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This blog is expressly directed to readers who do not have strong training or backgrounds in science, with the intent of helping them grasp the underpinnings of this important issue. I'm going to present an ongoing series of posts that will develop various aspects of the science of global warming, its causes and possible methods for minimizing its advance and overcoming at least partially its detrimental effects.

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Faithful Oppose Global Warming: Stewardship of God’s Creation

Summary: The sacred writings of Judaism, Christianity and Islam include fundamental revelations that God (Allah) placed humanity on earth as part of creation.  God’s (Allah’s) creation is for the benefit of humanity, leading to our prospering and growth.  In turn, it is incumbent on humanity to be stewards of God’s (Allah’s) creation so that it can continue to support our prosperity and that of future generations, our progeny.

Man-made global warming and its worsening pace threaten the ability of the created world that we inhabit to sustain the diversity of life, including its human population, today and in the future.  Worsening global warming brings more, and more intense, extremes of weather and climate with their attendant harms.  The faithful regard stewardship of God’s (Allah’s) creation as including the imperative to mitigate worsening global warming, and to implement adaptive projects to help minimize its harmful effects.

Global warming has been accelerating since the industrial revolution, and especially since about 1950.  The global climate science community, numbering at least 1,000, agrees virtually unanimously that the warming is caused mainly by human activity.  This includes burning fossil fuels for energy and cement manufacture, destruction of forest reservoirs of the Earth’s carbon, and emission of synthetic chemicals with exceptionally high ability on a molecule-for-molecule basis to act as greenhouse gases.

Global warming has harmful consequences for humanity.  Various regions of land are experiencing warmer climates, leading to heat waves and drought in some regions, and increased occurrence of extreme storms with flooding in others.  Droughts cause worsening of wildfire patterns around the globe.  Droughts and floods lead to crop failures which stress the global food supply.  Hotter temperatures melt mountain glaciers and ice sheets, and cause water in the oceans to expand, both of which contribute to sea level rise.  These climatic harms are projected to continue for centuries as warming continues unabated.  They cause physical damage and socioeconomic disruption worldwide. 

Stewardship of Creation.  Among the many reasons to combat the worsening of global warming and the harms it causes is the offense it represents to environmental morality.  It inspires an ethical response among the faithful.  An example of such a reaction was the Climate Stewardship Summit held in Hartford, CT November 7, 2013, sponsored by the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network.  The attendance at this conference was ecumenical, including speakers and attendees from the Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Islamic faiths.

Throughout the day’s proceedings, speakers and those participants offering comments emphasized religious and moral foundations for their concerns about the harms brought about by global warming. 

In Judeo-Christian scriptures we are enjoined to care for our environment in order to prosper ( “And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Genesis 1:28).  Here, “subduing” and “dominion” are interpreted not in an exploitative way, but as representing a regime providing continuing sustenance and benefit to the earth’s human population.  An aspect of Jewish ethics focuses on “repair of the world”, i.e., preserving and maintaining its integrity to promote humanity’s wellbeing.  Both these notions enshrine the obligation of humanity to be stewards of the earth that we inhabit.  Stewardship necessarily incorporates our concern, as the current inhabitants of the world, that our actions ensure passing on a healthy planet to both our near-term progeny and those in centuries to come.

The Islamic position concerning global warming is likewise rooted in the notion of stewardship of Allah’s creation.  For example, Imam Ebraima Kebba Saidy of the Islamic Council of Norway writes, based on Q. 2:30-33, that “Man has thus been placed on earth to be the representative of Allah/God Almighty and as such has been endowed with knowledge even above that of the angels.  Man with that knowledge is commanded to fear Allah, his Creator and the Creator of the universe.”   Imam Saidy concludes “Man therefore is a representative of Allah/God Almighty. Man is a steward and a trustee entrusted with the responsibility to establish and maintain justice and peace on earth (Q. 33:72). Man … must serve his Creator by taking good care of [Creation] which includes himself, other live forms and the environment. Man’s failure to properly observe this function of trusteeship could very well lead to dire consequences in this life and the Hereafter….Justice must therefore be the watchword [including] indeed climate justice.”

We see that all three faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, regard the world we live in as God’s (Allah’s) creation, bestowed on humanity as the source of our existence and thriving.  The holy writings of these faiths impose on us the imperative of conserving the beneficial properties of the earth that contribute to humanity’s sustenance and prosperity.  They make clear that abuse of the earth’s resources counteracts God’s (Allah’s) wishes while at the same time jeopardizing humanity’s continued existence. 

Conclusion.  Man-made global warming, arising from burning fossil fuels and other human activities, as viewed by people of faith, contravenes God’s (Allah’s) wishes, i.e. the directive to be effective stewards of creation.  From the concepts developed here communities of the faithful draw inspiration for strong opposition to continued use of fossil fuels for energy, especially the continued expansion in their use.  Burning fossil fuels emits a principal greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, into the atmosphere.  Additional human activities contributing to the worsening of global warming include emission of additional man-made gaseous chemicals that are greenhouse gases , many of which are hundreds to thousands of times more potent than is carbon dioxide; and deliberate changes in land use around the world that destroy forests, releasing more atmospheric carbon dioxide in the process.

In this view, the faithful should embark on activities that combat global warming both locally and at the national level.  Stewardship of our world with respect to global warming involves two general areas: mitigation of the worsening of increased temperature and adaptation to its harmful effects already under way.  Emissions of greenhouse gases have already warmed the earth’s atmosphere, leading to an increase in destructive extreme climate and weather events.  Because most greenhouse gases remain indefinitely in the atmosphere for centuries or longer, mitigation efforts can never return the world to an earlier time of less warming and less severe climatic effects; the best we can achieve is to minimize emission rates in order to keep the further temperature increase as small as possible.  This can only be achieved by reducing, on a global level, further emission rates of greenhouse gases to close to zero.  Thus communities of the faithful should work to reduce fossil fuel use and to change other behaviors in order to lower emission rates.

Adaptation acknowledges that the earth’s climate has already changed for the worse, bringing with it damaging climatic events.  Communities of faith should recognize this fact by supporting projects that are intended to protect communities and regions from further extreme events, should they occur.

Stewardship of God’s (Allah’s) creation by the faithful plays an important role in bringing about the changes in policy and practice needed to avert major harms from worsening global warming.
© 2014 Henry Auer

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