At the heart of climate change is something with which we deeply struggle–change. And it is not just any change. This is change beyond the human scale, change that alters the rhythm of our days by altering the seasons themselves.

Change results in loss, and loss results in grief. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance. These are five common experiences of grief. They are also common responses to climate change. So perhaps it is the case that all of us, no matter how we respond to climate change, are responding from a place of grief for the world as we know it. If this is so, how can we respond to climate change with the confidence of people of God?[quote_box_right]We respond to climate change from a place of grief for the world as we know it.[/quote_box_right]

Denial: More than 9000 authors published more than 2000 peer-reviewed, evidence-based climate articles in scientific journals between November, 2012 and December, 2013, but only one rejected the notion of human-caused climate change.(1) Reviews of 10+ years of scientific journals find 97% consensus among scientists that human-caused climate change is happening.(2) Despite the remarkable agreement of the scientific community, denial is rampant.

Anger: Some of us are angry at the systems of economic and political power that continue to profit from fossil fuels. Others of us fight the notion that we must change our lifestyles. Still others point the finger at those who drive an SUV/use incandescent bulbs/eat meat. Whatever form our anger takes, it consumes time and energy. Can we channel our anger for good?

Bargaining: The thought process goes something like this: “If I can just get everyone in my church to switch to LED bulbs/install solar panels/carpool once a month, we’ll nip this climate crisis in the bud!” There was a time when consumer-level changes could have stopped our dangerous climate trajectory, but that time has passed.(3)

Depression: Many of us find it impossible to wrap our heads around the far-reaching implications of the climate crisis. It is overwhelming, and we feel powerless in the face of it. Overwhelm and powerlessness can keep us from learning about the problem and engaging with solutions.

Acceptance: Acceptance of the climate crisis is not an ending. It is the beginning of a life of lament as we mourn changes in our seasonal rhythms and witness the global impacts of droughts, floods and more. Acceptance is acknowledging what we can and cannot repair on our own, and discerning ways each of us can use our gifts to engage in a work of transformation that will extend beyond our lifetimes.[quote_box_left]The work of the Christian is to hold fast to a vision of God’s realm without knowing exactly how it will be made manifest.[/quote_box_left]

Just as the early followers of Jesus lived in the Roman Empire amid real political, social and economic constraints that made Jesus’ betrayal seem inevitable, we live in a time when it feels impossible to fight the powers that are driving God’s creation to destruction, much less avoid complicity with them. But the work of the Christian is to hold fast to a vision of God’s realm without knowing exactly how it will be made manifest. It means orienting our individual lives toward that vision. And it means repenting for our individual and communal complicity with the destruction of God’s creation, and committing to offer sacrificial leadership in our common social, economic and political lives.




Image credit: Michael E. Rael on flickr creative commons


  1. Jenny,

    With all due respect, people who disagree with you are due respect as well. Labeling people as “denier” is not constructive and has the appearance of attempting to mark them as morally deficient. I am a Christian, I accept that I am morally deficient in many ways. I do not accept this label.

    You would probably be surprised to know that people who disagree with you on the overall issue might agree with you on many points. Yes the earth has warmed by .3 to .8 degrees Centigrade in the last 30 years. Yes atmospheric CO2 has reached 400ppm and is increasing at approximately 2.5ppm per year. Yes the CO2 is from human activity. Yes CO2 is one of the green house gases (water vapor, methane and CO2 in that order). You might even agree that global temperatures, while rising in 1990’s have not increased further since 2000.

    As a matter of fact, by the methods of the study you mentioned, I am one of the 97%.

    I simply disagree that catastrophic anthropogenic global warming as projected by computer models is fact. I understand enough about computer modeling to know that the output of the model is not worth crippling our future. Worried about third world poverty? Let’s attack it immediately through education, schools and hospitals. Let’s not waste a dime in theoretical measures that even the CAGW experts agree will only reduce world temperatures by a fraction of a degree in 2100.

    I’m not a denier. I am a factual pragmatic.

  2. Larry, Thank you for taking the time to read and respond to this post. It is not my intent to suggest that those who disagree with me are morally deficient; rather, it is to frame the experience of learning about our changing climate as one that can mirror common grief experiences.

Leave a Reply