Gary Varvel: Why this evangelical is not afraid of climate change

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Gary VarvelOn Nov. 11, Indiana got a record snowfall for that date: 2.8 inches. Bitterly cold temperatures covered most of the lower 48 states and it got me thinking about the impact of climate change.

According to a Sep. 13 article in The Washington Post, 40% of Americans believe climate change is a crisis—up from 25% five years ago. Eight out of 10 believe human activity caused climate change and roughly half, including Greta Thunberg, want us to do something to stop it.

Let’s be honest, who has time to study climate science or test the data? Therefore, we’re all being asked to believe the claims of the climate change alarmists. But here are three reasons why evangelicals like me are not concerned.

1. Scientists’ false predictions

In 1970, Life magazine reported that scientists predicted: “In a decade, urban dwellers will have to wear gas masks to survive air pollution. … By 1985, air pollution will have reduced the amount of sunlight reaching earth by one half.” Wrong.

In 2008, Al Gore told a German audience, “The entire North polar ice cap may well be completely gone in five years.” Wrong.

The same year, ABC’s Bob Woodruff hyped “Earth 2100,” an apocalyptic special that predicted a futuristic 2015 where New York City would be under water. Wrong again.

These scare tactics have been used since the 1960s. We’ve been warned about over-population, resource scarcity, deforestation, famine, global cooling, then global warming, floods, hurricanes. And what solutions are proposed? Increasing the regulatory powers of the state.

So when I hear Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez promote the Green New Deal and say we only have 12 years left, my eyes roll.

2. My faith in God

Recently Rush Limbaugh told his audience, “It is my devout belief in God that gives me every bit of confidence that man is not destroying—and furthermore, cannot—destroy the climate.”

I agree. I’ve studied and taught the Bible and I believe its claims that God created and sustains his creation. Colossians 1:15-17 says, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

God holds his creation together—not us. I don’t have enough faith to believe that the universe created itself out of nothing. That’s why I’m not afraid of the apocalyptic forecasts. People can’t destroy the Earth and we can’t save it, either.

3. Poor messaging

In 2015, President Obama wrote in his proclamation for Earth Day, “Today, our planet faces new challenges, but none pose a greater threat to future generations than climate change. … As a nation, we must act before it is too late.”

Act before it’s too late? If he really believed his own words, he wouldn’t have bought a $14.85 million beachside estate on Martha’s Vineyard, given that it’s supposed to be under water in a few years. Actions speak louder than words.

So when scientists, politicians and media proponents fly around the world on private jets telling us we must reduce our carbon footprint, I like to draw a cartoon pointing out the hypocrisy.

Now, please excuse me, but I’m going to turn up the thermostat.•

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Varvel is a political cartoonist and illustrator who retired from The Indianapolis Star last year. Send comments to [email protected]


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23 thoughts on “Gary Varvel: Why this evangelical is not afraid of climate change

  1. Gary Varvel is as much of an embarrassment to this paper as he was to the Star. Yet another bible-thumping, scientifically-illerate, christo-fascist waste of human flesh, of which IN seems to have more than its fair share. A cheap Pence knock-off…with the exact same hair.

    1. Absolutely agree! A self-proclaimed business journal including this kind of anti-science (and therefore, anti-business) nonsense diminishes the value of the brand and disseminates exactly the wrong kind of information to keep Indiana on pace to succeed in years to come.

    2. Commander Bob P! So great to hear from you again. Please be sure to comment on the great work Micah Clark is doing with the BMV on suppressing the LGBT minority in IN. So well done. You all are doing the Lord’s work, truly.

  2. Great insights! Back in the 70’s, scientists were predicting another ice age! Then came global warming and now just climate change. Many scientists do not agree with man-made climate change. The media seems to focus only on the alarmists.

  3. “Let’s be honest, who has time to study climate science or test the data?” Not me. So I’ll just stick my head in the sand and rely on fairy tales. A lot of people view ignorance as a virtue, but not many articulate it as well as Varvel. Go back to drawing racist cartoons. I don’t know why the IBJ feels this viewpoint needs to be shared – certainly there are better justifications for pretending problems don’t exist.

    1. Mr. Varvel, you claim to have studied and taught the Bible. Did God not make us stewards of his creation? Are we not charged by Him with taking care of this gift he has created for us?

  4. How much do we really know about the weather? Even the 7 day forecasts are wildly inaccurate; temperature and precipitation reports differ greatly over fairly confined areas. If temperatures are said to be rising, why do I constantly see references to record highs that are back close to 100 years ago? Why are we setting records for low temperatures?
    What records are climate scientists using to compare today’s weather with that of centuries prior, let alone the 1950’s? My recollection is that it gets cold every winter, it gets hot every summer, it rains in the spring. Some years are better than others; some are worse. Maybe a 2 degree rise in the temperature will be catastrophic, but maybe it is just a return to more normal temperatures…how do they really know?

