If you own a screen, chances are you’ve heard about this week’s climate strikes in a city near you. Chances are you were also recently introduced to a 16-year-old called Greta Thunberg.
So what’s all the hype about?
We are facing an unprecedented global emergency. Life on Earth is in crisis: scientists agree we have entered a period of abrupt climate breakdown, and we are in the midst of a mass extinction of our own making.
Greta Thunberg, a Swedish school student, spoke at the group’s ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ held in London last year. But it was her more recent speech at the UN that really got the world’s attention:
You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words… Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
As a Christian, I’m convinced that God commands good stewardship of this planet. He has charged us with its sustainable management, for the benefit of present and future generations.
And as a millennial, I’ve been taught many practical ways to do this. I actively try to reduce my footprint by living simply, shopping locally, minimising waste, and eating a plant-heavy diet. I’m a big fan of entrepreneurial efforts to heal the environment, as well as policies that promote this and prevent more harm to our planet.
But there’s something ugly about the rising tide of climate alarmism—and I don’t just mean the traffic jams and adolescent outbursts. It’s a movement with a credibility crisis, for at least three reasons.
1. The Misinformation Behind the Movement
I’m no scientist, and I don’t have particularly strong views on the science of climate change. What’s clear to me is that many scientists are concerned for our planet’s future and that a smaller consensus of scientists are unconvinced that there’s a climate emergency.
What’s also clear is that the leaders of XR exaggerate the claims of the scientists they rely on. Gail Bradbrook is a co-founder of XR, and she has said, “It’s quite possible that all life on Earth—97 percent of it—is going to go, and possibly in my children’s lifetime.”
The other co-founder, Roger Hallam claimed, “Our children are going to die in the next ten to twenty years.” On a separate occasion, he warned, “I am talking about the slaughter, death, and starvation of 6 billion people this century—that’s what the science predicts.”
That’s definitely not what the science predicts.
Like people who cherry-pick Bible verses to fit their narrative, the leaders of XR routinely spin the most extreme (and least likely) predictions from the UN literature to shock their audiences.
Greta Thunberg, who leads the youth strike for climate and regularly warns of impending disaster, tells her followers, “I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day.”
It makes sense to me that humans have contributed to climate change and that we have a responsibility to move away from our reliance on fossil fuels.
But the misinformation behind this movement isn’t helping anyone. It’s undermining the credibility of science, and it’s alienating a voter bloc that might otherwise take environmental concerns seriously.
2. The Mania Behind the Movement
The mania isn’t helping either. In this way too, the movement resembles a religious cult. Its leaders leave little room for nuance or debate.
XR demands that governments reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2025. If this were taken seriously, it would basically mean reversing the Industrial Revolution.
This would hurt western nations of course. But more importantly, it would utterly devastate the world’s poor and marginalised.
When this kind of unbending apocalyptic fervour is seen in religious groups, people shun it. Yet somehow a girl in pigtails has displayed the same trait and won universal praise—from the mainstream media and unquestioning observers alike.
No wonder critics decry it all as a Children’s Crusade.
‘Religious cult’ is an accurate description for other reasons too. XR co-founder Gail Bradbrook openly acknowledges that “codes for social change” were given to her during a prayer ceremony and psychedelic drug trip at a retreat in Costa Rica.
Wait. Wasn’t this just about the science?
3. The Movement Behind the Movement
There are movements to be wary of on both extremes of the political landscape—from fascists on the right to Marxists on the left.
We, in alignment with our consciences and our reasoning, declare ourselves in rebellion against our government and the corrupted, inept institutions that threaten our future… The wilful complicity displayed by our Government has shattered meaningful democracy.
Co-founder Gail Bradbrook has said, “Conventional politics is f*cked, it’s finished.” On another occasion, she clarified her mission: “I’m not organising protests, I’m organising a rebellion against my government.”
A now-deleted tweet on XR’s Twitter feed stated, “This movement is the best chance we have of bringing down capitalism.”
Roger Hallam, the group’s other founder, has made his political views quite clear. “I’ve been on the left all my life and I think it’s fantastic. You know the whole socialist project; amazing.” He too has made his aims clear:
We are not just sending out e-mails and asking for donations. We are going to force the governments to act. And if they don’t, we will bring them down and create a democracy fit for purpose… and yes, some may die in the process.
To be clear, XR is explicitly non-violent, so Hallam is referring to martyrdom, not terrorism. But his colleague Bradbrook has echoed the same radical sentiment, saying, “I am willing to be arrested. I am willing to be jailed. And I can tell you something else; I am willing to die for this movement.”
Many are drawn to movements like Extinction Rebellion for their green credentials. But beware of the watermelon phenomenon: many groups that are green on the outside are actually red on the inside.
With XR, it’s clear that there’s a movement behind the movement, and it needs to be called out.
Environmentalism and the Gospel
I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced that the best way to care for the environment is to topple capitalism, surrender our precious freedoms and set up an eco-socialist utopia.
I don’t envy the governments around the world who are tasked with balancing stable economic growth and environmental responsibility. A great challenge lies ahead of them.
But let’s remember that the government isn’t always the solution to the world’s problems.
Or what about Boyan Slat? He has far less Google searches to his name than Greta Thunberg, and he hyperventilates less. But at age 16, he designed the world’s first ocean plastic cleanup system and now runs his own company.
Addressing the problems our planet faces won’t be simple. But don’t buy the lie that our only options are apathy and fanaticism.
See there’s a bigger picture here.
As Christianity has retreated from the West, it’s left behind a yawning spiritual void. People once knew of a greater purpose for their lives and a hope that stretched beyond the present and into eternity. In the absence of this, we’re scrambling to replace it with something meaningful.
Climate alarmism is just one of many alternatives that have rushed into the vacuum. What began as care for the environment is now morphing into a cult with its own end-times scenario. Why? Because people are asking it to provide them with that sense of greater purpose, and answers for their existential questions.
This is why the gospel is still so relevant. It reminds us that we’ve been made in God’s image as valued and unique creatures. And that because of this, we have the duty to steward his creation well, and clean up the messes we’ve made.
But it reminds us of something far greater: our meaning and life purpose is in God. It’s only in him that we can make sense of our place in the cosmos, have a healthy responsibility for the world we live in, and a bright hope for the future.
Without the need for panic, or the overthrow of civilisation.