On September 1st of 2021, Hurricane Ida had rumbled its way up the continental United States from the Gulf of Mexico into the Northeast. Only a month into our new apartment, my wife and I received tornado warnings on our phones for the Philadelphia area. After a quick Google search, we found out, according to the tolerable false prophets we call weathermen, that our residence fell in the red trapezoidal zone of windy ruin, which, I have to admit, did slightly make us nervous. But all went well, and the trees outside only mildly shivered amidst the gray and rainy sky.
In the following days, news reports of major flooding in Philadelphia and New York flooded social media feeds (pun very much intended). Cars were under water, highways were untraversable, and waterproof souls waded through submerged sidewalks. In the wake of Ida, the sleeping druid prophets of doom were thus called from their groves to announce that Ida was another apocalyptic sign of our impending global catastrophe: climate change.
One such druid prophet is Tom Woodman, a writer for The Spectator. He recently published an article titled “Having A Child is the Grandest Act of Climate Destruction,” and spoke on an episode of the podcast The Edition, likewise pleasantly titled, “Baby-Doomers: Why Are Couples Putting the Planet Ahead of Parenthood.” In his article, Woodman proclaims a new message of climate-change-doom: want to save the world? Don’t have children.
Indeed, children are seen primarily as snow-shoes which make one’s carbon footprint three times as large. Woodman does, however, pose an interesting dilemma: if an ever-increasing population contributes and quickens climate change, should the current generation of men and women refrain from having children? And if they do have children, does that mean that parents are bringing their children into a worsening world, rendering every parent incapable of protecting their offspring? Such provocative questions ought to be answered through the lens of Scripture and on the grounds of the Christian worldview.
Worldview & Environment
There are two very concrete issues that require our attention if we are to provide an adequate answer to the druid prophets of doom, who apparently have discovered an overgrown idol of Molech in their entangled groves. Those two concrete issues are the environment and the family, specifically the children of families. Let us first focus on the environment.
Our environment, generally speaking, is the sum of our external surroundings. Environment in this sense can range from an urban center to an Idaho dude ranch, or from a Brazilian favela to a Mediterranean island. Environment, in the sense that Woodman is using, is more specifically focused on natural and ecological environments. Environment in this sense is more directed to the Amazon rainforest, the Siberian tundra, or the Great Barrier Reef. Although the division between general environment and natural environment is not a sharp one, the impact of global climate change is most perceptible in the deterioration of natural environments and ecosystems; the ever-spreading asphalt of urban sprawl is more difficult to perceive, not to mention less sensationalized, than the melting of the polar ice caps, for example.
It is inevitable that humans interact with the environment they find themselves in. In some measure, humans contribute to the growth, alteration, or demise to both the general and natural environments surrounding them. Whether it is constructing a new suburb, throwing away an empty tube of toothpaste, or simply flushing the toilet, humans inevitably leave a mark on their environment.
The critical question for human environmental impact in this context is if the collective impact of humanity is contributing to global climate change. Unfortunately, this issue is loaded with both scientific jargon and political baggage, so it will not be addressed in full detail here. Let us assume here, however, that global climate change is in fact occurring. Woodman obviously believes that humanity is the sickness causing the feverish symptoms of our planet, and thereby argues that the best way to minimize and mitigate global warming is by simply producing less of the virus that is humanity.
To briefly address this notion that humanity is the main cause or reason for why the earth’s general temperature is rising, it is imperative to understand from out of the gate some basic logical rules and fallacies. The simplest and most relevant is correlation does not equal causation. An easy Google search will uncover an entire webpage devoted to some of the most (purposefully) ridiculous correlation graphs, one of which being the number of people drowning in a pool correlating directly with the number of films that Nicolas Cage appears in. In our context of global warming, there is most definitely a correlation between the increasing human population and its environmental impact (which primarily consists of burning fossil fuels and the distribution of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere) and the general increase of the earth’s temperature. However, at bottom, correlation does not equal causation, no matter how plausible a plot chart may seem. In short, I think it is best to assume, for the purposes of this article, that humans are in fact contributing to the warming of the planet, but this is not the sole or greatest cause of such warming. For all we know, the planet may be in a natural cycle of warming anyway.
This being said, we can come to the heart of the matter. Woodman and I can come to an agreement concerning the environmental impact of humanity (although we may disagree about the extent and role of that impact in the overall scheme of things), but how are we to practically respond to this? Woodman has proposed that we lessen our negative environmental impact, specifically by not having children, so that we can preserve the life of the human race for future generations. I, on the other hand, along with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, can likewise affirm our roles as stewards over God’s creation. But we ultimately understand that this world is not our home, and we desire and look forward to a better country (Hebrews 11:16). Indeed, if polar ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising, then these events are happening in perfect accordance with God’s sovereign will and perfect wisdom. Put another way, God is sovereign over death and calamity, and this world is groaning for its renewal with the adoption of the sons of glory (Romans 8:19-22). Therefore, what the world and its environment needs is not fewer people to “ruin” it by their carbon footprints; the world needs more children of God who leave their blessed footprints over all nations as they share the good news of Jesus Christ (Romans 10:15). This leads us to our next main subject: children
Children: Future Conquerors or Doomed Victims?