    1. Stephen, if you want to comment on settled science, perhaps you should read about climate change. Note that the concept looks at the average temperatures from the entire planet not temperatures reported by television talent. Don’t criticize what you know nothing about. Note also that down through the ages, religion has condemned scientists for heresy because they postulated scientific theories that conflicted with the then current religious dogma – Galileo and Darwin, etc. Now, science is being assailed by certain, but not all, religions. I hope you and others who share your religious beliefs will read more.

    2. Lester- I made no mention of religious beliefs. You mention average temperatures from the entire planet; where are those measurements taken, when are (and were) they taken, and what are they being compared with? My whole point is that scientists don’t know for certain what happened in the past, and they sure don’t know what is going to happen in the future. I have no problem with doing whatever we can to protect the environment, but mandating actions that can’t be proven to have any lasting effects makes no sense.

  5. How interesting that some of those who disagree with Gary Varvel find it necessary to resort to nastiness and/or vulgarity in expressing their disagreement. Is this because they have a limited civil vocabulary with which to express their disagreement? Are they so moved because Gary Varvel has the temerity to invoke God as a reason for his belief? Whatever the reason they only shame themselves by using such words.

  6. Billy Graham always had a helpful word. He notes that Christians should be the most concerned about taking care of the environment since God commands it.

    https://billygraham.org/answer/does-the-bible-say-anything-about-taking-care-of-the-environment-i-have-some-passionate-friends-who-claim-the-bible-is-anti-environmental-are-they-right/

    I like the answers on science from Purdue’s Center for Climate Change. The IBJ should hold a deep concern as well for how global warming has already begun to impact Indiana crops, floods, animals and family farms as well as for what the future could hold–regardless of the theology.
    https://ag.purdue.edu/indianaclimate/

  7. I find it interesting that “the media” only listens to the alarmists, and then Varvel goes on to quote all of the alarmist articles that have been printed in the last 50 years. There is some solid science to climate change, and too bad he uses his belief in God to justify his ongoing ignorance.

    Tell that to guys in Key West who now use hip waders to navigate their neighborhood because the warming Atlantic Ocean is slowing down the Gulf Stream current and has raised sea levels by several inches and it has remained that way for twice 40 days and 40 nights.

  8. As I started to read this piece, I initially thought it was a parody piece. I completely disagree, I think it’s an incredibly poorly thought out piece and find faulty logic in all three of the premises laid out:

    1. Of course science makes errors and politicians spin to achieve desired results. However, it’s willfully ignorant or even willfully destructive to rely upon cherry-picking such occurrences as justification to disregard overwhelming evidence that is contrary to certain self interests. It is not logical to side with the 3% of remaining climate change deniers based on the offered rationale. And if anyone believes that the climate modeling and carbon measuring tools we have today are only equivalent to those in 1970…..

    What has the 97% of climate scientists alarmed is not CHANGE in and of itself, but rather, the RATE of that change coupled with its coincidence with rising levels of CO2 in the Earth’s atmosphere which happens to be coincident with the commencement of the industrial revolution and heavy consumption of fossil fuels. Of course, one of the arguments against this suggestion of linkage is that solid proof of causation has not been demonstrated. Seemingly like arguing that cigarette smoking isn’t necessarily harmful since we’ve never seen someone keel over after immediately after a puff.

    The other logical fallacy here is that it disregards the impact of course corrections and improvements implemented by humans since those statements were made. Ironically, the statement from Life magazine was made in 1970, the same year The Clean Air Act was passed. As for just general distaste for regulation, ask the grandfather who experienced the elation of watching his 18 year old granddaughter give her commencement class’ valedictory address last spring solely because of a seat belt and because the airbag deployed in a car collision what he thinks of those safety enhancements – both required by regulation. Or ask dear friends of mine whose 30 year old son was born with a spinal cord defect and thus has never walked whether or not they believe the ADA helped to make the US a little more equitable place for millions with disabilities over the last 30 years.

    2. I too believe in God. But the God I believe in does not promote fiddling while Rome burns. The God that I believe in has generously bestowed us all with skills and intelligence and talent and he expects us to use those for the good of our fellow man both today and for future generations. I recall reading with horror as a child back in the early 1970s that Lake Erie was dead. God didn’t do that – we did. Now there are game fish in lake Erie and God didn’t do that directly, either – he gave humans the talent to figure it out and implement changes such as the Clean Water Act.

    God has given mankind the talent and intelligence to course correct in many ways over our history, not for the better in every instance but as a net positive over time. Perhaps the statement that people can’t destroy the Earth and we can’t save it either is nominally true, but people absolutely can have a destructive impact and understanding and adjusting to damage once recognized represents conservation of God’s gifts for our children and grandchildren. Suggesting that faith in God gives license to squander limited resources disregards God’s call for us to act with humility.

