You’ve heard of the Doomsday Glacier, right? That’s not its official name. It’s called Thwaites Glacier and it’s massive – about the size of Florida actually.
Thwaites is held in place, against the western edge of Antarctica, by a floating ice shelf that is lodged against an underwater mountain. While ever that mountain holds the ice shelf in place, Thwaites will remain fixed there. But new data suggest that brace won’t hold much longer.
That surrounding ice shelf is collapsing, crumbling into skyscraper-sized icebergs. This is allowing warm water to flow under the Thwaites Glacier, which will in turn fall into the sea. While scientists have predicted it could hundreds of years for Thwaites to completely collapse, the section held in place by that underwater mountain is now looking like it could dislodge within the next five years.
If Thwaites Glacier melts, it would lead to a rise in sea levels of 65 centimeters (26 inches). And if that happens, it will rewrite the global coastline.
But worse, science journalist Jeff Goodell writes, “Thwaites Glacier is the cork in the bottle of the entire West Antarctic ice sheet, which contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 10 feet.”
Goodell continues, “Globally, 250 million people live within three feet of high tide lines. Ten feet of sea level rise would be a world-bending catastrophe. It’s not only goodbye Miami, but goodbye to virtually every low-lying coastal city in the world.”
Sounds serious, right?
We need to act, right?
But talk of doomsdays usually bounces off some Christians. They ask, “Why bother worrying about catastrophic sea level rises if Jesus is coming back anyway?”
But if you think about that question for a minute, you realize that the questioner is being pretty utilitarian about the future. I mean, they’re asking about the usefulness of stewarding the earth. If Jesus is coming back to take the faithful off to heaven and fry everything else, what is the use of us caring for the planet? Let the Doomsday Glacier slide into the sea. Our hope is in heaven.
Even for people who don’t believe that Jesus will destroy the earth upon his return, ecological responsibility is often presented as a practical consideration. Students at the Global Climate Strike, for example, hold signs about the future implications of doing nothing – ‘There is no Planet B,’ or ‘No nature = No future.’ A lot of the warnings about climate change are couched in terms of what will happen if we don’t reduce CO2 emissions – sea level rises, rampant bushfires, coral bleaching, etc.
But what if Christian environmentalism wasn’t just motivated by practical concerns, as important as they are? What if we were motivated by our theology? That is, by our understanding of the nature and character of God.
Far from rubbing his hands in anticipation of obliterating the whole earth, the God we see in the Bible is intimately attached to creation. The psalmists write, ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it’ (Ps 24:1), and ‘For every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine’ (Ps. 50:10-11).
Right throughout Scripture, God is portrayed as the earth’s creator and owner (Job 49:11), its sustainer (Heb 1:3; Ps 147:8-9, 15-18), its director (Isa 40:15, 22-24), and its redeemer (Rom 8:20-22; 2Cor 4:16-5:5).
God loves creation. And the earth reciprocates with praise and worship.
King David sings, ‘The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world’ (Ps 19:1-4).
Like this incredible Aurora Australia light show painting the sky above Thwaites Glacier in Antarctica:
Why bother stewarding the earth? Because God loves it. God is proud of it. It reflects God’s glory and reveals his creativity, grace, and power.
And whatever God loves, we should love too, right? That includes our rivers and coastlines, our rainforests and coral reefs, and our icy continents. And it must also include caring for the people God loves – the poor, immigrants, refugees, widows and orphans. These are the very people most direly affected by the consequences of environmental degradation. It is the global poor who suffer most from malnutrition due to food shortages, higher rates of tropical disease, lung disease from pollution, and military conflicts over increasingly scarce natural resources.
Jesus told his disciples, ‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another’ (Jn 13:35). Stewarding the earth is an act of love – love for God, love for the things God loves, love for the people God loves. Even if a third of the planet’s forest cover hadn’t been flattened, even if half a million species weren’t in danger of extinction, even if carbon pollution wasn’t acidifying and warming the oceans, Christians would still be motivated to steward the earth because God has filled us with a love for all that he loves.
Personally, I don’t believe God is planning to destroy the earth at the return of Christ. There’s no mention of a “doomsday” in the Bible. But I believe the Bible does teach that the curse of human sin upon the earth will be lifted, the planet will be renewed, and heaven and earth will bleed into each other resulting in a whole new existence where love and justice are the norm.
God never abandons the things he creates. He doesn’t turn his back on Israel. He won’t forsake the church. He won’t desert the poor. And he won’t discard creation.
And therefore, neither should we. Which is why we need to act on climate change now.