QUESTION: Does the Bible say anything about global warming or should we be concerned? Is a scenario like in the movie “Soylent Green” possible?
ANSWER: This is an interesting question that has some speculative answers. So first let me mention what is uncontroversial: the Bible is a creation friendly book that encourages good environmental stewardship. The earth and creation in general are called “good” by God several times (Gen 1:12, 18, 21). And our dual mandate is to rule and subdue the earth (Gen 1:28) and to tend and care for it (Gen 2:15). God is a benevolent manager and being made in His image, that’s the pattern we’re to imitate with the environment he gives us to live in.
Then sin comes along and junks up this plan and the result is not only that we fall out of harmony and uninterrupted fellowship with God and each other, we fall out of harmony with the good earth God made (Gen 3:17-19). Our sin has consequences for the natural order and now it’s in open revolt and we have often become users rather than managers of earth.
That’s not controversial, biblically speaking (contrary to those who assume the Bible encourages environmental pillaging), and there are examples of our fall and behavior leading to environmental damages recorded in biblical history long before our time, and mourned by the prophets. For example:
Because of this [sin] the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field and the birds of the air and the fish of the sea are dying. NIVHosea 4:3
So our current problem is really nothing new – the scale may be larger is all.
Now your question has a prophetic element to it and this is where it gets speculative. I gather that you wonder if the bible predicts environmental disaster for our future through global warming. And if it’s not mentioned in biblical prophecy, then we needn’t concern ourselves with it, perhaps?
If that’s the force of the question I would warn that whether or not global warming plays into biblical scenarios of the future, we ought to be as zealous as ever about the creation mandate. Any part of our use of God’s good (but broken) earth that is unsustainable is by definition, BAD management. Christians who take scripture seriously should work for sustainable stewardship of the only home we’re probably ever going to live on.
Having said that, there are some bible scholars who think that Scripture does refer repeatedly to a future where environmental devastation is predicted by prophets to play a key role in our future. Specifically there’s a reference to “fire” judgment, with the source of the problem being the sun, so it’s not a physical fire on earth:
The fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and the sun was given power to scorch people with fire. They were seared by the intense heat and they cursed the name of God… NIVRev 16:8-9
Whether this is global warming or our sun beginning to die or some other judgment that this is a metaphor for, is debated. But there it is. In fact, much of what the bible prophets write about the time of coming judgment looks like environmental devastation. One example is the repeated reference to sun and moon. Jesus himself said:
“Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ NIVMatt 24:29
Other similar references are Ezek 32:7-8, Joel 2:10-11, Joel 2:31, Isa 13:10, Matt 24:29, Luke 21:25, Rev 6:12, Rev 8:12. These verses all predict a day of a darkened sun and a red moon and they were written by 6 different authors over a period of 700 years! Speculating on what this means, we already know what sort of phenomena would cause celestial bodies to dim and the moon to appear red: increased haze in the atmosphere. Pollutants, green house gases, even water vapor through evaporating oceans. The effect you see of a red moon rising on the horizon is a result of the light having to travel through more atmosphere and particulate matter to reach your eye, thus the dim, reddish glow.
It may be possible that the Bible predicts a future when this effect is magnified and causes global devastation. Is this simply divine judgment or human intervention? It could be both. It is entirely consistent with God’s methods of discipline that he would simply make us lie down on a bed of our own making. It’s how God judges us now. (Rom 1:28). He “gives us over” to selfish ways and suffer the consequences for those decisions to not go God’s way.
If we continue to forget this, it would not be shocking to find ourselves someday reaping a terrible harvest for the seeds of earth mismanagement we’ve sown – and that this may play into final judgments that precede “the Day of the Lord”.
In the meantime, even if our future contains such horrible destruction from pervasive disobedience to God’s creation mandate, it is for God to know those times and dates and it’s for us who wish to love God to obey God’s creation mandate no matter what. Sustainability is a very overused word, but it is the right word to define proper usage of resources from God’s good earth. Any environmental management that cannot be sustained indefinitely, is by definition rapacious, gluttonous, and greedy because it steals from the future well-being of others so I can live better today. (The federal budget has been managed by this exact same selfish outlook for many decades.)
“Soylent Green” is a movie that tackles overpopulation. That scenario is not really addressed in Scripture. There is actually massive depopulation predicted in the book of Revelation (Rev 9:18, Rev 14:20). That may or may not assume an enormous starting population. Problems with the food supply are discussed vaguely in Revelation, but those seem to relate to the policies of totalitarian regimes, not too many mouths to feed (Rev 13:17).
Ironically, the 1966 novel that the movie “Soylent Green” was built on predicted 40 million people crammed into NY City by the year 1999, which obviously hasn’t happened. So grim predictions of apocalypse through overpopulation are still a ways off. And in places like Germany, Spain, France, Japan and Russia, the governments wringing their hands and paying their citizens to have kids because they’re in negative population growth situations (minus immigration). And of course the true antagonist of the movie is really less about too many people as it is the horrifying acts of tyrannical, unaccountable governments – spoiler alert: “Soylent Green is people!!!”
So we can’t know for sure what role global warming plays in God’s future visions of judgment. We CAN commit in the present to manage the earth well no matter where this is going. While there’s debate about how much humans are causing global warming, it seems to me that reducing, reusing and recycling should be uncontroversial, good management principles that enhance sustainability of our earth – and enhance financial solvency which is something that cannot hurt our over-leveraged pocketbooks.