The United Nations global climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt last week intended to ignite dialogue between countries and set long-term goals for the future, one of the most ambitious being that all countries reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
While that is highly unrealistic – many developing countries such as India and China claim that they got a late start in industrialization and therefore wish to postpone this goal to at least 2070 – most nations agreed on one point: Reducing our carbon emissions and becoming less dependent on fossil fuels is an important long-term aim.
Actually, almost everyone seems to agree with this.
Except some Evangelical Christians. I find it hard to understand why the same people who have brilliant arguments on many other issues advocate against green energy, clean air and water.
Science tells us that life begins at conception. That’s a fact Christians use to prove the case against abortion. But when top scientists say that we should become independent from fossil fuels, these same Christians suddenly don’t trust science anymore.
I find this extremely strange.
I researched this issue in 2015 for my bachelor’s thesis in economy, and let’s just say it’s not pretty.
But before I bore you with my economic calculations, let’s see what the Bible says. Before the fall, God gave mankind three tasks. Two of them are directly related to our marriage and family life: that man should not be alone (Genesis 2:18) but should be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28).
The third is to take care of the earth: “Fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over … every living creature” (Genesis 1:28); “To work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15).
THE ROLE OF BELIEVERS REGARDING THE ENVIRONMENT
We are fulfilling the first two, but I believe we are failing to keep the third.
I see many Christians failing to take this command seriously. Instead, they are protesting environmental policies. Rather than being benevolent rulers over creation, we act as tyrants.
I believe that some of the reasons Christians bring in their opposition to environmental policies are silly and emotional – and they are rarely biblical. They invoke God’s promise to Noah that He will never again destroy the earth.
That, however, does not give us a license to destroy it ourselves.
Another claim I hear is that climate activists are “worshipping the earth.” Of course, there are extreme new-age types who do that, but does that mean we need to destroy the environment?
With that logic, we would also want to destroy the moon since it was the ancient deity of many cultures.
SOME SCIENTIFIC FACTS
Now for some actual science. In my thesis, I calculated some hard facts in order to understand the price society is paying for the damage done by pollution, and compare it with how much the government is spending on environmental issues.
I disregarded speculations about the future, like climate change, and focused only on the actual costs of medical expenses, lost workdays and damage to buildings and infrastructure. I anchored my research in a professional report made in 2010 by the Israeli National Board of Economy in the Prime Minister’s Office, headed by Professor Eugene Kendall.
That report concluded that the average damage of fossil fuels is 0.202 shekels per kilowatt hour (kw/h) for coal, and 0.031 for natural gas. An OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) report actually concluded this may be too generous, and a corresponding calculation made by scientists in the U.S. would have reached closer to 0.995 shekels.
In my research I disregarded pollution from transportation and factories, and focused only on electricity production. I assumed an exaggerated situation where Israel produces all the electricity from natural gas, and assumed that the generous Kendall report was correct. Despite this, I still reached a figure of total annual damage of over 1.8 billion shekels ($527 million). With the less generous figures, I would have reached 60 billion shekels ($17 billion) a year. In the same year, Israel’s entire budget for the energy department and the environment department together was only 526 million shekels ($154 million).
When I applied the same calculation to worldwide damages of fossil fuels, the sum I reached was close to $129 billion a year, even when I used the lowest available numbers. The higher estimation reached over $4 trillion. Compare that to the total worldwide government subsidies into renewable energies of only $37 billion.
This research, completed in 2015, is largely based on statistics from 2011 to 2013 – and much has changed since.
But the fact remains, even if we focus solely on electricity, we are still causing more damage than we 're fixing. Notice, the figures don’t even take into account the damage to nature and wildlife, but only the cost to human welfare and the losses incurred by governments in health and infrastructure. This alone would be reason enough to pursue renewable energy.
WHAT TO DO?
In my thesis, I concluded that the path forward t renewable electricity needs to be tailored to each country and its unique capabilities and infrastructure.
My specific recommendations to Israel’s government included better structures within governmental regulations plus financial instruments that would expose green energy investors to market forces. I also suggested examining the possibility of levying a pollution tax on fossil fuel factories that would directly subsidize green energy factories in order to minimize the effect of green energy subsidies on electricity costs for consumers.
I sent the 59-page thesis to a few Knesset members, government officials and the Israeli minister of Environmental Protection at the time. I don’t know if anyone read it, however, I earned the top grade and a bachelor’s degree in economics, so there’s that.
WHAT ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE?
Is climate change real? Most scientists believe so, but predictions are a tricky business. I still remember when scientists worried about the ozone layer in the 1990s and overpopulation in the 1960s. The former was solved by countries working together to reduce usage of ozone-damaging gas, and the latter was overcome by human innovation and technology that no one could foresee.
We know that fossil fuels are finite and sooner or later we will run out of it. Perhaps that’s why the Book of Revelation features four horses and not four cars. Nuclear energy may not be renewable, but at least it has zero pollution, and unlike sun and wind power, it’s powerful and effective.
With enough research funding, we might be able to produce nuclear energy from thorium and not depend on uranium. Germany’s disastrous decision to reduce its nuclear energy made it dependent on Russian gas – and we all know where that has led.
Israel has an opportunity to become a “light among the nations” on this issue. We have a desert with a huge potential for solar energy. The Jewish state also has an interest in making the world less dependent on Arab oil and Russian gas.
In his speech at the summit, Israeli President Isaac Herzog emphasized that Israel intends not only to reach net zero by 2050 (which I’m very skeptical of, considering Israel’s track record with environmental goals), but also to “lead the effort towards regional climate resilience.”
“I envision that in the foreseeable future, the solar energy produced in the deserts of the Middle East will be available for export to Europe, Asia, and Africa,” he said.
He ended brilliantly, quoting the Quran in Arabic and the Tanach in Hebrew, regarding God’s command to steward the earth.
Based on this same command, Christians should be leading efforts for a clean earth and independence from fossil fuels. We don't have to become climate nuts and scream, “How dare you” at world leaders like Greta Thunberg. I believe most of the leaders are doing their best to balance environmental responsibility against much needed economic growth. But neither should we dismiss the environmental issue as unimportant.
I envision three possible scenarios for the future:
Human innovation and capitalism will move the world to cleaner, greener energy over time, encouraged by governments working together thereby eliminating the problem of climate change.
God will intervene and balance the changes humans have wrought possibly through another little ice age (similar to the one that occurred between 1650 and 1850).
Climate change will be the catalyst for the Tribulation when a quarter of the earth is “killed by sword famine and plague” (Revelation 6:8). I’m not too worried about this option, however, since I believe in pre-tribulation rapture.
Regardless of which scenario the earth is headed to, Christians should care about the environment simply because it is our God-given responsibility – and we messed it up.
We own this land for a fleeting moment and then we give it to the next generation. May God give us the strength and wisdom to be good stewards.
Tuvia is a Jewish history nerd who lives in Jerusalem and believes in Jesus. He writes articles and stories about Jewish and Christian history. His website is www.tuviapollack.com