Conservative pundit and Fox News contributor Erick Erickson questioned the reality of climate change by comparing it to the second coming of Jesus Christ, saying the difference is that “Jesus will return.” But mounting evidence shows that climate change has already taken hold and will worsen if left unchecked, a fact accepted by many in the Christian community.
On January 2, Erickson sparked controversy on Twitter after he tweeted that "[t]he difference between people who believe in the 2nd coming of Jesus and those who believe in global warming is that Jesus will return":
Erickson's claim contradicts the position put forward by ranking members of the Christian community. In his inaugural mass on March 19, Pope Francis called upon “all men and women of goodwill” to be “protectors [...] of the environment”:
Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of good will: let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.
Catholic leaders have explicitly linked this need to be stewards of the environment with the fight against global climate change. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced in 2001 that it accepts the scientific consensus and “the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”:
As Catholic bishops, we make no independent judgment on the plausibility of “global warming.” Rather, we accept the consensus findings of so many scientists and the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as a basis for continued research and prudent action (see the sidebar: The Science of Global Climate Change). Scientists engaged in this research consistently acknowledge the difficulties of accurate measurement and forecasting. Models of measurement evolve and vary in reliability. Researchers and advocates on all sides of the issue often have stakes in policy outcomes, as do advocates of various courses of public policy. News reports can oversimplify findings or focus on controversy rather than areas of consensus. Accordingly, interpretation of scientific data and conclusions in public discussion can be difficult and contentious matters.
Catholic bishops are not alone in calling on Christians to accept the science that speaks to the urgent need for action against manmade climate change. A number of Christian institutions have called upon members to take action against climate change. In 2006, the Evangelical Climate Initiative, a group that includes more than 300 evangelical Christian leaders from across the United States, urged members of the evangelical Christian faith to fight climate change because it “hit[s] the poor the hardest”:
Poor nations and poor individuals have fewer resources available to cope with major challenges and threats. The consequences of global warming will therefore hit the poor the hardest, in part because those areas likely to be significantly affected first are in the poorest regions of the world. Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.
Christians must care about climate change because we are called to love our neighbors, to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, and to protect and care for the least of these as though each was Jesus Christ himself (Mt. 22:34-40; Mt. 7:12; Mt. 25:31-46).
Christians, noting the fact that most of the climate change problem is human induced, are reminded that when God made humanity he commissioned us to exercise stewardship over the earth and its creatures. Climate change is the latest evidence of our failure to exercise proper stewardship, and constitutes a critical opportunity for us to do better (Gen. 1:26-28).
Beyond leaders within the Christian community, a rough majority of Christians in the United States said that increasingly extreme natural disasters are evidence that the planet already feels the effects of climate change, recent polling data found.
Six out of 10 Catholics and half of all white evangelical Protestants agree that the growing trend in extreme weather events and natural disasters support the scientific consensus about climate change, according to a December 2012 survey from the Public Religion Research Institute:
Nearly 7-in-10 (69%) religiously unaffiliated Americans, 6-in-10 (60%) Catholics, and half (50%) of white evangelical Protestants agree that the severity of recent natural disasters is evidence of global climate change.
Erickson's rhetoric emulates Rush Limbaugh's claim earlier this year when he informed his listeners, “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in manmade global warming.You must be either agnostic or atheistic to believe that man controls something he can't create.” In response, the Evangelical Environmental Network published an open letter asking him to “refrain from your harmful rhetoric on climate change”:
As a lifelong Republican and an evangelical pro-life clergyman who pastored a local congregation for almost 20 years, spent fourteen years working in the coal industry, and now leads one of the oldest creation care ministries, I ask you to refrain from your harmful rhetoric on climate change. It is simply wrong.
Recently, you stated that “If you believe in God, then intellectually you cannot believe in man-made global warming.” Nothing could be further from truth.