The Collision (or Cooperation?) of Evangelism, Compassion, Environment and Apocalypse
This week’s lesson on God and creation care grapples with a complex set of theological and sociological conundrums. Our commitment to proclamation of the gospel, anticipation of the coming of Christ, and theological understanding of our world’s destruction in final judgment, collides with the expression of God’s character in His creation and our responsibility for care of the environment and humanity.
To shape the conversation, we will consider four biblical perspectives, official SDA GC statements, and Fundamental Beliefs. Additionally, we will examine the impacts of global population in interaction with climate and environment which present ethical and missiological dilemmas in relation to creation care and climate change..
Four Biblical Perspectives
1) We hold that God created the world, that His activity was good, that humanity was to be fruitful and multiply and “subdue the earth,” an action tempered by divine command in Genesis 2:15 to cultivate, preserve and protect Eden.[i] We also concur that “The earth is the Lord’s and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.”[ii]
2) We espouse the world suffered the effects of sin, resulting in nature’s imperfection, loss of agricultural fertility and increased difficulty in sustaining human existence. In Genesis, human sinfulness resulted in the catastrophic impact of the Flood.[iii] One can argue that human sinfulness continues to cause degradation of our natural world.
3) Given Christ’s end-time prophecies in Matthew 24 and 28, we are called to spread the gospel. We are further admonished in Matthew 25 to care for the nations – providing food, water, clothing and shelter to whom we preach the gospel, while we await Christ’s coming and God’s final judgment.[iv] One could assume we are to focus missiological efforts on people, ignoring the human involvement in corrupting creation, since ultimately all will be incinerated by God’s fiery wrath.[v]
4) A fourth perspective not addressed in the quarterly, and one we can’t ignore, directly relates creation care and final judgment. At the sound of the Seventh Trumpet in Revelation 11, the pronouncement of God’s judgment and outpouring of wrath includes “the time has come to destroy those who destroy the earth.”[vi] The 24 elders' adulation of God proclaims judgment not only against those who persecute God’s saints, but also on those who have destroyed God’s creation.
Official GC Statements and SDA Fundamental Beliefs
The SDA Church issued four GC Exec/ADCOM statements during 1992-96 in regard to the environment and climate change.[vii] In summary, regarding the first two biblical perspectives – of caring for God’s creation, and degradation of the world due to sin – they progressively call for care of the environment as God’s creation, blaming human greed, consumerism, and waste as a consequence of sin that has brought environmental change.[viii]
These statements note impacts on the environment – increasing drought, floods, and elevated levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (C02) that “are a result of human activity.”[ix] They call for sustainable development that acknowledges the biblical call for environmental stewardship. They call for world governments and societies to take steps to counteract global warming.[x] However, the church’s involvement is less clear as a participant in alleviating climate change in these statements.
During the past 16 years, the church has not officially re-addressed these issues, even though global and SDA church demographics and the climate have dramatically changed since these statements were voted.
An update of the SDA Church’s statements may need to be considered in light of the following:
Global Population: Missiological opportunity and environmental conundrum
Humanity has been faithful to the divine command to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”[xi] However, this command came in relation to a world devoid of population. Today, our planet is radically demographically different than Eden or the post-diluvian world.[xii]
World population was estimated at 1 billion in 1804 and over 2 billion by 1930.[xiii] Since then, global population has more than tripled. Between 1996 – when the last GC SDA climate statement was issued – and 2012, another 1.2 billion people were added to the world, equal to “another India.”[xiv] The 2012 global population is approximately 7 billion and is projected to reach 9.3 billion by 2050, adding approximately “2 more Indias” in the next 38 years.[xv]
Population Increase Causes Climate Impacts
The population trend places tremendous strain on provision of food, water, shelter, and power to support increased urbanization. It thwarts efforts to improve standards of living in areas of highest population growth, primarily in Central and South America, Africa and South Asia.[xvi]For example, in 2011, nearly 1.3 billion people had no access to electricity and 2.7 billion had no access to cleaner cooking fuels, and depended on wood or charcoal which are major pollutants.[xvii]Approximately 1.4 billion live below the global extreme poverty line[xviii] and 840 million live in hunger, resulting in malnutrition and death.[xix]
SDA Church membership demographics clearly delineate its interests in these matters. Of its 17.2 million members, 90 percent reside in the emerging or developing world.[xx] Most live in areas in need of sustained economic development, and lack sufficient food, water, shelter – not to mention social stability. The SDA majority live in countries at most risk from climate change – already negatively impacting social stability and economic development.
