man looking up into sky

I Looked Up, and I’m Terrified

Screenshots taken from Netflix

By Jacob Rayment, Australia 

If you watched Netflix’s Don’t Look Up and didn’t realise that it was a metaphor for climate change, then I’ve got some complimentary snacks I’d like to sell you.

When I caught the movie a few days after its release on Netflix, I was expecting a light-hearted yet informative reflection on the issue of climate change.

But instead of feeling inspired to make a difference, or happy that more people would see such a powerful message, I felt the opposite. It wasn’t so much about the climate change issue (I have felt a sense of impending doom about that for years), but how accurate it was in portraying how so many people blatantly ignore what’s happening in front of them.

For those who haven’t seen the movie, here’s a brief summary: A scientist discovers an asteroid heading towards earth and tries to inform the world leaders of its potential dangers. The government quickly downplays the severity of the issue, and even tries to deny it. Once it became clear the government couldn’t pretend it wasn’t real, they try to spin it into an economic issue and suggest that the meteor could be mined for resources, which would provide jobs and grow the economy. The government then allowed a political donor to come up with a plan that would generate the most profit. When that failed, everyone died.

To me, the whole thing mirrored the climate change issue the world is currently facing—and why we need to start “looking up” and doing something about it now.

 

What is climate change?

Climate change is the long-term shift in temperatures and weather patterns. This is a normal thing, because over time, the climate changes and the world adjusts. As long as this happens at a natural pace, there’s no issue.

However, problems start when other factors come in and start to speed up the natural rate of climate change, faster than the environment can adapt to it.

For example, if the average temperature of the earth rises by a couple of degrees gradually, over the course of ten million years, the environment can adapt, creatures can evolve to survive in a world with a higher concentration of carbon in the atmosphere.

But when we raise the global temperature of the earth by a couple of degrees over the course of a few decades, there isn’t enough time to adapt and evolve.

Okay, I get it that it’s bad for the environment, but I’m safe in my cosy home, so how does this affect me?

Humans release an awful lot of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which in turn leads to the gradual heating of the earth. As the earth heats, the ice caps melt, raising the sea level significantly.

To put it in perspective, the last time CO2 levels were this high was during the Pliocene era, about five million years ago. The sea level was about 20 metres higher than it was now and global temperatures were 3-4C degrees warmer than they were now, and trees were growing in the south pole. Had Melbourne, the city I’m in, existed five million years ago, it would have been submerged underwater. It’s important to note here that humans cannot breathe underwater.

You might have been told what is happening now doesn’t really matter because it won’t be a major problem for many generations yet. And for some of us, it can feel like we aren’t affected by climate change in our comfortable temperate-controlled homes or when we roll up to the supermarkets and see it stocked with all our favourite food.

However, a report released in February this year by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) paints a different picture.

The report found that the scale of the impacts of climate change will overwhelm the world’s ability to adapt in the coming decades. It warned of homes and buildings destroyed by rising sea levels, more people killed by increasing heat levels, and lower productivity on crop and livestock farming affected by hanged weather patterns.

In Australia, where I live, we are already seeing increased bushfire areas, longer duration of hot days, and lost agricultural productivity, as part of the climate change report.

Right now, we may be comfortable in our homes, but what use are our homes if it’s wrecked by floods, or what use is our supermarket if farmers aren’t able to grow the food to get to us?

Therefore, the discussion is no longer about what may happen in centuries to come, it’s about what is happening today, and what is coming in the next decade.

What does climate change have to do with my (our) faith?

When I was a teenager, I understood that the “Christian position” on climate change was that it wasn’t real, or that humans weren’t impacting it. Perhaps it was the people I hung out with, the Christian media I consumed, and my conservative political leanings at the time, which formed my view.

It wasn’t that better information wasn’t available to me, or that I wasn’t smart enough to understand it. It wasn’t even that my family didn’t encourage me to think critically or research things. I just wasn’t interested in considering a point of view that clashed with the conservative views I’d grown up with. I lived in blissful ignorance because I thought that anything that contradicted my, apparently skewed, understanding of the Bible must be objectively wrong.

But over the years, as I read more varied opinions, I realised something was wrong.

Even when I did think that global warming was a hoax, I was confused by seeing the people around me supporting environmentally-unfriendly actions, such as deforestation, unsustainable fishing, and not wanting to hold companies responsible for their oil leaks into the ocean.

It made me think,  even if climate change wasn’t real, shouldn’t we still be caring for our planet? Shouldn’t we stop cutting down forests and making animals extinct? I was confused, upset, angry, so I looked to the Bible for guidance.

Does the Bible actually have anything to say on this subject?

Outside of a very literal interpretation of the creation story, I didn’t know what the Bible said about climate change or looking after the earth. I could argue all day that God gave us the earth as a resource, and gave us permission to kill and eat animals, and gave humans authority over the planet, and all that stuff.

And it’s true, but it’s not the whole story.

The earth may be a resource, but it’s a renewable resource that we need to maintain in good health. The Bible clearly states that the earth is the Lord’s (Genesis 2:15, Psalm 24:1, Psalm 65:9-13), and so it naturally follows that we ought to treat it with care. In Leviticus 25, the Lord even spoke of granting sabbath for the land (vv.1-7), commanding the Israelites to let the land rest and allow it to recover, and to remember ultimately that the land is God’s and they are but foreigners residing in it (v.23). And while we might be allowed to kill and eat animals, the Bible doesn’t give us permission to mistreat them. Job 12:7-10 tells us about the wonders of the animal kingdom and how much God cares for them. We should care for them too, and destroying their home isn’t exactly caring for them.

So . . . what can we do about it?

The reality is that there is only so much we can do as individuals. We can eat less red meat, recycle more, be less wasteful with energy, stay away from crypto currency (it is incredibly energy intensive because a computer has to constantly run at full power to generate cryptocurrency, which in turn, creates more carbon emission), and so on.

But if billions of people around the globe all do their part, it can and will make a difference.

For the most part, however, we still need our respective governments to intervene. So, the best thing you can do is vote. Vote at your local, state, and federal elections—elect leaders that are going to act against climate change and educate people on what is happening.

I believe Christians should be at the forefront in leading by example and doing what is right. We can do so by keeping ourselves informed with what’s happening around us, instead of pretending climate change doesn’t exist, or justifying it because one day there will be a new earth and a new creation, so we don’t have to bother about it.

Whenever I voice my concerns about climate change to my friends, I’m criticised for “living in fear” or “not trusting that God’s in control.” But when I tell someone that I’m a Christian, I want them to see someone who shows God’s love by looking after all His creations. I want people to be able to see God in the way Christians care for the earth , because they see us doing our best to protect what God gave us. I don’t want them to ignore God because His followers refused to “look up” and take any action.

If anything, now is the time to get involved, to show the world that Christians do care for God’s creation, and that we are willing to take the needed steps to protect this precious earth.

 

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