A Political Theology of Climate Change, by Michael S. Northcott

Imagine the homes and cities of nearly half of the world’s population under water; the Amazon rainforest turned into a desert; and most of the western United States, Mexico, North and South Africa, southern Europe, and Australia rendered uninhabitable and useless for agriculture. This is not the background of the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but a collection of predictions shared by many climate scientists and discussed in a major World Bank report titled Turn Down the Heat, published in 2012.

Given the contested nature of climate change science in the United States and the deeply politicized nature of related public policy, many Americans dismiss these reports as sensationalized attempts at fearmongering. Christian ethicist Michael Northcott sees the use of apocalyptic imagery in the climate debate very differently.

Northcott highlights how “climate apocalyptic” serves three functions similar to those of New Testament apocalyptic. First, it unveils or demonstrates the ways in which humanity’s actions are influencing and reshaping the natural world. Second, it warns that although changes in the planet and its atmosphere may have a disproportionately damaging impact on the world’s poor and the marginalized, they will also harm the world’s elite. Third, it is a call and an opportunity for moral and political transformation.