The challenge becomes how to provide for a growing global population in ways that respect human rights and dignity. From a Christian perspective, this means treating each person as a child of God. From an Adventist perspective, it includes supporting the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the SDA Church states it has done since its inception – not only religious freedom, but enhancement of economic and social improvement and stability.[xxi] It means honoring our denominational commitment to alleviation of global poverty as specified in the UN Millennium Development Goals, which we officially state are part of our “Christian social responsibility.”[xxii]
However, meeting these goals collides with minimizing the impact of global climate change.
Climate Change: Changing environmental factors with more abrupt extremes
While the existence of climate change may be contentious for some people, the global impact observed by climate scientists is apparent, troubling, and demands urgent consideration and response by the global community as well as the SDA Church.
Our world is experiencing unprecedented increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) in the atmosphere, both of which contribute to global climate change. The CO2 concentrations measured at Mauna Loa Observatory have increased about 24 percent from 1959 to 2012.[xxiii] Methane, a more potent gas that impacts change, has increased 15 percent from 1983-2010.[xxiv] Soot in the atmosphere is on the rise, impacting warming and contributing to Greenland ice cap melt.[xxv] CO2, CH4, and soot are key elements which have elevated global temperatures as documented by government and private sources.[xxvi] In response, on February 16th, the US announced funding for global efforts to reduce methane and soot.[xxvii]
Resulting temperature increases are causative to climate extremes experienced worldwide as documented monthly and annually in the NOAA, State of the Climate Global Analysis and Global Hazards Reports.[xxviii]
The costs of property and human life have been high and increasing. In 2011, climate and other natural disasters cost an estimated $380 billion in direct global economic losses.[xxix] In 2011, the US experienced its greatest number FEMA-declared disasters (99), and the most billion-dollar disasters in one year (14), with estimated costs totaling $55 billion, continuing an upward trend of more frequent and costlier catastrophes.[xxx] During 2011, 90 percent of US counties had a disaster declaration as of September 30th.[xxxi] The SDA Church’s mission, outreach and institutions are directly impacted by these climate changes.
Arctic Climate Change: Potential for faster, abrupt modification
In the last two decades, the Arctic has experienced more abrupt and significant change than anticipated or built into climate models. As one Arctic scientist recently commented, “In the Arctic, the non-linear future is here.”[xxxii]The 2011 Arctic Sea ice extent reached the second lowest in the satellite record, and the 2011 sea ice mass was the lowest on record, leaving it vulnerable for further reduction this year.[xxxiii] The result is warmer open water in the Arctic which contributes to higher Arctic sea surface temperatures. Increased temperatures and sea ice melt heighten the risk of larger methane releases that may further accelerate climate change. [xxxiv],[xxxv] These potential Arctic climate changes have the prospective capability to create extreme global impacts not witnessed in recent human history.
Increased Climate Extremes: Disrupted Outreach and Greater Need for Disaster Response and Prevention
Increased climate extremes have disrupted lives and livelihoods globally and take years of recovery.[xxxvi] The outcomes of these rapid climate changes are perhaps best captured in a series of National Intelligence Council reports which anticipate potential impacts on global regions through 2030.[xxxvii] Numerous countries anticipate declines in food security and crop yields due to climate change. India, for example, is expecting crop production declines as high as 30% (for wheat) and China shares similar concerns of inability to meet its food demand without major imports.[xxxviii]
Implications: A Summary
Climate change will negatively impact the SDA church’s ability to support outreach and sustain church institutions. It will negatively impact efforts to improve the lives of members and the global communities in which they reside. These populations will experience an increased risk of the denial of human rights. Climate impact on food production triggering food inflation is a real threat to our work in support of the Millennium Development Goals to alleviate global poverty.[xxxix]
While our Church anticipates Christ’s Second Coming, we are biblically compelled to respond with care and compassion to fellow church members as well as the global community. Creation care – active concern for environment that sustains human existence – is inextricably linked with our theological, apocalyptic and missiological self-understanding and fulfillment of the Church’s purpose. The world is no longer as focused on “greed,” or flagrant waste which were part of the impetus for our prior official statements, but rather on providing the basic needs for survival of humanity till the Lord returns.[xl] Climate change, transportation disruption, housing, food, water and energy security will impact our outreach, damage churches and institutions, and be detrimental to spreading the gospel. In response, climate change mitigation requires our Church’s global commitment and effort.
