Living in End Times: Denialism, Pentecostalism and Climate Science

Dec 20, 2020

Are we living in End Times? We are according to the Pentecostal eschatology to which Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister Stuart Robert, and some other Coalition MPs apparently subscribe.

Religious End Times may not be the same as secular end times but they have in common the prospect that the end of human life on Earth may be imminent. So are we living in end times as well? According to leading climate scientists we are unless emergency action is taken to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

On 1 December 2020, Christiana Figueres, who was intimately involved in climate-change negotiations for several years leading up to and including the Paris Agreement of 2015, said the world was waiting patiently for Australia to end its “suicidal” climate wars. To this she added: “I have been pretty vocal about my frustration for so many years of the completely unstable, volatile, unpredictable stand and position on climate change in Australia”.

Figueres is only one of several distinguished overseas commentators currently fingering Australia as a pariah because of its denialism and inaction on global heating. To add insult to injury, Scott Morrison was blocked from speaking at the Climate Ambition Summit 2020 hosted by Britain, France, Chile, Italy and the UN on 12 December; Australia was internationally judged to have too little ambition!

Several of the factors behind Australia’s unenviable position are well documented. Over a period of two to three decades, a loose network of powerful and influential climate-change deniers and climate-science sceptics sought to stall any effective action on greenhouse gas emissions.

A thoroughly excellent account of the identity and activities of these influencers is given in Marion Wilkinson’s recent book The Carbon Club. Chief among the dramatis personae were Tony Abbott, Hugh Morgan, Ray Evans, Gina Rinehart, Nick Minchin, Andrew Robb, Maurice Newman, Ian Plimer, Andrew Bolt and Alan Jones. Only three of these were Liberal MPs, the others were powerful outside influencers. Perhaps the most powerful of the outsiders was Hugh Morgan, for many years the CEO of Western Mining. Wilkinson describes him as “a doyen of the Melbourne Liberal Party establishment and the godfather of the Australian Right”. The Institute of Public Affairs and the Murdoch media also played important roles in preventing action on climate change.

Turning to currently serving MPs, climate-change and global-heating deniers, sceptics or action-minimisers include Matthew Canavan, George Christensen, Pauline Hanson, Barnaby Joyce, Craig Kelly, Michael McCormack, Scott Morrison, Gerard Rennick, Malcolm Roberts and Angus Taylor. Taylor may be more of a minimiser than a denier but his utterances at the COP25 conference in Madrid in December 2019 caused international dismay. This, together with his advocacy of a “gas-led recovery”, cannot disguise that the inclusion of the words “Emissions Reduction” in his ministerial title is a rather perverse irony.

Morrison, if not a closet denier, is at least a minimiser of action on global heating. Early in his prime ministership he was reluctant to let the words “climate change” pass his lips. However, in the wake of the catastrophic bush fires of the 2019/20 summer, this abstinence became more difficult. In dealing with global heating, Morrison has a great, substantially hidden problem which most Australians fail to appreciate. As a result of this problem he has been forced for the sake of public appearances and political astuteness to say things that the inner-Morrison very probably doesn’t believe. Perhaps the wearing of two faces is not too difficult a burden for a marketing man!

The name of his problem and source of his climate-change conflict is Pentecostalism.

On 25 May 2019, exactly one week after Morrison won the federal election on 18 May, the following letter was published over my name in a national newspaper: – “Scott Morrison said on election night: ‘I have always believed in miracles’. That is precisely why he represents a danger to Australia’s future.  Morrison regards his religion as a ‘private matter’ but happily allows the media to show him in church. He is an avowed adherent of Pentecostalism, some tenets of which many would regard as extreme, and, in the context of his lack of enthusiasm for effective action on climate change, highly dangerous if not sinister. Pentecostals believe in the existence of the Devil and Hell, and that the Bible is literally true and inerrant. Key elements of their eschatology are that we are living in End Times (nearing the end of history) and that the Second Coming is imminent. They envisage a continual tension between the forces of good and evil but Jesus will soon return bringing Rapture to Christian believers and consigning Satan (and non-believers) to Hell. What should be of great concern is that Morrison may well believe it is pointless to try and save the Earth as ‘The Lord’ has other plans. He may well consider there is no point in mere mortals like you and me campaigning for greenhouse gas abatement because the fate of the Earth and humanity will be determined by the interaction of such supernatural forces as the Devil and the imminent return of Jesus Christ. These are very disturbing thoughts and provide a good reason to ask: is our Prime Minister a closet doomsday cultist?”

As Morrison happy-claps and calls out in Sydney’s Hillsong Church on Sundays it is safe to assume that his mind is more on the anticipated pleasures of End-Time Rapture than emissions reduction.

What is climate science currently saying about the possibility that we humans could be living in end times? I have partially read Mark Lynas’ recent book Our Final Warning: Six Degrees of Climate Emergency. This book has six chapters: the first labeled “One Degree” and the last “Six Degrees”. The reference is, of course, to increasing degrees Centigrade in the mean global surface temperature over the 1850-1900 level. We passed the 1.0 degree mark at around 2015, and with us currently standing at 1.2 degrees the evidence of global heating is almost everywhere to be found. I confess to not having read the whole of the book: I could see little point in continuing past the end of the Three Degrees chapter. In the words of Bill McKibben, the latter part of this book has a rather “pornographic” quality about it! I am happy to accept the statement on the back cover that: “at six degrees a mass extinction of unparalleled proportions sweeps the planet, even raising the threat of the end of all life on Earth.”

The two opening sentences of Lynas’ book read: “When I started writing this book I thought that we could probably survive climate change. Now I am not so sure.” One of his key paragraphs reads: “If we stay on the current business-as-usual trajectory, we could see two degrees as soon as the early 2030s, three degrees around mid-century, and four degrees by 2075 or so. If we’re unlucky with positive feedbacks — from thawing permafrost in the Arctic or collapsing tropical rainforests, then we could be in for five or even six degrees by the century’s end.” We may pass the 1.5 degrees crucial to the Paris Agreement as early as 2025. In The New York Review of Books, Bill McKibben praises the Lynas book as “impeccably sourced” and notes that: “Two degrees will not be twice as bad as one, or three degrees three times as bad. The damage is certain to increase exponentially, not linearly, because the Earth will move past grave tipping points as we slide up this thermometer.”

As an octogenarian, Pentecostal End Times causes me no worry about my several grandchildren but possible climate-science end times does.

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