Woodman embraces an environmental-pessimism in regards to the role and impact of children on the earth’s climate change: “If you’re serious about reducing your climate footprint, there is nothing more powerful you can do than decide not to have kids…. If you accept that flying around the world and burning fossil fuels is an act of climate destruction, then it stands to reason that — to dip back into melodrama for a minute — having a child is the grandest act of climate destruction I can easily commit.” If Christians are concerned about the environment and its potential future impact on the lives of the generations to come, should they thus follow the pessimistic sentiments of Woodman? The answer to this question is an emphatic no.
First, echoing the point above, Christians understand that this world is not our home, and we in fact are waiting for a better one. We have no duty to operate under the ethical supremacy of survival as Woodman does. The Darwinian ethic has permeated our culture through and through, to a point that mere survival is often seen as the summum bonum of life. The summum bonum of the Christian, on the other hand, is the glory of God, which will become most manifest in the consummation of all things in the new heavens and new earth under the absolute and universal reign of Christ. Therefore, Christians ought not to refrain from having children for the postulated environmental consequences of the ever-nearing future; instead, they ought to populate the earth with servants of God who will, according to God’s sovereign providence, become fellow vice-regents for the Kingdom of Christ. Christians possess an eschatological hope for the future, which is inextricably tied with their covenantal children and their future descendants. Woodman and his fellow druids despairingly look at the inevitable doom of this ruined and broken planet.
Second, children are seen as a profound blessing according to Scripture. Psalm 127 testifies to this reality: “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate” (v3-5). Children are seen as an inheritance, as a reward, as sharp arrows, and as the means of blessing and honor. Charles Spurgeon provides eloquent commentary on these verses.
This points to another mode of building up a house, namely, by leaving descendants to keep our name and family alive upon the earth. Without this what is a man’s purpose in accumulating wealth! To what purpose does he build a house if he has none in his household to hold the house after him? What boots it that he is the possessor of broad acres if he has no heir? Yet in this matter a man is powerless without the Lord. The great Napoleon, with all his sinful care on this point, could not create a dynasty. Hundreds of wealthy persons would give half their estates if they could hear the cry of a babe born of their bodies. Children are a heritage which Jehovah himself must give, or a man will die childless, and thus his house will be unbuilt.
The Lord himself is the One who possesses power of life and death, especially the life of the womb (Psalm 139:13-16). And as Spurgeon makes clear, we are not only completely and utterly powerless to create and sustain such wondrous life, but we are also left without meaningful posterity and wealth without them. Of particular relevance to Woodman, Spurgeon goes on:
He gives children, not as a penalty nor as a burden, but as a favor. They are a token for good if men know how to receive them, and educate them. They are “doubtful blessings” only because we are doubtful persons. Where society is rightly ordered children are regarded, not as an incumbrance, but as an inheritance; and they are received, not with regret, but as a reward. If we are overcrowded in England, and so seem to be embarrassed with too large an increase, we must remember that the Lord does not order us to remain in this narrow island, but would have us fill those boundless regions which wait for the axe and the plough. Yet even here, with all the straits of limited incomes, our best possessions are our own dear offspring, for whom we bless God every day.
Notice two major points made by Spurgeon here: 1) a rightly ordered society sees children as a rich inheritance, not as potential resource-consumers and pollution-emitters, contrary to Woodman; 2) if your particular region becomes overcrowded, send your children out in the name of the Lord as the missionary pilgrims that they are. Indeed, a crowded 19th century England is certainly different from a crowded and depleted planet, but the principle still remains: if the day comes when science fiction becomes a reality, if the day comes when our apocalyptic predictions are stunted, if the day comes when the Cultural Mandate is applied to the heavens and the galaxies therein, then our covenantal children will be the vice-regents who trail-blaze Christ’s Kingdom across the stars.
