About 72 percent of white evangelicals deny that climate change is man-made. In contrast, only 44 percent African American Protestants and 59 percent of white mainline Protestants agree. Why the difference?
According to 33 percent of white evangelicals, climate change is natural and not man-made. Therefore, human beings are not responsible for taking care of the environment. God can take care of it in his providence, they believe.
Strangely, 37 percent of white evangelicals don’t believe climate change is occurring at all. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Hence, people should not be worried about the environment at all. Therefore, why do most white evangelicals deny climate change?
Here’s a short answer:
White evangelicals who deny climate change often put political inclination ahead of theological conviction.
A study by Elaine Ecklund and co-workers found evolution skepticism and not climate change denial was stirred by religious beliefs. Sadly, the Rice University researchers found people who denied climate change were politically conservative, lacked confidence in science, and had lower levels of education.
Here are 5 reasons most white evangelicals in the US remain skeptical about climate change.
1. Climate Change is not an American Problem
A recent study found Americans believe poor countries are at a higher risk of climate change. Only 25% of Americans believe climate change could personally harm them. However, 30% believe climate change could affect them moderately. But more than 40% think climate change will not affect them.
A 2014 Gallup poll found more than 50% of Americans were not worried about climate change or race relations. Instead, most Americans were worried about the economy, unemployment, hunger, drug use and illegal immigrants.
2. Pastors do not talk about climate change
A recent survey found 29% church leaders in America rarely talk about climate change in the pulpit. 33% of Americans have never heard climate change referenced by their local pastor. However, people who hear their pastors referencing climate change are less likely to deny climate change.
Climate change is probably not referenced in churches across America because 54% of pastors believe climate change is not man-made. Interestingly, young pastors are more skeptical of climate change than older, 65+ years old pastors. You don’t teach what you don’t believe.
3. White Evangelicals Are Skeptical of Science
Science is often used to justify Darwin’s theory of evolution. However, most white evangelicals do not believe in evolution. Furthermore, science has been used to justify abortion and most left-leaning beliefs. As a result, most white evangelicals distrust science.
Despite the growing number of American Evangelicals who believe there’s no conflict between science and Christianity, most believe science has a nefarious agenda to dissuade them from worshipping God – idolatry. Hence the common rhetoric: majority consensus on climate change doesn’t make it true.
4. Climate Change Denial Is a Countercultural Necessity
They are two reasons white evangelicals believe denying climate change is a godly countercultural necessity: 1) more scientist (those evolution believing atheists) believe in climate change and 2) most liberals/Democrats believe in climate change.
Recently, Willis Jenkins, associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, argued white evangelicals often use climate change discussions as a prop for their persecuted minority complex. Thus, belief in climate change is viewed as an attack to their Christian identity.
5. God is sovereign over all earth
God’s sovereignty – in Providence and eschatology – is often used as an excuse for environmental apathy and unaccountability. For example, a Republican lawmaker Tim Walberg argued if climate change was a problem, then God can take it of it.
Furthermore, Erick Erickson an American conservative wrote, “Worrying about global warming and social justice won’t get you past the pearly gates.” Climate change denial is not a countercultural act of valor but an elaborate denial of responsibility and accountability.
In their paper published in Environment and Behavior, Elaine Howard Ecklund, Christopher P. Scheitle, Jared Peifer, and Daniel Bolger gave three important recommendations:
- Scholars and journalists need to start de-coupling climate change skepticism and evolution skepticism.
- Attention should be paid to the effects of confidence in and interest in science since scientific curiosity reduce skepticism about climate change.
- Science policy experts should try to convince Christian leaders to advance science education and confidence in science among their constituents.