I was a Young Earth Creationist Climate Change Denier: What Changed My Mind
In the 12th grade, my Economics teacher, who also happened to be the women’s track coach, decided to work on tallying track scores instead of filling us in on the wonders of microeconomics (You will not be surprised to hear that very few of us passed the AP Econ exam that year).
Like all overworked or borderline disinterested instructors, he popped in a movie for us to watch. But this wasn’t your run-of-the-mill classroom film.
This was An Inconvenient Truth.
You may be thinking this was the aha moment for me. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. I distinctly remember laughing as the animated polar bear fell off her animated, melting glacier. “Absurd!” I thought, and not just because the anthropomorphized polar bear cartoon was frowning at me as she fell into the icy water. I was so smug in my knowledge that global warming was not happening — and bolstered by the other students at my southern, largely conservative school — that it was easy to overlook the science and find something to ridicule.
Let me give you some background.
I grew up in a Christian community that believed in Young Earth Creationism. In this model of the universe, God literally created the earth and all that is in it about 6,000 years ago, Noah’s Ark miraculously held every variety of earth’s creatures as it rose above the global flood, and — I kid you not — the Loch Ness Monster was proof positive that dinosaurs coexisted with humans. As a kid, I was fascinated by that last point, and I still have trouble letting go of such a whimsical idea! Doesn’t everyone want to ride a dinosaur?
For one to hold the ideas of Young Earth Creationism as true, one must create a partition between some forms of “obvious” practical science, like gravity and the flu, from other forms of science, namely the ones that tell us something about the long game. We were wary of evolution, carbon dating, and climate change (read more about the tenants of Young Earth Creationism here). To us, they represented the ills of secularism, a world that searched in the wrong places for meaning when it could easily just open the Bible and read the “plain truth.”
The problem with this, I know now, is that the “plain truth” of the Bible (this reading is called Biblical Literalism) isn’t so plain once you’ve actually read it. When I majored in Religious Studies in college, I learned to apply literary and historical criticism to the Biblical texts. I parsed out genres; learned Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek; and compared the religious texts of neighboring civilizations.
Contrary to my parents’ fears, I did not lose faith. But it changed dramatically. Over time, the humanity of writers’ and Biblical characters became more apparent. And humans, as we all know, are inherently nuanced and often hypocritical. It became clear to me that the Bible, like all texts, required interpretation.
Eventually, I realized that science could be reconciled with religious belief. Climate scientists and evolutionary biologists weren’t out to get me after all.
I was finally able to tear down the shoddily built wall between Christianity and Science, and it allowed me to appreciate both in new ways.
It was a long road, but it was ultimately my Religious Studies program that allowed the world to expand for me, to embrace the work of scientists who work tirelessly toward a better world. Their end goal is not all that different from the broader message of my faith tradition: to be good stewards and to leave the world habitable for future generations.
This is what we know about climate change (also called Global Warming), according to the United Nations Development Programme:
- Greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity mainly include carbon dioxide and methane. They form a “shield”, which blocks a certain amount of solar radiation and causes global warming.
- Human activity has caused the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to increase.
- Since 1990 global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased by almost 50%.
- Fossil fuels — oil, coal and gas — that power our cars, heating/air conditioning, cooking and lights are the main cause for greenhouse gas emissions. Each day we spew 110 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
- From 1880–2012 the planet’s surface temperature has increased an average of 0.85 °C [1.5 F].
- Global warming itself is accelerating. During the past year, measurements taken across the globe during various periods have reported abnormally high temperatures. The year 2016 is the hottest on record, with average temperatures nudging towards 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
- Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is projected to rise and surpass 3°C (and more in some areas of the world) in the 21st century.
Climate change must matter to us because rapidly rising global temperatures wreak havoc on ecosystems and agricultural industries. Melting snow caps cause ocean levels to rise, eroding inhabited land (Miami is already preparing for the worst); erratic weather destroys people and communities; and rising temperatures will soon make growing food impossible in some regions of the world. Additionally, climate change disproportionately impacts the poorest countries, where temperatures tend to be higher and the landscape more difficult to til.
This is more than ecological destruction: this is profound injustice.
Climate change must matter to me and you, to Christians, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Atheists, and Secular Humanists alike, because it affects all of us. And if we are people who claim a moral stance, it’s high time we consider what we can do to slow the effect of global warming before it’s too late.
The United Nations Development Programme has committed itself to fighting climate change at a global level. It supports countries in their efforts to transition to renewable energy, protect forested land, and prepare for the and future effects of climate change.
But what can we do?
First and foremost, we can support policies and politicians who make climate change remediation a priority. We can encourage investment in renewable energy sources at the local, state, and household level.
On a personal scale, we can commit to living low-waste lifestyles, recycling, using public transit when possible (and lobbying for better public transit options), using less water and utilities, and eating less meat.
And we can be messengers of the cause in big and small ways to our circles of influence.
If you come from a background like mine, I encourage you to find ways to engage with your faith community about science in a constructive and positive way. Help people realize that this fight needs all of us, and that there’s no reason to fear science, or the intentions of climate scientists who are simply doing their jobs.
Delaying the effects of climate change will be hard — it will be inconvenient — but I have no doubt that climate change, in an age of alternative facts, is a truth we must defend. Now that I am empowered with that knowledge, I refuse to turn back.