UK Prime Minister addresses Climate Change, but undermines Christian doctrines
Ahead of the United Nations 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), held in Glasgow, Scotland (1–12 November 2021), the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson appealed to the UN General Assembly (22 September 2021) to argue for dramatic changes to global policy in use of carbon-based fuels.1 In his speech he undermined a basic Christian doctrine relating to the status and rights of mankind. He further appealed to the evolutionary tenets of naturalism, the Greek gods, and the ability of mankind to “save ourselves”. It was almost as if part of his speech had been written by Sir David Attenborough who has made similar comments in the past (Life on this planet is fleeting).2
This is a marked departure from the traditional values of the Conservative Party, which were once closely linked to the Christian faith.3 Instead, it is along the lines of secular humanism, combined with influence from uncompromising environmental policies. Such policies unrealistically seek net-zero carbon emissions. Just as Darwinian evolution has become the creation myth of naturalism, so tackling climate change in order to ‘save the planet’ has become naturalism’s salvation narrative. This article will focus primarily on the science and theological implications.
An evolutionary narrative
Johnson started his speech by invoking millions of years, and that mankind is a relative latecomer, having been around for less than one million years:
“An inspection of the fossil record over the last 178 million years – since mammals first appeared – reveals that the average mammalian species exists for about a million years before it evolves into something else or vanishes into extinction. Of our allotted lifespan of a million, humanity has been around for about 200,000.”1
It is interesting, but somewhat unfortunate, that Johnson should reference a period from the Jurassic, in which, he suggests, naturalistic science places the first appearance of mammals. The irony is that scientific papers have argued that during this time carbon dioxide levels (CO2) were between 1,000 and 2,000 ppm (parts per million). That is 2.5 to 5 times greater than where they are today, when global average temperatures were supposedly 5 to 10 degrees Celsius higher for prolonged periods (Figure 1).4,5 If the assumptions of naturalism and deep-time were true, then responsibility for such CO2 levels cannot be placed upon the shoulders of the not-yet-evolved human beings.
Naturalistic scientists believe that atmospheric CO2 levels have experienced an erratic decline over hundreds of millions of years.6 From this we may ask a question in the context of the naturalistic fallacy: ‘What level of atmospheric CO2 do we consider to be good: 200, 400, 1,000, or 2,000 ppm?’ Naturalists cannot answer this on their own terms. They believe that ecosystems have adapted to climate change in the past, and will adapt to future change through natural selection. This only highlights the intellectual conflict that arises for naturalism. A conflict between a belief in the power of natural selection given a naturally changing ecosystem, and the belief that conservation of nature is essential to ‘save the planet’.7
With this in mind, we may consider that setting the issue of climate change in the framework of a life and death struggle for the planet, as Johnson and other environmental campaigners do, is bogus. Of course, we can acknowledge that there may be practical problems that arise from a warming climate for humanity. This is applicable for example to permanent dwellings in coastal towns and cities that are subject to flooding (CMI has a comprehensive position paper on Climate Change). But, despite some evidence of more severe weather, improved planning, plus an accurate forecasting and warning capability, has led to a reduction in fatalities from such natural disasters. This was reported by the World Meteorological Organisation.8
Environmental issues are complex, not simple
Boris Johnson fails to deal with the complexity of the environmental issues that arise, and instead resorts to easy sound bites. These undermine a central Christian belief about mankind’s place in the world:
“We still cling with part of our minds to the infantile belief that the world was made for our gratification and pleasure and we combine this narcissism with an assumption of our own immortality. … It is time for humanity to grow up.”1
He misrepresents the Judeo-Christian belief that natural resources are a divine gift for humanity, and that people are justified in utilising them out of necessity, albeit not for selfish gratification or pleasure. But he calls this belief “infantile”. Use of natural materials, such as iron, coal, oil, and gas, have brought great benefit to humanity, not least in terms of raising people out of poverty. Even so, we recognise this is not always without negative environmental or health impacts.
This only shows that making decisions about the environment is a complex process. It requires thinking in terms of inter-related systems. That is, thinking about the needs of human communities, businesses, the ecosystem etc., and so balancing the needs of multiple stakeholders and groups. These interested groups are sometimes in competition, or conflict with one another, and their needs do not necessarily align. It cannot be dismissed as an easy task.
And yet, Johnson appears to do so with a childish reference to one of the Muppet characters. He commented; “And when Kermit the frog sang It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green, I want you to know he was wrong.”1 If we are to “grow up”, as Johnson states, it must be in terms of recognising the complexity of the issues involved, and bravely facing the truth about the world as it actually is.
