Why Climate Change Rhetoric Fails with Evangelicals

Why Climate Change Rhetoric Fails with Evangelicals

It occurred to me in the process of thinking about the similarities between much of the rhetoric used by those screaming about anthropogenic climate change and “rapture watchers” that the very fact that their rhetoric is so simple is one reason that climate change arguments will remain unconvincing for most dispensationalist Evangelicals. It’s not so much that these Evangelicals are taking a “the world’s going to burn anyway, so who cares” approach. On the contrary, it’s that the arguments for anthropogenic climate change and the dangers of greenhouse gas emissions—an increase in the frequency and intensity of natural disasters and ecological problems—are exactly the same arguments used as “signs of the times” by many Evangelicals.

As a result, the more climate change preachers point to what Evangelicals see as “signs of the times,” the more they paradoxically reinforce the end-times beliefs of those they’re trying to persuade. The more they point to increased natural disasters, etc., the more it has exactly the opposite of the desired effect. The whole process is in line with the concept of “field” and struggle for social capital as formulated by French philosopher Pierre Bourdieu, with two competing players (paradigms in this case) making claims to the same rhetorical capital. But because each paradigm is entrenched and lays claim to the same data to reinforce itself, there is no real chance of one overthrowing the other with that data. Rather, only once one paradigm is completely overthrown can the other lay claim to the data in question. If each side is actually concerned with convincing the other as opposed to simply reinforcing its own base (which is often the real goal), the continued use of this kind of apocalyptic rhetoric is bound to fail.

What makes this even more ironic, however, is that (as we’ve already addressed) there is no evidence for increased frequency or intensity of natural disasters (at most, there are cyclical ebbs and flows), so the rhetoric on both sides cherry picks essentially the same anecdotal evidence to support opposing alarmist paradigms.

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