Lastly, in philosophical offense to Woodman, why should pessimism be the default attitude toward children in the first place? Is it not equally viable to believe, more optimistically, that our future children may be the ones to develop new technology, discover new resources, and find amazing solutions to the problems that have plagued our generation? Woodman seems to imply a generational determinism in one hand, while grasping optimistic environmental activism in the other. Such a paradoxical dual-wielding is akin to using a caulking gun in one hand and a saw in the other in order to hammer a nail. And how can one be so sure that the efforts of today will stop the tragedies of tomorrow? Many climate-related doomsday predictions have failed; what grants climate change reversal predictions any better odds? The logical and all too human principle undergirds both doomsday and reversal predictions: humans do not know the future, much less control it. It is a very real possibility that any and all environmental activism is all for naught. Furthermore, Woodman’s attitude and approach to climate change activism is not only to the neglect of children and family, but it is also to the oppression of impoverished communities and regions. It has often been pointed out that Western superpowers have taken on a rather arrogant view in regards to their pursuit to impede climate change. This is the case because America and other powerful nations have worked against other less powerful nations which are beginning or developing their own industrial revolution. In short, Woodman’s understanding of climate change and activism is fraught with political, scientific, and philosophical difficulties.
Christian Dominion and Stewardship
If we have safely interpreted the druid prophets of doom and their wailing from a biblical perspective, we know we need not echo their apocalyptic despair, especially by sacrificing our future generations. How, then, is the Christian to apply his understanding of the natural environment and climate change? Here are a few brief thoughts:
Firstly, God made all things intrinsically good when he created them. Because of the fall of Adam, creation has been subjected to evil and pain. Therefore, Christians ought to recognize the inherent goodness of creation, and also strive to not purposefully contribute to its degradation and pollution.
Secondly, a major cause of negative environmental impact is not necessarily derived from a blatant disregard for our natural surroundings, but rather from simple ignorance of our own consumerism. If we become more aware of how much waste we are producing and how, we cannot only become more responsible consumers in terms of environmental waste, but we can also become aware of how to be better stewards of our bodily and spiritual health.
Thirdly, grassroots-level action is all that is needed. If more and more Christians were to commit to simple, environmentally-aware actions within their means, then sustainable stewardship would grow exponentially over time. Personal responsibility is the most effective means to environmental stewardship, not federal legislation.
Fourthly, in harmony with the above point, disregard for such small action is rooted in laziness and carelessness. If we know that caring for and stewarding over God’s creation is good, proper, and morally obligatory, then disregard for it should mean that there is some greater good or responsibility that trumps it. In most, if not all cases, there is no such higher good that demands our attention at the cost of simple environmentally friendly actions, such as putting recyclables in their proper bins, using a water filter in order to buy less plastic water bottles, or using longer-lasting light bulbs. Therefore, our lack of intentionality towards environmental concerns is precisely located in our slothfulness and self-centeredness.
Fifthly, environmental endeavors can be fertile seed-beds for evangelism and service for the Kingdom of Christ. As is most evident, many unbelievers care for this world and its natural environments. As Woodman does, many idolize and worship it. Christians ought to demonstrate what a true and proper understanding of God’s creation is in the way that they steward over it and care for others while doing so.
Paradise Lost and Paradise Restored
Let me summarize what I have argued for in this article. First, how we understand the environment around us and its relationship to humanity is, at bottom, a worldview issue. Woodman seems to possess a naturalistic-materialistic worldview which views humanity as both utterly dependent upon the natural environment while also being the environment's primary savior. The Christian, on the other hand, views both humanity and the earth’s environment as ultimately controlled and sustained by the sovereign providence of God. We are to look to God and his Word in order to understand how we ought to interact with the environment around us, and when we do, we see the supreme ethic of life is to live to the glory of God, not for our own preservation.
Second, Christians understand that this world is not our home. We are to care for God’s creation, but we are not to invest our hope and survival into it. Instead, our hope is placed in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. We currently look to his Second Coming, when he will consummate his kingdom and create a new heavens and a new earth.
Third, because of our transcendent hope, we do not feel the need to sacrifice our children and family in the name of preventing climate change, as Woodman does. In fact, children are seen as an incredible blessing, and therefore Christian families ought to be fruitful and multiply in order to fulfill both the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission. This earth may be finite, but the souls of our children will live on, and, Lord willing, they will live for the glory of Christ and his kingdom.
To end, Woodman’s druid despair is valid, but misguided. Yes, creation groans and has been subjected to futility (Romans 8:19-22), but the reason why this is the case is because of our own sin. Adam brought sin into the world, and all his posterity has been charred by original sin. To be sure, if Woodman despairs over the finitude of creation, then he must weep over the infinitude of God’s wrath set upon all who reject the name of Christ (John 3:36). It is only in Christ that we can have hope, not only for ourselves, but also for our children and for the environment around us. We wait upon Christ’s return when he will renew all things and create a new heavens and a new earth. And it will be in this new heavens and new earth wherein our children shall lead the wolf, the calf, the lion, the goat, the bear, and the leopard (Isaiah 11:6). In other words, Christ, the King of kings who blesses children (Luke 18:15), will restore paradise for those who keep his covenant and the generations that follow.