The World’s Christians Are Global Warming Believers But Does It Matter?

destroying creation

by Des Pensable copyright 2015

The world’s Climate Science community through the IPCC reports has declared a world emergency over Global Warming. Nearly a third of all the people of the world are Christians so it’s worth examining how the Christian churches are accepting the science and how they are reacting to the challenge.

So where do Christians as a whole stand on the Global Warming issue. Well it’s more complex than at first it might seem. The Christian religion is fragmented into four main groups Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican.

These are further divided into smaller subgroups each interpreting the religious doctrine of the Bible in slightly different ways and they don’t always agree with each other on political and social problems.

Added to the problem is that several factors such as Geographic region, Education level, Demographics, Political Affiliation, Individual risk Assessment, Ideology and the mass media all affect public opinion on Global Warming.

So what we might expect to see is varying degrees of response to Global Warming depending upon the above factors and upon the attitudes of the local leaders of each individual religious group in each country.

But will the attitudes of the religious leaders have much of an effect on the individual Christian’s response to Global Warming?  Does it even matter?

The good news is that all the leaders of the main religions of the world including the leaders of the four main Christian groups agree that Global Warming is real and caused by human actions and they have all made statements supporting actions to mitigate Global Warming. That does not mean that all of their followers will necessarily agree.

The belief in Global Warming and action against it in the USA in particular is seen largely as a part of the ongoing culture war between the progressive liberal Democrat left and the conservative traditionalist Republican right. A similar cultural war is taking place in Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom.

Two recent surveys (2014 and 2015) have been made in the USA on religious attitudes to Global Warming. Both showed that the predominant factors were the culture war; both showed the religious Christians were more split along political party and ideological lines than religious lines.

In the figure below from the 2015 survey showed that the largest group of religious people (about 40%) were politically moderate with slightly higher numbers of Catholics leaning liberal / Democratic while more Evangelicals leaning conservative/ Republican.

religion vs politics survey

In the 2014 survey the attitudes on Global Warming were broken into three groups: Believers, that both believed Global Warming was true and caused by humans; Sympathizers, that believed Global warming was happening but NOT caused by humans; and Deniers (incorrectly called skeptics), that refused to believe anything was happening.

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of religious Democrats are climate change Believers, 20% are Sympathizers, and 13% are Deniers.  Less than a quarter (22%) of Republicans are climate change Believers, 28% are Sympathizers, and nearly half (46%) are Deniers. Similar results were found in the 2015 survey.

The demographic attitudes to concern over the effects of Global Warming were even more interesting with a low proportion of either white Protestant or Catholics worried about its effects on them (see 2014 survey graph below).

Global Warming by US demography

So it might appear that religion takes third place to politics and ideology when it comes to belief in Global Warming. This has led to a great deal of pessimism whether Global Warming can be contained.

religious optimism on Global warming

But what if a powerful religious leader such as the Catholic Pope Francis were to strongly advocate for Global Warming action, would it make a difference?

In the 2015 survey, three in four Catholics (76%) have a very or moderately positive opinion of Pope Francis and only 2% have a negative view of him. Over half of non-evangelical Protestants (57%) also have a positive opinion of the Pope. Few (4%) have a negative opinion of him. About one in three evangelicals (35%) view Pope Francis positively. Relatively few (13%) view him negatively.

Over the last year we’ve seen a growing number of reports about the Catholic Pope Francis who represents 1.2 billion Christians becoming a champion of action to mitigate Global Warming. He believes all good Catholics have a moral and religious obligation to help mitigate Global Warming.

The 2015 survey showed Large majorities of Christians say global warming is a major environmental and scientific issue. Some consider it a major moral issue (22% of Catholics, 21% of non-evangelical Protestants, and 16% of evangelicals), but few currently consider it either a major religious (5%, 6%, and 9%, respectively) or spiritual issue (8%, 6%, and 9%). So what are the Pope’s chances?

He is going to release an encyclical shortly to both educate and convince the followers of the Catholic religion in all countries to seriously consider supporting actions to mitigate Global Warming as a matter of priority.

This has created both positive reactions from the scientists, environmentalists and many people from all around the world but negative reactions from the fossil fuel / global warming denier lobby centred in the USA.

The fossil fuel lobby are worried as they are concerned that the Pope’s message could motivate more action for mitigation than is currently the case but the Pope doesn’t seem worried.

The more conservative Catholic Republican congressmen are not so sure “In today’s Congress, party matters much more than the faith tradition you come from,” said Geoff Layman, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame, a Roman Catholic institution in South Bend, Indiana. “Catholic Democrats tend to vote like any other Democrat, and Catholic Republicans like any other Republican.”

However, in the 2014 survey, Americans who say their clergy leader speaks at least occasionally about climate change are more likely to be climate change Believers than Americans who tend not to hear about climate change in church (49% and 36%, respectively), so it’s possible that the Pope might have an effect.

Judging from the graph above Pope Francis leading a religion crusade to fight for a greater effort to combat Global Warming could well have a positive effect on convincing a significant proportion of the white Catholic sympathizers and deniers that Climate Change is real, human caused and action is necessary and more urgent than they originally believed.

This would be especially important with those in state or federal parliaments and middle corporate management as it could significantly change the balance of power towards more action to mitigate the problem in the USA.

However, even doubling the number of white Catholic believers might not be enough as three quarters of the US religious population are Protestants. Many of these are fundamentalist evangelists, who are relatively anti-science presumably because of their rejection of the scientific theory of Evolution.

The religious fundamentalists are strongly represented in the US congress by vocal overtly religious conservative anti-science, Global Warming denying Republican congressmen who currently control both houses of the US parliament.

These Republican congressmen state openly that they will fight against any efforts of the USA to curtail the growth of the fossil fuel industry, block the growth of renewables and cancel any legislation designed to mitigate Global Warming. This policy position could have disastrous consequences for the whole world.

Still there is hope. A look at the religious breakdown of the current 2015 congress suggests that if half of Catholic Republicans changed to Global Warming believers in line with the Pope it would give both houses a pro Global Warming vote.

So in conclusion, at present Global Warming action is hostage to the politicians. Whether religion through the efforts of the Pope can make a difference is a question that we will all have to wait to see.

The question arises then who is controlling the Republican Party’s anti Global Warming agenda? Is it fundamentalist religious zealots pushing a religious agenda or billionaire fossil fuel barons like the Koch brothers and their right wing think-tanks funding the Republican Party or perhaps an alliance of the two or some other insidious influence.

This question will be examined in a future Blog.

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Des Pensable

Des is a native of Sydney where he currently lives with his partner Joanne. He has a PhD in neuroscience and worked as a biomedical scientist where he published widely in several areas of science. Since retiring, he’s been a keen writer of poetry, stories and philosophy which appear on his web, blog site and on line literary publications. He is also a performance poet that appears regularly in venues around Sydney.

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