Christians and climate change – an Easter reflection

The US Republicans have a few enduring dreams and one of them is that Hispanics are naturally conservative, because they are predominantly Catholic, and will eventually flock to the Republican cause.

Like many things the Republicans believe there is a lot of faith and very little evidence involved. And like many conservative parties, including in Australia, they are perhaps not looking at the real problem. For instance, at the recent Victorian Liberal Party State Conference party elder, David Kemp, presented a report suggesting that there were communication problems with the outgoing Napthine Government and regretting what looked like a good idea at the time when the Baillieu Government hacked into the very professional public service corporate affairs ranks. Yet while discussing communications problems the Conference also managed to pass resolutions calling for an investigation into ‘electoral fraud’ by Labor for using firefighters, parademics and other unionists in ‘fake uniforms’ in their campaign;  the abolition of the ABC and SBS, repeal of 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act; and ‘reform’ of the Human Rights Commission.

The reality is that the Libs were out campaigned for a series of structural and organisational reasons and are on the nose in Victoria because their beliefs are out of touch with majority Victorian opinion.

Ditto the US Republicans and their chances of winning over the Hispanic population as highlighted by a recent report from Yale University and the George Mason University’s Project in Climate Change Communication. See Leiserowitz, A., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., Feinberg, G., & Rosenthal, S. (2015) Climate change in the American Christian mind: March, 2015.

The report says: “A fast-growing ‘greening of religion’ movement is unfolding across the United States and around the world ( with major statements by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, and Indigenous leaders (among others) and substantial efforts by people of faith to address both the causes and consequences of climate change and other pressing environmental problems. Among Christians, a long-standing debate has centred on the question of whether God gave nature to humans to protect or to use as needed for our own purposes. Is caring for the natural environment a religious responsibility? What is the Christian response to global warming? ”

The report looks at the global warming beliefs, attitudes, risk perceptions, policy preferences, and related moral values, of American Catholics, non-evangelical Protestants, and born again/evangelical Christians.

It finds that “nearly seven in ten Catholics (69%) think global warming is happening, which is a slightly higher percentage than Americans as a whole (63%). A majority of non-evangelical Protestants also think global warming is happening (62%). Evangelicals are split between those who think it is happening (51%) and those who either don’t think it is (27%) or who don’t know (23%).”

It also found “that majorities of American Christians support policies that would help reduce global warming, including tax rebates for people who purchase energy efficient vehicles or solar panels (83% of Catholics, 80% of non-evangelical Protestants, and 74% of evangelicals), more research funding for renewable energy (81%, 81% and 73%, respectively), and requiring electric utilities to produce at least 20% of their electricity from wind, solar, or other renewable energy sources, even if it costs the average household an extra $100 a year (67%, 68% and 60%, respectively). They also express strong support for strict carbon dioxide limits on coal-fired power plants – the essence of the EPA Clean Power Plan.”

The research looked at one of the key areas of Republican Tea Party climate and anti-science policy – whether their god meant them to rule over, or be a steward of, nature and established that “majorities of Catholics, Protestants, and evangelicals say it is important to them personally to care for future generations of people (82%, 82%, and 86% respectively), the natural environment (76% of each group), and the world’s poor (67%, 63%, and 77%), and that well over half of all Christians think reducing global warming will help future generations of people (67%, 60%, and 55%).”

The beliefs may also translate into action. In September Pope Francis is visiting the US after issuing an encyclical on climate change. During the visit various interfaith climate action groups may organize a ‘Moral March on Washington’ to join the Pope in calling on US politicians to do more to address global warming and 5% of American Catholics say they would be very likely to participate in the march if asked by someone they respect.

“Large majorities of Christians say global warming is a major environmental and scientific issue. Some consider it a major moral issue (22% of Catholics, 21% of non-evangelical Protestants, and 16% of evangelicals), but few currently consider it either a major religious (5%, 6%, and 9%, respectively) or spiritual issue (8%, 6%, and 9%). Many also say global warming is a major agricultural (55%, 55%, and 50%), economic (50%, 45%, and 38%), and health issue (48%, 43%, and 36%),” making them seriously out of touch with Australia’s very own Abbott Government which can produce long range plans about agriculture and intergenerational social and economic issues without talking about climate change.

But, before we get carried away and start to believe that US Christians are relatively rational when compared to Australian conservatives, the survey finds that “relatively few Christians say they will accept scientific explanations when they conflict with prior religious or spiritual beliefs (22% of Catholics, 20% of non-evangelical Protestants, and 11% of evangelicals). Far more Evangelicals (55%) than Catholics (18%) and non-evangelical Protestants (18%) say, when the two conflict, they accept their religious or spiritual beliefs over scientific explanations. Pluralities of Catholics (43%) and non-evangelical Protestants (42%) say their views lie in between these two statements.” Although, unlike Australian conservatives, it should be said that the US Christians at least have religious reasons, rather than sheer ignorance and capture by vested interests, for their position.

It does appear however that, even without taking into account anti-immigration policies, Republicans might be waiting a long time for Hispanics to embrace their positions on many other issues such as the environment and climate change.

By the way: The report also provides a sidelight on historic US anti-Catholicism. As you would expect three quarters of Catholics have a very or moderately positive opinion of Pope Francis and only 2% have a negative view of him. What is revealing however is that  half of non-evangelical Protestants also have a positive opinion of the Pope and about one in three evangelicals view Pope Francis positively; relatively few (13%) view him negatively, and the majority is either “in between” (24%) or did not express an opinion (27%). The Bible belt may no longer believe in the Pope as anti-Christ or, at the least, they are now too polite to say it publicly