October 6, 2019

Atheists Saving the Planet


I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it is going to take more than atheists to save our planet from what some are now calling a climate crisis. Let's engage in a bit of naive wish fulfillment for a moment and imagine that every atheist, agnostic, humanist, bright, freethinker, and atheistic Satanist (i.e., every secular person) was capable of setting aside our many differences and working together to address the threat of global climate change. I know, I'm sure I lost most of you at "setting aside our many differences" because it is abundantly clear that such a thing will never happen. But even if it did, there wouldn't be nearly enough of us in the U.S. to make a difference unless we were able to bring many religious believers on board.

As far-fetched as it seems that the great atheist horde would ever be willing to set aside our differences and work together, it is even harder to imagine some of us being willing to work productively with religious believers. This is a real shame. I'm not sure how we solve big problems unless this changes. To be honest, I fear the answer is that we don't.

I'm mentioning this because I recently saw a meme being circulated on social media by one of the well-known secular organizations calling for action around climate change. It made a point of saying that those of us who were concerned about this life (rather than the heaven or hell some imagine) need to come together to solve the problem. I understand the sentiment all too well. The problem is that if we are the only ones showing up, we've already failed. If we aren't willing to work alongside religious believers to solve a problem this big, we've already failed. We are going to have to persuade religious believers to work with us, and we are going to have to allow them to persuade us to work with them. To have any chance of success, climate change has to become a human issue and not merely a humanist issue. Atheists are not going to save the planet by ourselves.

It can be helpful to remember that not all Christians buy into the "end times" nonsense that is getting in the way. Most Christians do not believe that we should embrace inaction because the world is about to end. Some even say they believe they have a responsibility to care for what they think was created for them. Thus, we should have plenty of potential partners in solving the problem of climate change if we are willing to work together to advance shared goals.

Finally, this notion of shared goals is what is most important here. We do not need to agree with Christians on the subject of gods in order to work with them in accomplishing something we want to accomplish. They do not need to abandon their god-belief to work with us on something they want to accomplish either. I think it would help if both atheists and Christians could set aside the bigoted memes we often aim at one another on social media; however, I hold out little hope of this. And so, we'll need to figure out how to look past it if we are serious about solving some of the big problems facing us.