Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity
“Weather or Not” first appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Touchstone.
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Weather or Not
Raymond J. Brown on Christian Stewardship & Climate Change
Talk about a dialogue of the deaf! It seems people fall into two camps on the subject of global warming. One group believes it is an imminent apocalypse foretold. Another holds that it is a hoax on a par with Orson Welles's War of the Worlds radio drama of 1938. As Disraeli opined (according to Mark Twain), "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." And we get lots of them all, presented as undeniable truth that only an imbecile or a charlatan would deny.
As Christians, we remember Holy Writ:
So the Almighty put us in charge. How do we go about being in charge?
We are called and commanded to be stewards of the earth. We are also called and commanded to righteously exploit the earth for the benefit of mankind. Print editorials, talk radio, scientific seminars, UN gatherings, and talking heads on cable news routinely declare that we cannot do both. Funding supplied by foundations and businesses for academic advocacy of their respective positions is similar to a pair of bookends—they have the exact same appearance, but face in opposite directions. One thinks of the trust that the tobacco industry accumulated while denying cancerous outcomes for cigarettes, or the Pulitzer Prize Walter Duranty won in 1932 for writing glowing reports on Stalin's utopia while mass starvation was actually occurring.
The climatic assertions of two decades ago have become assumptions. I recall being in a dental chair not too long ago. My dentist, an experienced, Ivy League-type doctor, was speaking to her assistant about how ridiculous it was that some people just could not believe Al Gore's warnings about the acceleration of global warning.
Being myself an agnostic (not an unbeliever) on warming, I was nevertheless inclined to opine that I would not believe Al Gore even if he told me he was lying. However, as I looked at the assembled drills, chisels, torque wrenches, retractors, forceps, and excavators, I decided that discretion was the better part of valor.
Personally, I am conflicted about the concept of global warming. I spent the first half of my life being informed that "another ice age is coming." I recall it being an assertion and an assumption in my school years. As late as 1978, books were being published about the government's refusal to accept reality and about the dark conspiracies to hide the truth. Unless immediate and effective action were taken, these books warned, we were all but doomed. As my wife is a reference librarian, she scrounged up one of those old books. Were I so inclined, I could change certain words in it to their polar opposite meanings, seek a publisher, and perhaps make some money.
The second half of my life (so far), I have increasingly been hearing about global warming, now more frequently referred to as climate change. Probably my attendant cynicism has some legitimate experiential foundation: been there, done that, got the T-shirt.
A Lost Cause
In my own profession, one learns early never to trust the first report. Thus, I tend to be blithely sanguine when around Cassandras. But I do have some legitimate and personal experience with the human capacity to destroy portions of the world that our Lord Father created through Jesus Christ and saw that "it was good."
As a career U.S. Coast Guard officer, my time was about equally divided between going after drug runners, rescuing distressed mariners, and enforcing fisheries laws. The first two tasks we did quite successfully, but the last makes for a sad tale. When I was in command at sea, my ship seized a number of poacher trawlers; later, as the operational law enforcement chief in the northeast United States, I oversaw the takedown of many more, to the benefit of the vast majority of honest, hardworking fishermen. But it was all a lost cause.
The struggle did naught avail. Greed, lack of enforceable laws, scientific industry, and government bureaucrats who went along to get along have had their way. Men can actually destroy their environment—and with it, jobs and families and an honorable way of life (Jesus Christ seems to have approved of fishermen). I have witnessed this firsthand. And such destruction has occurred worldwide, not just in my diminutive corner of the globe.
So I guess I would pontificate that though our earth is incredibly resilient (there was an able Founder), we humans can hurt it and thereby ourselves. And we have.
Warming in God's Plan?
But another thing gives me pause about human endeavors being responsible, in the main, for rising warmth the world over. As a seaman, my survival instinct kicking in, I was almost obsessively concerned with the weather and climate of the North Atlantic. That interest was amplified by my wife's and my own Scandinavian heritage.
Well, Greenland was called Greenland for a reason. So was Vinland (Vineland), a region most probably comprising what are now the Canadian maritime provinces and New England states. There is evidence that farming and hunting communities existed centuries ago in areas of Greenland and the northern tip of Newfoundland where hunting and farming are done no more—but may be starting up again. And the occurrence of a medieval warm period has been pretty well established by historians and archaeologists.
