A Christian's Perspective on Climate Change: Conventional Energy Sources Are Necessary for Developing Nations’ Poor

By Vijay Jayaraj | March 1, 2016 | 11:27 AM EST

President Barack Obama delivers remarks during the COP21, United Nations Climate Change Conference, in Le Bourget, outside Paris, on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Global warming has been making headlines consistently during the past two decades. The subject impacts global economic policies and thereby our everyday lifestyle. Amidst the smoke in the battleground arises the moral call of Christians to function as responsible stewards of creation.

But how does climate change impact the marginalized of the world? What can we, as followers of Christ, do for the environment and the poor?

The recent developments at the Paris climate change conference saw unprecedented commitments (though not legally enforceable) by global states to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Their impact is likely to disrupt development in poor countries.

Developing countries can’t afford more expensive, lower-yield energy technologies. They, like developed nations, rely predominantly on conventional energy sources like coal and nuclear to foster their growing industries. Without the growth of these industries, improved livelihood in poor countries is highly unlikely.

A considerable section of the population in developing countries remains below the poverty line. Let’s consider India for example—my country. Fifty-one percent of households in rural areas survive on manual labor as the primary source of income. Last year, a first-of-its kind socio-economic survey revealed that poverty is the way of life for 70 percent of India’s 1.25 billion population living in rural areas.

My country has fought against poverty for the past six decades, yet there have been no positive changes in the rural poverty index. India needs development policies that will propel its industries forward—industries that are dependent on clean, affordable, reliable, conventional sources of energy.

But we are being pressured to move in the opposite direction. The transition from conventional to renewables will be disastrous to the economy. This is so obvious that—even in a developed country like the United States—the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) stayed the proposed transition from coal to renewables.

Christians must speak on energy issues that impact the poor. The Scripture calls for the church to attend to the needs of the poor, marginalized, and afflicted. We all know that the global Christian body is involved in mercy missions locally and globally. But our call to help the poor extends beyond sending food aids and monetary help. The rescue of those oppressed in slavery is a fine example of this. Similarly, it’s high time that we advocate for development policies that truly lift people out of poverty.

When asked about the most important commandment, Jesus answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37–39). When I look around, I see neighbors who are directly impacted by drastic changes to development policies. I see the poor and marginalized who need the support and advocacy of their fellow humans.

In light of the astronomical changes to energy policies that are being proposed, and with regard to the Christian voice that needs to be heard within policymaking bodies, the most loving deed we Christians can do is to advocate for the environmentally safe policies that will address the livelihood of the poor and the marginalized of the world, including those in the developed West.

As a Christian student of environmental science, I believe clean conventional energy sources (such as coal and nuclear energy) are the lifeline of our civilization. Do coal-based energy sources pose an imminent threat to the globe by increasing temperature levels? Real-world observations, instead of computer climate models, suggest that the answer is no.

Vijay Jayaraj (M.S., Environmental Science) is the Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation. He currently lives in Udumalpet, India.