A photo of two people standing on a broken ice sheet, gazing out at the broken up ice.

Evangelicals deny global warming as Earth heats up at record rate

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At the end of January, Earth hit a new record: the eighth consecutive month that average air temperatures topped all prior records for the time of the year. 

The start of 2024 marked the hottest January ever recorded, with 2023 being the hottest year for the Earth in the century and a half of recorded temperatures. The oceans have likewise experienced this dangerous trend, with temperatures in the first days of February topping August 2023 records, previously the oceans’ warmest month ever measured. Warming oceans are a reliable indicator of how exactly humans are heating up the planet, since our oceans absorb the “majority of the extra heat that greenhouse gases in the atmosphere trap near Earth’s surface.” Warmer oceanic temperatures also breed exemplary conditions for increasing hurricanes and for those atmospheric rivers recently drenching California. Of course, warmer oceans also harm marine life. 

Even in the face of such overwhelming scientific evidence, the ultrareligious right is still doing everything in its power to deny climate change and its obvious effects on our planet. The leaders of the Republican Party have continually pushed back on necessary action to mitigate climate change and have denied the reality of rising global temperatures. It is glaringly obvious why the most influential Republicans integrate this denial into their platforms, and why their constituents fall victim to the same misguided ideas: religion. Religious faith is blinding its most fundamentalist followers to the fact that human activity is harming the Earth and its future.

Scientists know exactly what is happening to our planet. Human activities like the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation are causing temperatures to reach new, dangerous heights. Nevertheless, a significant portion of the public is not listening and even actively working to block restorative action taken by the U.S. government. Scientists are warning that the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is the only way to combat rising global temperatures, but the GOP is continually shutting down government action. 

Religious faith pervades those who vehemently oppose climate action and deny climate change’s existence. Evangelical Protestants, according to the Pew Research Center, are the most likely of all religious groups in the United States to deny that human activity causes climate change, with 36 percent believing the Earth is warming due to natural patterns and 32 percent unsure whether the Earth is getting warmer at all. Evangelicals are more likely to connect worsening environmental concerns to the apocalypse. On the other hand, those who do not identify with any religion, particularly atheists and agnostics, express the most concern about climate change.

The percentage of white evangelicals who view climate change as a real crisis has actually dropped — from 13 percent in 2014 to 8 percent in 2023. Rev. John McArthur made the evangelical ideology crystal clear when saying in a sermon, “God intended us to use this planet, to fill this planet for the benefit of man. Never was it intended to be a permanent planet. It is a disposable planet. Christians ought to know that.”

Jim Inhofe, who stepped down as U.S. senator last year, typifies the religionists who deny climate change, arguing that only God can affect the climate. Inhofe once exclaimed: “My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” Inhofe was in a position to do immense damage to climate change mitigation, serving as chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which provides oversight on environmental protection, conservation and the usage of renewable and nonrenewable resources, from 2003 to 2007 and again from 2015 to 2017.

And erstwhile Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was notorious for spouting Christian nationalist rhetoric on the campaign trail and for continually promoting the idea that those who take climate action are part of a “new secular religion” and that America needs to “abandon climate religion.” 

In fact, Republicans and their ideological fellow travelers have repeatedly accused Democrats of turning climate change into a religion, and, more specifically, a religion that works against their Christian beliefs. Talking about Democrats, Fox News host Rachel Campos-Duffy said, “For them, where we live right now, this place, Earth is it. So everything’s on the line here for them. They think, as you said, they can perfect this Earth. Those of us who have faith don’t believe that, and we believe how we act here determines where we go after.”

The Republican-controlled House spent 2023 defending fossil-fuel-powered appliances because of the mere thought that the Biden administration was trying to ban gas stoves. Republicans achieved their goal by getting only a modest tightening of efficiency requirements for gas stoves on the U.S. market and telling the Biden administration that “they had to dial back their radical agenda.” That so-called radical agenda was to inch the country closer to a clean-energy economy by regulating just one appliance.

Sadly, it has become clear recently that Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act, with its $200 billion in new investments in clean energy projects, is politically endangered. Republicans have tried to repeal the law (which passed with only Democratic votes in 2022). And the White House is reportedly slowing the shift to electric cars as an election-year concession to labor unions and auto executives.

Of course, Donald Trump, ex-president and current GOP presidential front-runner, has a long history of climate denialism, with his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, appointment of an active climate denialist and religionist to head the Environment Protection Agency and rollback on clean energy regulations. What Trump and his supporters, given a second term, would do to foil the effort to curb climate change is inconceivable. 

Rachel Campos-Duffy got it exactly right when she observed freethinkers and others care more about climate change and “right now, this place,” over speculation of an afterlife. For us, “Earth is it.” Those of us who care about reality and our planet’s future must redouble our efforts to get out voters who follow science, not imprudent Republicans and faith leaders, when it comes to human-made climate change.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR 

Caitlin Berray is the Governmental Affairs Coordinator for the Freedom From Religion Foundation Action Fund. Caitlin graduated from Baylor University with a B.A. in International Studies and a minor in Political Science in December 2021. After graduation, Caitlin interned with various nonprofits dedicated to progressive U.S. politics and international development.  Joining FFRF in October 2022, Caitlin first worked as FFRF’s Governmental Affairs Intern.

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