Climate Change, 8 Billion, and Religion

Today’s items are inspired by a new Pew Survey on how religion influences Americans’ views on the environment, and by the UN announcement that Earth’s human population has reached eight billion.

OnlySky, Hemant Mehta, 17 Nov 2022: Survey: ‘Highly religious Americans’ are the biggest climate deniers, subtitled “The people who believe God gave them the Earth are the least likely to take care of it”

Well, *God* will take care of it, is their defense, as far as I can gather. The article, summarizing a survey, focuses on distrust of government and ignorance of science. But it does include this:

It shouldn’t be hard to say God gave us the world, expecting us to care for it, and that means taking responsibility when our actions hurt the environment. Some white evangelicals have been leading that charge already! The problem occurs when cultish political behavior (that includes science denial) gets in the way of a faith-based approach to environmental concerns.

If that doesn’t happen, we’re all screwed. In recent memory, conservatives leaders have said drilling for oil is okay because God “will give us time” before climate change devastates us, that global warming is caused by “sin” and the solution is more Jesus, that man’s contribution to climate change is a myth created by Satan, and that the only science we need to know is that God created Earth.


Here’s another writer on the same site, same day, responding to the same Pew survey.

OnlySky, Adam Lee, 17 Nov 2022: How much do religious Americans care about the planet?

There’s only one religious group where majorities reject the science of global warming, and that’s white evangelical Christians:

For example, a third of all evangelical Protestants say climate change is not a serious problem because there are much bigger problems in the world (34%). Nearly as many say it’s not a problem because God is in control of the climate (29%). Both of these explanations are more common than the belief that climate change is not happening, which 15% of all evangelicals say is their position.

Just to make one correction here: the belief that “God is in control of the climate” works out to the same thing as saying that climate change isn’t happening. If God is changing the climate, he can change it back whenever he pleases. Either way, there’s nothing we can or should do, which is the point.

And further down:

There’s one more statistic in the Pew survey that shows why theoretical attitudes about protecting the planet don’t give rise to action:

Fewer (42%) expect a gradual loss of individual freedoms within the next 30 years due to environmental regulations—although this is the majority view among evangelical Protestants (56%) and Republicans (63%).

Whatever pro-environment views conservatives hold in the abstract, their highest practical priority is continuing to live the way they’re used to, however unsustainable it is. That means huge detached houses, fuel-guzzling trucks, red meat all the time, rural regions flush with oil and coal wealth, and the other hallmarks of America’s extravagant consumption.

They frame it as valuing “freedom”, but what it’s really about is preserving their own privilege. They start with “I don’t wanna!” and reason backwards from there to come up with justifications for why they don’t have to do anything about climate change.


On a closely related point — since climate change is driven by the expanding human population —

OnlySky, Andrew Fiala, 16 Nov 2022: Could the rise of the nonreligious defuse the population bomb?. Overview: “Conservative religions tend to be pro-natal. But with 8 billion people on earth, the time has come to reassess the command to ‘be fruitful and multiply.'”

Citing the UN report linked above, and Paul Ehrlich’s famous 1968 book The Population Bomb (on Kindle, but apparently long out of print).

This “population bomb” is only partly to blame for climate change and other unfolding catastrophes. We might be able to sustain a population of eight billion if each of us consumed and polluted less, especially the affluent hyper-consumers of the developed world. But it would also help if there were fewer of us consuming and polluting.

But where did all of these people come from—and how might we slow that growth?

There is a strong argument to be made that religious belief and practice are a major part of the problem, and that increasing secularism could be part of the solution.

Religious people have more babies, the essay points out. My comment: it’s long been noted that wealthier, more educated, less religious countries have fewer (healthier) children. Ironically, this essay points out, the decline of religion generally is “for religious congregations to encourage women to have more children” to expand the presence of their religion, obviously.

We already have the main technological tool we need: contraception. Now it’s time for social systems and ideologies to catch up, and for human beings to choose to have fewer children.

My take: Religious conservatives, in their black and white thinking, think that the priorities of ancient desert tribes still apply in a world full of 8 billion people. To the extent that religious conservatives have more and more children, they are making the world less habitable for those children, and especially their children’s children. And their children. But again (another repeated theme here) conservatives are not good at long-term thinking.

Children are great, but so too is life in a family with fewer kids or none. And in the long run, fewer children means a better life for each of them.

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