Western values are foundationally derived from Christianity, but an increasingly secular, humanistic society has lost sight of its roots. One outcome of this is that we are witnessing the development of a form of environmentalism that is disinterested in evaluating and meeting the needs of ordinary people.
One prime example of this post-Christian thinking in relation to climate change is UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He appealed to the UN General Assembly (22 September 2021) to argue for dramatic changes to global policy in use of carbon-based fuels. In his speech he undermined a basic Christian doctrine relating to the status and rights of mankind. He further appealed to the evolutionary tenets of naturalism, the Greek gods, and the ability of mankind to “save ourselves”
Boris Johnson started his speech by invoking millions of years, and that mankind is a relative latecomer, having been around for less than one million years:
“An inspection of the fossil record over the last 178 million years – since mammals first appeared – reveals that the average mammalian species exists for about a million years before it evolves into something else or vanishes into extinction. Of our allotted lifespan of a million, humanity has been around for about 200,000.”1
It is interesting, but somewhat bewildering, that Johnson should reference a period from the Jurassic, in which, he suggests, naturalistic science places the first appearance of mammals. The irony is that scientific papers have argued that during this time carbon dioxide levels (CO2) were between 1,000 and 2,000 ppm (parts per million). That is 2.5 to 5 times greater than where they are today, when global average temperatures were supposedly 5 to 10 degrees Celsius higher for prolonged periods (Ref 1 & 2 below). If the assumptions of naturalism and deep-time are true, then responsibility for such CO2 levels cannot be placed upon the shoulders of the not-yet-evolved human beings.
With this in mind, we may consider that setting the issue of climate change in the framework of a life and death struggle for the planet, as Johnson and other environmental campaigners do, is bogus. Of course, we can acknowledge that there may be practical problems that arise from a warming climate for humanity. This is applicable for example to permanent dwellings in coastal towns and cities that are subject to flooding (CMI has a comprehensive position paper on Climate Change). But, despite some evidence of more severe weather, improved planning, plus an accurate forecasting and warning capability, has led to a reduction in fatalities from such natural disasters. This was reported by the World Meteorological Organisation.
Boris Johnson fails to deal with the complexity of the environmental issues that arise, and instead resorts to easy sound bites. These undermine a central Christian belief about mankind’s place in the world:
“We still cling with part of our minds to the infantile belief that the world was made for our gratification and pleasure and we combine this narcissism with an assumption of our own immortality. … It is time for humanity to grow up.”
He misrepresents the Judeo-Christian belief that natural resources are a divine gift for humanity, and that people are justified in utilising them out of necessity, albeit not for selfish gratification or pleasure. But he calls this belief “infantile”. Use of natural materials, such as iron, coal, oil, and gas, have brought great benefit to humanity, not least in terms of raising people out of poverty. Even so, we recognise this is not always without negative environmental or health impacts.
This only shows that making decisions about the environment is a complex process. It requires thinking in terms of inter-related systems. That is, thinking about the needs of human communities, businesses, the ecosystem etc., and so balancing the needs of multiple stakeholders and groups. These interested groups are sometimes in competition, or conflict with one another, and their needs do not necessarily align. It cannot be dismissed as an easy task.
And yet, Johnson appears to do so with a childish reference to one of the Muppet characters. He commented; “And when Kermit the frog sang It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green, I want you to know he was wrong.”
If we are to “grow up”, as Johnson states, it must be in terms of recognising the complexity of the issues involved, and bravely facing the truth about the world as it actually is.
Need for good stewardship
Of course, utilisation of natural resources needs to be done responsibly. That is, with concern for social and environmental protection, and without the greedy exploitation of unrestrained capitalism. Mankind has been given dominion over the earth by God (Genesis 1:26), and we should fill our role of stewardship with diligent duty. We must not forget the poor in addressing a problem that may not entirely be the result of humanity in the first place.
In the context of the use of carbon fuels, his statement to the UN General Assembly demonstrates that Prime Minister Johnson is out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. Like many green utopians, who are often the wealthy elite in society, there is a failure to see that access to cheap carbon fuels is necessary. This is especially so for people to travel, cook food, and keep warm in winter. Cheap carbon fuels are not greedily consumed for human “gratification and pleasure”, but are a basic necessity for life. It would be great if renewable energy could supply the basic needs for power, light, and heat, but much of the technology is not there yet in terms of quantity and quality.
With some irony, Johnson delivered his speech at a time when market natural gas prices were rocketing in the UK, and many other countries across the world. This was hitting the pockets of ordinary consumers. In the UK, the cause of this was partly related to government policy to reduce UK carbon emissions. As well-known journalist and author Peter Hitchens has pointed out, “Utopians, as George Orwell demonstrated, prefer their visions to reality or truth.
While ignoring the Judeo-Christian place of mankind in the world, Johnson believes we can save ourselves through science. Along with this, he references the Greek gods. Johnson, who majored in the Classics at Oxford University, has previously expressed knowledge of Scripture and Christian doctrines. But disappointingly on this occasion, his speech effectively idolised the scientific endeavour. It also showed his ignorance of the fact that God is in total control of His universe and the many Biblical prophecies relating to Jesus second coming to earth to rule for 1000 years. Boris stated:
“… it is through our Promethean faith in new green technology that we are cutting emissions in the UK.”1
Prometheus, being the god of forethought, is considered by Johnson to be a suitable allegory, or idol, for the faith we place in science. But we may note that Prometheus was also said to be a ‘supreme trickster’.11 Johnson is convinced it’s the strength of humanity that will get us out of this ‘self-inflicted mess’, and so we can ‘save ourselves’. He commented:
“We are awesome in our power to change things and awesome in our power to save ourselves, and in the next 40 days we must choose what kind of awesome we are going to be.”1
This astounding statement entirely ignores the reality of humanity’s fallen condition, evident by reading any newspaper or newsfeed, as well as taught in Scripture. It is very reminiscent of the Pelagian heresy, which arose in the fifth century in Rome against the Pauline / Augustinian doctrine of grace.12 Pelagianism undermines the effect of the Fall, and holds that mankind can attain perfection through self-effort—without the need for divine grace.
In response to such a skewed worldview, Peter Hitchens commented recently that it is only when “everyone sees what a post-Christian country is really like, they may begin to be interested in the gospels again.”
- Berner, R.A., Kothavala, Z., and GeoCARB III, A revised model of atmospheric CO2 over Phanerozoic time, Amer. J. Sci. 301:182–204, 2001. Also: Bergman, N. et al., COPSE: A new model of biogeochemical cycling over Phanerozoic time, American Journal of Science 304:397–437, 2004. Rothman, D.H., Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for the last 500 million years, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99(7):4167–4171, 2001. Royer, D.L., et al., CO2 as a primary driver of Phanerozoic climate, GSA Today 14(3):4–10, 2004. Return to text.
- Worsley, T.R., Moore, T.L., Fraticelli, C.M., and Scotese, C.R., Phanerozoic, CO2 levels and global temperatures inferred from changing paleogeography, Geol. Soc. of Amer. Special Paper 288, 1994. See also the temperature reconstruction graph by Scotese, C., PALEOMAPproject, scotese.com/climate.htm, 2015.Return to text.