In this series of thoughts on why people have rejected climate change, I explore some of the many reasons but perhaps this is the most controversial. I suggest there is a link between religion, God and ‘belief’ in climate change science. This I’m sure is a provocative theory, and here are my thoughts on it.
As a species, more powerful than any other, humans feel insignificant. In the scheme of the cosmos, the billions of years of Earth’s existence, hundreds of millions of years of evolution and countless calamities such as ice ages, earthquakes, and volcanoes, we feel powerless. Even for atheists, people simply don’t feel that they can possibly have any impact on such a major thing as the Earth’s climate. There are so many ‘forces of nature’ that are far greater than what humans are capable of exerting. And for most people who have some form of belief in a supreme being such as God, surely, the enormity of changing the climate is beyond them.
Associated with this feeling of actual insignificance, is the physical experiences we all have which makes us have a sense of being small, a ‘grain of sand’, here on earth but for a brief moment. We have learnt that the entire presence of humans in the timeline of Earth’s history is just a tiny blink in time. Even a simple trip across the world on an aeroplane gives an overwhelming sense of the enormity of the world, its oceans and skies, compared with the smallness of people.
Perhaps the best clue for the connection between religion and climate science (for some people) is in the use of the word ‘belief’ when they say “I don’t believe climate change is caused by humans“. While religion is a matter of belief and of faith, science is not a matter of belief. Climate science is established through what is known as the scientific method with which we acquire objective knowledge based on empirical data, not on faith or belief. It is the same scientific method that has given us medicine, cars and aeroplanes, computers.
Another association of climate change with God is best summarised by a short conversation I once had with a man I met at a wedding dinner table. Once again, as soon as I explained the work I did, the man sitting next to me (yes he was Caucasian, and over 50) had a simple explanation of climate change and the force of God; saying that “if climate change is happening and humans are going to be wiped out, then perhaps that’s how God is planning it, that’s how it’s meant to be. Perhaps that’s how human existence is meant to end, and other species will take over”. As we were at a wedding celebration, I didn’t have the heart to ask him what he would do if he was diagnosed with a life threatening but treatable disease. Would he take any action and seek treatment to save his life, or would he simply accept that perhaps that’s the way God meant to be!