I have been north of the Arctic Circle in summer, observing an iceberg and going through the traditional and ridiculous Bluenose initiation. I can see how a Viking long ship (60–160 feet long, open deck) might make it in July, hopping from Scandinavia to the Faroes to Iceland to Greenland and the southerly beyond (not that I would have any desire whatsoever to try, and my hats are off to my forbears' courage and seamanship). But January would be quite a different matter. I have been offshore the Canadian maritime provinces and New England states many times between fall and spring, and twice in winter crossed to the Azores and back. My ships were considerably bigger than the Nordic longs, but the patrols and crossings were nonetheless miserable and occasionally violent. The Norsemen's open boat operations in the winter climes I know so well would have been suicidal. And overseas colonies would have been unsustainable. Firsthand experience has led me to accept that the weather was milder in those regions for some several centuries. And then it became cold again. The Nordic community at L'anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland is no more, and hasn't been for some
The weather is assuredly becoming milder again in the boreal regions. There is indeed more flowing water in the Arctic than there has been since the time of the Vikings. And I have talked to Ice Breaker sailors who were there thirty years ago and are going there now. It is indeed different than in my novice days.
What to Think & Do?
Most of us probably feel helpless to exercise any real control, for better or worse, over the climate—whether motivated by legitimate concern or outrageous prognostications. But perhaps three items are within every believer's reach.
1. Think Christianly, as beliefs do have consequences. Hidden within the debates on climate are the dangers of both apatheism and pantheism.
On one extreme, there are influential businessmen and politicos who divorce lucrative development from all other considerations and deem economic profit always the ultimate good. This may not be quite Conrad's Heart of Darkness, but it is certainly a cousin.
At the opposite extreme are those who deify plants and animals. Indeed, in some, this belief is so profound that they are prone to violence and uncivil disobedience. I have engaged this approach as both a Coast Guard officer and a security consultant.
The Christian must discern these extremes and what lies between them, both good and bad. My late Uncle Vin, probably the most intelligent man I have ever known well, worked as a senior executive in a state's Department of Resources and Economic Development and also for a major city's business development. An avid outdoorsman, he was always adamant that both growth and stewardship were necessary and possible. When he would meet with a certain man from D.C.'s Department of Commerce, the official always seemed to need a liquid lunch after discussions with Vin. Not a bad reflection on my uncle's steadfast principles.
2. Exercise your vocation as a Christian. One would hope that Christian climatologists, meteorologists, business developers, transportation engineers, and municipal planners would not leave their faith and morality in the sanctuary after the Sunday benediction. It is they, not ignorant clerics, who will safeguard God's bounty and benefit man. To quote the much-quoted C. S. Lewis:
Simply stated, Christian doctrine and morality should infuse what we do in exercising our workplace and citizenship duties. But the actual execution is dependent upon our own abilities and professionalism. The pulpit should advise us how to think Christianly, not what to think technically.
3. Stay connected with the natural world. This is not a feel-good recommendation. Many of us in the West are losing touch with the Creation. We travel from an air-conditioned house full of modern conveniences to an air-conditioned workplace where the internet is the actual boss, all the time immersed in the world of texting, phone calls, and electronic gadgetry. We see our outdoors on television.
St. Augustine said that one is closest to God in a garden. For me, it is a bass pond, though a garden is a close second. As an untalented but enthusiastic fly fisherman, I am a member of the much-maligned "hook and bullet" crowd. Yet it is among these folk of woods and water that I have met the most dedicated conservationists. They don't just want to preserve their avocation; they have a real respect for air, land, water, and the creatures therein—a right ordering of their loves under the Creator. I sense among them a proper reverence I seldom witness among political environmentalists and fanatical activists. And this set of beliefs no doubt has good consequences. In a selective harvest, they take a little and leave a lot.
A true conservationist (I eschew the moniker "environmentalist" as having too much baggage) cannot rely upon print and electronic news media for his knowledge of reality. Moreover, exposure to and engagement with the natural world is doable, even in a big city. Small deeds done on one's own property are not wasted, in God's economy or in one's own experience. The Savior did command, "Consider the lilies." In my yard, it is day lilies, but I expect he knew what he was talking about.
The Christian duty to exercise stewardship cannot consist of a set of sound bites or talking points—or a silly reliance on experts both real and imagined. Like war and peace, due diligence in the care of the Creation is a good deal more varied and complicated. Yet it was our Lord's initial purpose for mankind. That is worth serious thought, study, prayer, and then effectual work and play. And we can do better. •
Raymond J. Brown , retired U.S. Coast Guard Captain, is an all-hazards consultant living in New Hampshire. Married with three children, he is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Lutheran Publicity Bureau and the Lutheran Coalition for Renewal. The names used in this article are all pseudonyms.
“Weather or Not” first appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue. Support the work of Touchstone by subscribing today!
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