Last week I had the opportunity to listen to a talk given by an evangelical Christian leader to an audience of primarily evangelicals on the topic of global climate change. Given the rancor that sometimes accompanies this issue, it was a bit of surprise as were some of the reactions I observed afterwards. But this subject has been on my mind for the last few months after attending a lecture given by Dr. Richard Alley, professor of geosciences at Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, last June at the Denver Science Museum and having just finished reading Tim Flannery's 2006 book The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth.
Actually, I hadn't kept up with the most recent surveys on evangelicals' views on climate change and so after the talk I took a look around and found that in one recent study 33% of evangelical Christians describe global warming as a "major issue" while the numbers are over 50% for people of other faiths or of no faith. The results were culled from a Barna poll and were based on nationwide surveys conducted on 1,007 adults in January 2007 and 1,004 adults in July-August 2007. They break down like this:
Percentage That Agree Global Warming is a Major Issue
Evangelical Christians 33%
Non-evangelical born again Christians 55%
Notional Christians 59%
Non-Christians of other faiths 61%
Agnostics and atheists 69%
and the article goes on to give the following percentages within Christianity although it's not clear if this is in response to the same question...
However, another study referenced in a CBS commentary and done by CBS found that 46% of evangelicals "think global warming is having a serious impact on the environment" as compared to 52% of the population as whole. Obviously the wording of the question has a lot to do with the answers but it's possible that this signals a shrinking of the gap as discussed in this recent Washington Post piece..
Regardless, the gap still exists and the reasons for it and why it tends to shrinks as you go from evangelical to non-evangelical and Protestant to Catholic are intriguing. While I'm not sociologist I'll venture a few guesses based on my own experience and the reactions I observed last week.
A Question of Priority.
Finally, there are many evangelicals who simply believe that Christians should be focusing on other more pressing social issues. While that's an argument I can certainly respect, there would seem to be no reason why one would necessarily preclude the other and Christians couldn't both focus on issues like the right to life and the environment.
In the end this seemed to be the main point made by the speaker I heard last week. Christians can all agree that we have a responsibility both to our fellow man, especially the poor and the oppressed, and to be stewards of the creation. In the area of climate change these go hand in hand since by caring for the environment we can help lesson or avoid the deleterious effects, most of which will be felt by the poor whom Christians are called to serve.