I end with two illustrative videos and three questions:
1) Is it time for the SDA Church to officially update and reaffirm its commitment to creation and environmental care in light of climate change while promoting sustainable development to preserve human rights and reduce global poverty?
2) Should we as individual Adventists, the GC, or ADRA promote active denominational involvement in helping the world cope with the impacts of climate change?”
3) Should we care-less about the environment at the peril of being judged as “destroyers of the earth” (Revelation 11:18)?
[i]Genesis 1:26-28; Gen 2:15. See also, the General Conference’s Affirmation of Creation, Response to an Affirmation of Creation, and Statement on Creation: The Bible’s Worldview, http://www.adventist.org/beliefs/statements/index.html, Recent statements by Rick Santorum, a candidate in the US presidential election, capture this view, “We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit.” He continued, “We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through that course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create.”http://coloradoindependent.com/111924/santorum-and-gingrich-dismiss-climate-change-vow-to-dismantle-the-epa
[iv]Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20; 25:31-46.
[v]See Acts 2:16-21, 2 Peter 3:10-13; Revelation 20:7-15.
[vi]Revelation 11:18, NET.
[xii]Repeated in Genesis 8:17, 9:1 and 9:17.
[xvi]For a summation and interconnectivity of issues see, World Economic Forum,Global Risks 2011, http://riskreport.weforum.org/global-risks-2011.pdf. For an example of future food security concerns, see, “Bumper 2011 Grain Harvest Fails to Rebuild Global Stocks”, http://www.earth-policy.org/indicators/C54/grain_2012, The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2011, http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/i2330e/i2330e.pdf, Looking Ahead in World Food and Agriculture,http://www.fao.org/docrep/014/i2280e/i2280e.pdfand The Future of Food and Farming, http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/food-and-farming/11-546-future-of-food-and-farming-report.pdf. For water security, The Impact of Global Change on Water Resources, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0019/001922/192216e.pdf. For future energy needs see, IEA, World Energy Outlook 2011, http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/weo2011sum.pdfalso, BP Energy Outlook 2030, http://www.bp.com/liveassets/bp_internet/globalbp/globalbp_uk_english/reports_and_publications/statistical_energy_review_2011/STAGING/local_assets/pdf/2030_energy_outlook_booklet.pdf.
[xxxiv]See Semelitov’s and Shakhova’s comments, New Zealand Herald, December 14, 2011, “Rapid rise in Arctic methane shocks scientists”, http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10773020also, a 2010 article, Natalia Shakhova, et al, “Extensive Methane Venting to the Atmosphere from Sediments of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf”,Science, 5 March 2010: Vol. 327 no. 5970, pp. 1246-1250. (subscription required).
[xxxviii]Marlowe Hood, “Climate-driven heat peaks may shrink wheat crops,” http://www.physorg.com/news/2012-01-climate-driven-peaks-wheat-crops.html ; India, Economic Times, “'By 2020, world to be 2.4C warmer, India to be hardest hit'”, http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-01-19/news/28431999_1_global-wheat-production-climate-change-ipcc; Also, India potentially experiencing a 30 % decline in wheat yields, The Food Gap: The Impacts of Climate Change on Food Production: A 2020 Perspective, page 52, http://www.feu-us.org/images/The_Food_Gap.pdf, India, Economic Times, “India’s soil crisis: Land is weakening and withering,” http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2011-07-12/news/29765398_1_soils-farmers-cereal-production; Global Times, “China may face challenge to feed itself by 2020,” http://business.globaltimes.cn/china-economy/2011-01/618713.html; China Daily, “Climate change 'takes toll' on grain harvest,” http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2010-11/05/content_11505107.htm, China soyabean imports totaled 56.7 million tons in 2011 and will be higher this year. Bloomberg, February 14, 2012, “China’s Soybean Imports May Jump to All-Time High on Stockpiling,” http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-02-14/china-s-soybean-imports-may-jump-to-all-time-high-on-stockpiling.html.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/3813