Need for good stewardship
Of course, utilisation of natural resources needs to be done responsibly. That is, with concern for social and environmental protection, and without the greedy exploitation of unrestrained capitalism. Mankind has been given dominion over the earth by God (Genesis 1:26), and we should fill our role of stewardship with diligent duty. We must not forget the poor in addressing a problem that may not entirely be the result of humanity in the first place.
In the context of the use of carbon fuels, the statement demonstrates that Prime Minister Johnson is out of touch with the lives of ordinary people. Like many green utopians, who are often the wealthy elite in society, there is a failure to see that access to cheap carbon fuels is necessary. This is especially so for people to travel, cook food, and keep warm in winter. Cheap carbon fuels are not greedily consumed for human “gratification and pleasure”, but are a basic necessity for life. It would be great if renewable energy could supply the basic needs for power, light, and heat, but much of the technology is not there yet in terms of quantity and quality.
With some irony, Johnson delivered his speech at a time when market natural gas prices were rocketing in the UK, and many other countries across the world. This was hitting the pockets of ordinary consumers. In the UK, the cause of this was partly related to government policy to reduce UK carbon emissions.9 As well-known journalist and author Peter Hitchens has pointed out, “Utopians, as George Orwell demonstrated, prefer their visions to reality or truth.”10
Can we save ourselves through science?
While ignoring the Judeo-Christian place of mankind in the world, Johnson believes we can save ourselves through science. Along with this, he references the Greek gods. Johnson, who majored in the Classics at Oxford University, has previously expressed knowledge of Scripture and Christian doctrines. But disappointingly on this occasion, his speech effectively idolised the scientific endeavour. He stated:
“… it is through our Promethean faith in new green technology that we are cutting emissions in the UK.”1
Prometheus, being the god of forethought, is considered by Johnson to be a suitable allegory, or idol, for the faith we place in science. But we may note that Prometheus was also said to be a ‘supreme trickster’.11 Johnson is convinced it’s the strength of humanity that will get us out of this ‘self-inflicted mess’, and so we can ‘save ourselves’. He commented that,
“We are awesome in our power to change things and awesome in our power to save ourselves, and in the next 40 days we must choose what kind of awesome we are going to be.”1
This astounding statement entirely ignores the reality of humanity’s fallen condition, evident by reading any newspaper or newsfeed, as well as taught in Scripture. It is very reminiscent of the Pelagian heresy, which arose in the fifth century in Rome against the Pauline / Augustinian doctrine of grace.12 Pelagianism undermines the effect of the Fall, and holds that mankind can attain perfection through self-effort—without the need for divine grace.
We should not be subject to the illusion that undermining the Christian voice in society has no consequences. Western values are foundationally derived from Christianity, but an increasingly secular, humanistic society has lost sight of its roots.13 One outcome of this is that we are witnessing the development of a form of environmentalism that is disinterested in evaluating and meeting the needs of ordinary people. In response to such a skewed worldview, Peter Hitchens commented recently that it is only when “everyone sees what a post-Christian country is really like, they may begin to be interested in the gospels again.”14
We can acknowledge that scientific endeavours have produced some great inventions and innovations. But we can also see occasions when great harm has come from science, technology, and environmentalism. For example, palm oil plantations in Asia have been grown for so-called environmentally friendly bio-diesel production, but at the expense of many hectares of rain forest, and loss of habitat of the orangutan.15 In medical science, the drug Thalidomide was once marketed as a wonder drug, but it was later found to engender foetal abnormalities in some unborn babies.16 There are other examples of the failings of science, or the gross misuse of technology, such as the Nazi medical research programme in the 1930s and 40s (see e.g. Death-camp doctors).
We believe that science needs to progress with humility, and within a framework of values that come from Christian faith. There needs to be an honest appraisal of impacts, costs, and benefits, so that possible harm can be minimised. In contrast, Prime Minister Johnson’s statement, which undermines mankind’s place in the world, effectively entails a downgrading of the concept of human rights and freedoms.
It is the grace of God that ultimately saves us through faith in the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ upon the cross. The grace of God has given humanity the intellect to study God’s creation, and the wisdom to make good decisions, which is the basis for science.17
References and notes
- Johnson, B., PM speech at the UN General Assembly: 22 September 2021, gov.uk, 23 September 2021. Return to text.