    I’m certain it’s possible to also cherry-pick Bible verses calling for us to act as good stewards of God’s creation, Earth. Color me a skeptic in citing Rush Limbaugh, a commentator and entertainer, as either a climate science expert or a faith leader. I will cite Pope Francis, however, “….there can be no sincere and enduring resolution to the challenge of the ecological crisis and climate change unless the response is concerted and collective, unless the responsibility is shared and accountable, unless we give priority to solidarity and service.”

    3. It’s not clear to me how criticism of messaging is a rationale for dismissing concerns about the future of the planet – it seems more like an excuse. In the Martha’s Vineyard example, one has not nearly enough information – what is the elevation of the property, what kind of flood control measures are already in place, what can be predicted about storm surges in that location, what is the anticipated time horizon of ownership, etc. to draw a conclusion about the messaging of a real estate transaction. And, I wasn’t exactly a fan of President Obama, for all we know that decision may be bad judgment and relying on it to support a conclusion regarding whether or not our world is becoming a more inhospitable place and our own role in causing that to happen makes little logical sense to me.

    As for the other reference to climate scientists’ means of travel, I have no idea who flies private vs. commercial. Certainly travel burns fossil fuel, but if it takes an airplane to get some experts from MIT to share their study work at a symposium at my alma mater just up I-65, then that’s a cost of moving the science forward and the cost seems justified through the potential leverage it brings. Not much different from the oncologist who has to accept damage to the patient’s immune system in order to save the patient’s life with chemotherapy.

    Finally, on messaging, it is highly ironic that I read this opinion piece on the very day that the World Meteorological Organization reported that CO2 levels have reached a new record high. Or, perhaps that’s just more of the climate conspiracy being foisted on us by the scientists………

    1. Superbly written and argued rebuttal to Varvel’s column. One can only hope that he has “ears to hear (eventually).”

  9. Commander Bob P! So great to hear from you again. Please be sure to comment on the great work Micah Clark is doing with the BMV on suppressing the LGBT minority in IN. So well done. You all are doing the Lord’s work, truly.

  10. Billy Graham always had a helpful word. He has stated that Christians should be the most concerned about taking care of the environment since God commands it. This is from the archives of the Billy Graham Association on his theology.

    “In fact, of all people, Christians should be the most concerned for the environment.
    Why is this? The reason is because Christians know God created the world, and we are only its stewards or trustees. The very first verse of the Bible says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). When we see the world as a gift from God, we will do our best to take care of it and use it wisely, instead of poisoning or destroying it.”

    I like the answers on science from Purdue’s Center for Climate Change. The IBJ should hold a deep concern as well for how global warming has already begun to impact Indiana crops, floods, animals and family farms as well as for what the future could hold–regardless of the theology.
    https://ag.purdue.edu/indianaclimate/

  11. As a lifelong practicing Christian, steeped in the protestant tradition, Bible study, and theology, I take exception to Gary Varvel’s suggestion that “faith in God” supports climate change denial, and his incoherent assertion that the Bible somehow teaches that man in fact “ cannot . . . destroy the climate.” God is not a puppeteer who will manipulate human activity or the world to prevent catastrophe. Rather, God created humankind with free will and responsibility, intended but not compelled to be a good steward of the earth.

    We all can cite many examples of human-wrought catastrophe that God did not intervene to prevent — the violence and suffering caused by wars and genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries; the accelerating rate of species extinctions and loss of biodiversity caused by human exploitation and habitat destruction; the poisoning of ecosystems with chemical spills and intentional discharges; and — yes — climate change. A naive belief that God will act in the eleventh hour to reverse human-caused damage allows the so-called faithful to remain complacent and to continue “business as usual” in the irresponsible exploitation of earth’s resources.

    Renowned Christian theologian Walter Brueggemann makes the point in his classic text, The Prophetic Imagination, that the work of the community of faith entails both what he calls “prophetic energizing” and “prophetic criticism.” Prophetic energizing is the expression of hope and belief in God’s promises for the future (similar to what Varvel was trying to express); prophetic criticism is a radical calling out of all that is wrong with the current situation. Brueggemann says that “real criticism begins in the capacity to grieve because that is the most visceral announcement that things are not right. . . . Bringing hurt to public expression is an important first step in the dismantling criticism that permits a new reality, theological and social, to emerge.”

    Varvel’s simplistic outlook skips this essential step, and hence amounts to the sort of “cheap grace” denounced by another leading Christian voice of the twentieth century, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. “Cheap grace” is the easy path that shirks responsibility and pretends that everything is and will be OK without action or change on our part.

    Articles like Varvel’s only serve to feed the widespread and growing perception that Christianity is a narrow and irrelevant religion.