In an essay published by Baptist News Global on Sept. 11, Susan Shaw, a professor working for the Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at OSU’s College of Liberal Arts, said that White Christians who deny climate change are a contributing factor to the wildfires.
“The West is burning while most White Christians turn away from the root causes of the devastation,” Shaw wrote.
Shaw’s essay asserts that climate change is undeniably the reason why the wildfires have grown in intensity. However, she also argues that the fact that so many White Christians do not believe in climate science is also a contributing factor. To make her case, she presents statistics that she believes proves that White Christians do not care about the environment.
“Just over half of White mainline Protestants agree that climate change is a crisis or major problem. Only 44 percent of White evangelicals say the same. Nearly a quarter say it’s not a problem at all… Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus on the role of human activity in climate change, only about 40 percent of White mainline Protestants, 45 percent of White Catholics and 28 percent of White evangelicals accept this fact.”
She further tries to link “the intersecting systems of racism and global capitalism” as well as white supremacy, arguing that all three have to be dismantled “if we have any hope of averting irreversible climate disaster.” (Related: California environmental professor argues ‘White supremacy’ is the cause of wildfires and hurricanes.)
In an interview with conservative watchdog and alternative news outlet Campus Reform, Shaw doubled down on her argument and claimed that her language wasn’t divisive nor charged.
“It’s descriptive,” she said, “and it’s the language the research I cited uses to look at climate science beliefs across Christians.”
As for why she chose to focus on White Christians, she claimed that the research shows that White Christians are more likely to “deny, minimize or ignore climate science” than their Black, Latino or Asian counterparts. She then argued that the race and social class of the White Christians are what makes them more likely to deny climate change.
In addition to blaming White Christians, Shaw also turned her ire on Republicans. She pointed to a Pew Research survey that shows that over 70 percent of Democrats believe in man-made climate change, while only 22 percent of Republicans do. Their political affiliation, she argued, might be driving their beliefs more than their religious affiliation.
Shaw, who is critical of President Donald Trump, also linked the White Christians, particularly White evangelicals, who support him to his administration’s rolling back of over 100 environmental protection regulations. This, she argued, helped further justify the belief White Christians supposedly hold that “God won’t let climate change destroy the earth.”
Shaw quoted Anthea Butler of the University of Pennsylvania, who said that the support White Christians have given to Trump “cannot be separated from the history of evangelicals’ participation in and support for racist structures in America.”
While Shaw puts a lot of focus on religion, race, social status and political affiliation as a cause of the wildfires. Research, however, has shown that the mismanagement of forests and exceedingly stringent environmental regulations are a greater factor with regards to California’s wildfires.
“It’s not climate change that’s burning up the forests, killing people and destroying hundreds of homes; it’s decades of environmental mismanagement that has created a tinderbox of unharvested timber, dead trees and thick underbrush,” said Chuck DeVore, vice president of national initiatives at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
An analysis by NPR has also shown that California and Oregon are quite far behind in their stated goal of treating several million acres of wildlands and forests through controlled burns, selective thinning of trees and brush and restoration projects.
Andrew Sanchez Meador, director of the Ecological Restoration Institute at the Northern Arizona University, argues that, even if climate change were responsible for the wildfires, the treatments that California and Oregon have been implementing “haven’t really been at the scale that they need to be to offset” the conflagrations.
When confronted with this evidence, however, Shaw doubled down on her argument saying that, if she had a chance to rewrite her essay, she would mention the fire suppression policies of the West Coast states, but that both it and the weather “have created a problem that is ripe for climate change to lead to these kinds of fires that are unlike what we’ve seen before.”
Learn more about what professors and students from liberal colleges and universities are saying and doing by reading the articles at CampusInsanity.com.