- Compare Sir David Attenborough’s vision quote, “The future of humanity depends upon the success of these [political] meetings. … we must do these things to save ourselves”: Attenborough, D., A Life on Our Planet: My witness statement and a vision for the future, Witness Books, London, p. 218, 2020. See discussion of this in Tuinstra, L., Life on this planet is fleeting, creation.com, 31 August 2021. Return to text.
- The Conservative Party, of which Boris Johnson is the leader, is currently in power in the UK. The Anglican Church has been colloquially referred to as ‘the Conservative Party at prayer.’ Return to text.
- Berner, R.A., Kothavala, Z., and GeoCARB III, A revised model of atmospheric CO2 over Phanerozoic time, Amer. J. Sci. 301:182–204, 2001. Also: Bergman, N. et al., COPSE: A new model of biogeochemical cycling over Phanerozoic time, American Journal of Science 304:397–437, 2004. Rothman, D.H., Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels for the last 500 million years, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99(7):4167–4171, 2001. Royer, D.L., et al., CO2 as a primary driver of Phanerozoic climate, GSA Today 14(3):4–10, 2004. Return to text.
- Worsley, T.R., Moore, T.L., Fraticelli, C.M., and Scotese, C.R., Phanerozoic, CO2 levels and global temperatures inferred from changing paleogeography, Geol. Soc. of Amer. Special Paper 288, 1994. See also the temperature reconstruction graph by Scotese, C., PALEOMAPproject, scotese.com/climate.htm, 2015.Return to text.
- Foster, G.L., Royer D.L., and Lunt, D.J., Future climate forcing potentially without precedent in the last 420 million years, Nat. Commun. 8, 14845, 2017 | doi.org/10.1038/ncomms14845. Foster et al. 2017, use the RCP8.5 for their claims about future climate change, which is now considered to be misleading. Hausfather, Z. Peters G.P., Emissions - the ‘business as usual’ story is misleading, Nature 577:618–620, 2020, doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-00177-3. Along with declining atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, naturalists believe the sun has slowly increased its total radiance over time, the ‘Faint Young Sun Paradox.’ Creation scientists have responded to this claim—see for example: Faulkner, D., The young faint Sun paradox and the age of the solar system, Journal of Creation 15(2):3–4, 2001, and Oard, M., Is the faint young sun paradox solved? Journal of Creation25(2):17–19, 2011.” Return to text.
- Sibley, A., The conflict between conservation and Darwinian natural selection, creation.com, 11 March 2021. Return to text.
- World Meteorological Organisation, 2021. WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019), WMO report No. 1267, Geneva, Switzerland, 1 September 2021. Return to text.
- Delingpole, J., Fracking Could Have Spared Britain Its Winter of Discontent, as BoJo Well Knew…, breitbart.com, 25 September 2021. Unlike the US, the UK has not developed fracking for natural gas. The UK has also closed coal fired power stations, and exported a lot of production to the Far East where coal is used, which further entails increased importation emissions. Return to text.
- Hitchens, P., There’s a faint chance we may get our nation back one day, Mail on Sunday, 19 June 2016. Return to text.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Prometheus”, britannica.com, 30 Aug. 2021; accessed 24 September 2021. Prometheus is also credited with the creation of humanity from clay. Return to text.
- The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Pelagianism”, britannica.com, 19 Apr. 2021; accessed 25 September 2021. Return to text.
- Holland, T., Why I was wrong about Christianity, newstatesman.com, 14 September 2016. Return to text.
- Hitchens, P., The Day of the Nitwits: Remember the Triffids? Well, the Green zealots are nearly as dangerous, Mail on Sunday, 25 September 2021. He also comments, “Christians, such as I am, need to learn to grasp that this is now a formally God-hating country and that its great institutions, from Oxford and the law to Parliament and the Monarchy, now enshrine other beliefs, very different from Christian ones.” Return to text.
- Taylor, M., Analysis-Indonesia’s palm oil-powered ‘green diesel’ fuels threat to forests, reuters.com, 4 February 2021. Return to text.
- Kim, J.H. and Scialli, A.R., Thalidomide: the tragedy of birth defects and the effective treatment of disease. Toxicol Sci. 122(1):1–6, 2011 | doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfr088. (Epub 2011 Apr 19). Return to text.
- Reformed theologian and Dutch politician Abraham Kuyper described this as common grace. Kuyper, A. Common Grace: God’s Gift for a Fallen World (Vols. 1-3), (Translated and Edited), Lexham Press, Bellingham WA, 2015. Return to text.