be foul language. I’m no longer a practicing Mormon, but rather a convert to the wonder of the outdoors, thanks to the education I received while exploring Utah’s vast public lands. I did not need to lose my religion to become an environmentalist, but I’m sure it didn’t hurt.

Years ago, I asked my dad why he didn’t think climate change was a threat. He replied that the second coming of Jesus Christ would take care of any “problems.” In other words, he believed a wipe-down of our planet would ensue upon Christ’s arrival back on earth. I was alarmed. This seemed to me like a rather large bet to make. But my father added that because he “knew” Christ would come again, it wasn’t a gamble for him and he didn’t need to worry about the future.

But as the public response to Walburg’s statement demonstrated, this idea is not very reassuring to the majority of the American people. The science behind global climate change is overwhelming. What if the supernatural cleanup orchestrated by God failed to occur? And what if it came too late to matter?

The salt flats of the Alvord Desert in Oregon are near the Steens Mountains.
Richard_Hicks/Flickr

I believe there is a strong religious argument to be made that we all have a responsibility to protect our planet. Caring for creation is emphasized in many religious texts, and in particular, by the Bible. Pope Francis wrote an entire encyclical on the subject — Laudato SI’, subtitled On Care for Our Common Home. In the case of my family’s religion, in the Book of Mormon as well as Doctrine and Covenants, God instructs his children to tread lightly upon the Earth, to be sure that we do not defile or pollute it, and to use the planet’s gifts sparingly and conscientiously. 

All scripture is open to interpretation. But here’s my take: Imagine your mother asked you to clean your room, and not only that, to take good care of your things, including your stuffed animals, your Barbie dolls and your action figures. She told you to care for each one because she gave them to you, and she loves them just like she loves you. (Yes, in my story, Mom loves your childhood toys.)

But you decide not to clean up your room. In fact, you dump a couple cans of paint on the carpet and smear fecal matter all over the walls. You light a fire in the middle of the room, throw your toys and plush animals into it, and let the air fill with smoke — endangering the house and everyone in it. How do you think your mom will react? I remember numerous mentions in the Bible about a vengeful God who doesn’t take kindly to man’s willful disregard for his commandments. Epic flood, anyone?

Which brings me back to Rep. Tim Walberg, and his dismissal of science and the future of our planet. Walberg and others like him can decide that climate change doesn’t concern them, and if they’re correct, God will fix it all. But when? And after how many of the earth’s plant and wildlife species have disappeared, become displaced, or gone extinct by the effects of climate change? And by destroying our environment for the sake of continued fossil fuel extraction and use, what does that say about us humans as stewards of the land? 

Creating harmony between religious beliefs and the conservation of our planet is really quite easy. Even for those who believe that our warming planet poses no real threat, advocating for clean air, water, and protecting Earth’s teeming diversity of plants and wildlife is still something everyone can get behind. Or mostly everyone.

Because I’m thinking that God would love to see his children taking care of their planet, and not totally gutting the place.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • PHILANTHROPY COORDINATOR
    Wyoming Wildlife Federation - collaborates with the Executive Director and staff to ensure the effective implementation of all philanthropic activities. https://wyomingwildlife.org/hiring-philanthropy-coordinator/.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    HawkWatch International is hiring an Executive Director to lead the organization. The next leader of this growing organization must have: 1. Enthusiasm for conservation, birds...
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Home Resource is a non-profit community sustainability center. We work with, in, and for the community to reduce waste and build a more vibrant and...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • BRN DEVELOPMENT & COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR
    Borderlands Restoration Network 501c3 is hiring a full-time Development Director. Description and job details can be found at https://www.borderlandsrestoration.org/job-opportunities.html
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921
  • ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNING MANAGER
    The City of Fort Collins is seeking an Environmental Planning Manager in the Natural Areas Department. The Department has an annual budget of approximately $13...
  • WEB DESIGN AND CONTENT MANAGER
    We are seeking an experienced designer to be the team lead for web development and digital media. Part creator and part planner, this person should...
  • CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
    at RCAC. See the full description at https://bit.ly/2WJ3HvY Apply at [email protected]
  • GRASSROOTS ORGANIZER
    The Utah Rivers Council is looking for an energetic individual with strong communication and organizing skills. The Grassroots Organizer works to ensure our campaigns are...
  • JOHN DEERE SNOW BLOWER 24"
    Newly refurbished and tuned. Older model, great condition. Gasoline engine. Chains on tires. Heavy duty for mountain snow. Call cellphone and leave message or email.
  • CARPENTER RANCH MANAGER
    Hiring a part-time ranch manager to live on The Nature Conservancy's Carpenter Ranch property in Hayden, CO. Responsibilities include: facility maintenance of historic ranch house,...
  • STRAW BALE, ADOBE, TIMBER FRAME, HEALTHY HOME, NEAR LA VETA PASS, CO
    unique custom home in Sangre de Cristo Mountains of CO near La Veta Pass, 3 bed, 2 1/2 bath, private gated park, two hours from...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, KANIKSU LAND TRUST
    Kaniksu Land Trust, a community-supported non-profit land trust serving north Idaho and northwest Montana, is in search of a new executive director. The ideal candidate...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Flathead Lakers are seeking a dynamic, self-motivated and proven leader to be our next Executive Director (ED).
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Blackfoot Challenge, a renowned collaborative conservation org in MT, seeks our next ED.
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    10-day tour from Los Mochis airport, 2/nyts El Fuerte, train, 2/nyts canyon rim hotel, 5/nyts camping. 520-324-0209, www.coppercanyontrails.org.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY, ALASKA
    Earthjustice is hiring for a Staff Attorney
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    to lead an organization that funds projects in National Parks. Major gift fundraising and public lands experience critical. PD and app details @ peopleinparks.org.