Most of the rationale for action to reduce greenhouse gases in response to Global Warming is based on the now incontrovertible science of it. In the estimation of over 95% of climate scientists, warming is now happening and is anthropogenic, that is, caused by humans. On this point all serious debate is over.
But even without this evidence and massive scientific consensus, as a follower of Jesus who is informed by Scripture, I come to the same conclusions. For in Scripture we find a particular pattern repeated so often that it could be called a basic divine law of creation and human life. This is the way a society declines from (1) idolatry, to (2) injustice, to (3) catastrophe.
Idolatry (1) begins in the worship or privileging of some created thing or person above all others, effectively putting it in the place of God. It is manifested in political/economic phenomena like inequality, hierarchy, division, class and caste, and monarchy. When people do not see themselves as equals before God, but rather decide that some are, in Orwell’s famous phrase, “more equal than others”, they begin to spawn injustice (2). The people with the power – the owners and masters – abuse, exploit, and degrade the people who have little or no power. Such an imbalance in human society inevitably throws whole political/natural economies/ecosystems out of balance, necessitating a correction that has disastrous consequences (3).
We see this in Scripture beginning at least with Pharaoh, whose idolatrous system generated the massive injustice of Israelite slavery, which culminated in the ten mostly ecological disasters crippling the economy and freeing the Israelites. It is repeated with Ahab’s idolatry and injustice drawing down a terrible drought, and with Joel’s observation of how idolatry and injustice attract a devouring horde of locusts. And it is all over prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah who predict the idolatry and injustice of the nation will attract brutal conquerors and send the people into exile. The book of Revelation, as the culmination of both the Scriptures and the tradition of Jewish apocalyptic mysticism, shows us in great and gory detail the unfolding of such corrections, made inevitable by idolatry and injustice in human society, in this case the scourge of imperialism.
So it is not necessary for us to have all the scientific evidence and measurements, data and hypotheses, to predict that a catastrophe will happen if people, especially leaders, do not change their ways. All we need to do is identify the decay into idolatry, and its consequent festering into injustice, for us to realize that the imbalance thereby manufactured will result in some kind of corrective disaster.
The system under which we now live surpasses all others in terms of idolatry and injustice. Therefore it is likely to spark a corrective disaster of unprecedented proportions.
(1) In terms of idolatry, this system worships money and wealth, featuring associated fetishes of economic growth, “free” trade, and slavish trust in markets. In addition, it consciously and intentionally proclaims that all the behaviors that spiritual leaders of almost all traditions have historically and consistently labeled as deadly sins, are really virtues that people should be commended and rewarded for doing. The mythology of this system says that if people deliberately act badly, with ignorance and violence rooted in radical selfishness, good will miraculously result. Human sins will cancel each other out, and the magical “invisible hand” of the market will transform evil into good. In other words, the myth is that a society thrives and grows if people’s actions are motivated by greed, gluttony, lust, sloth, anger, pride, envy, etc. When these sins are organized through The Market, what results is good for everyone. Or so they say.
A more idolatrous economic/political system is hard to imagine. Instead of presenting an actual idol of cast metal, this ideology makes an idol out of the individual human ego, and in effect declares sins to be sacraments.
It should surprise us not at all that this strategy doesn’t work. It’s a lie, like all idolatries. The Market does not in real life control or mitigate all these negative impulses, it predictably focuses and amplifies them to wreak maximum damage on the earth and people. It results in increasing the wealth and power of the wealthy and powerful. It rewards ruthless selfishness, and bloats the gap between rich and poor. It encourages the rape of nature, the abuse of workers, the poisoning of consumers, and the strangling of the soul.
(2) Its proponents claim that the great benefit of this system is that it creates wealth. But it only “works” when its inherent violence and inequalities spawn cheap labor and resources... and even then it only benefits a small class of people at the top. That this regime arose coincidentally with colonialism and slavery is not an accident. (Adam Smith could not have written his book were it not the case that Britain was benefiting from the massive theft of labor and resources from its colonies.) It is easy to “create wealth” when you do not pay fairly (if at all) for the labor or resources you are extracting from conquered lands. It’s called stealing, although that doesn’t even begin to describe the magnitude of the suffering and violence involved.
(3) The system is masterful at delaying, regulating, and displacing the inevitable consequences. Indeed, it has figured out how to thrive and make the rich richer through disaster, thus compounding and deepening the injustice. It has resulted in countless wars, genocides, and economic depressions, and now ravages bodies, souls, and communities with epidemics of cancer, depression, asthma, autism, gun violence, and so forth. And now we are swirling down into an ecological catastrophe that is forever changing the planet and its ability to sustain life as we knew it. And that will be only the beginning if the consequent social chaos results in the deployment of biological and/or nuclear weapons.
Is the catastrophe avoidable? Biblically speaking, the antidote is repentance. Repentance, to conflate the Hebrew and the Greek meanings of the term, has to do with changing our ways of thinking and consequently the direction of our lives. Is that going to happen in time to avert the comprehensive correction?
Maybe. But where would we start? How about with following Jesus? How about with ministering to the needy victims of the system’s ghastly and constant violence and injustice (2)? How about with turning to God alone and adopting disciplines of humility, self-knowledge, self-criticism, and honesty, in which we actually reject ego-centric sinfulness and see things from a higher and broader perspective (1)? How about with learning together how to live in the gentleness, courage, truth, healing, non-violence, shalom, and love of the Lord Jesus?