Is Climate Change a Sign of the End Times?
The UN's recent climate report bears some stunning parallels to the book of Revelation. 🔥
The recent climate report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has sounded the alarm: Climate changes spurred on by human activity are “irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years.”
For the earth, there's no going back.
Many of the consequences cited in the report bear stunning parallels to the book of Revelation. While it’s never profitable to throw up our hands and declare that the end of the world is nigh, we would do well not to ignore the signs and signals around us. Many prominent biblical figures—from Isaiah to John to Jesus Himself—painted vivid pictures of what is to be expected when the end is, in fact, nearer than we believed.
But the Bible doesn’t leave us without hope. Nor are we without recourse, regardless of how much doom and gloom we see in the headlines. As stewards of the home that God created for us, Christians have a responsibility to both understand and respond to situations that affect the well-being of the earth and every living thing on it.
And, when it comes to the climate, exercising that responsibility starts at home—with the food we eat.
What's in the Climate Report?
To understand the connection, we must first look at the content of the report itself.
Its biggest warning centers around the widely held idea that, if earth’s surface temperature rises 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius beyond pre-industrial levels, we could be faced with “apocalyptic” conditions. The choice of this particular word acknowledges, if unwittingly, the picture Revelation paints of the earth’s final days. Deep down, all of us, climate experts included, recognize the stark reality of the Biblical situation.
Temperatures may hit this “apocalyptic” point within the next 20 years unless we can achieve "rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.” In fact, the report asserts, no matter what we do, we will hit the 1.5-degree-Celsius mark by 2040. If we continue our current habits in agriculture, transportation and industry, we may see those temperatures even sooner.
Hence UN Secretary General António Guterres’ declaration that the report is “a code red for humanity.“
Despite the numerous small stopgaps our society has implemented over the years, no large, widespread changes have occurred within any of the major systems supporting our lifestyles. These small efforts—recycling, composting, electric vehicles, more efficient appliances—have yielded few to no noticeable changes. Meanwhile, transportation, energy production, industrial manufacturing and the food system chug on, begetting consequences that have become impossible to ignore:
Global surface temperatures have increased at a faster rate since 1970 than over any other 50-year period in the last 2,000 years.
Global sea levels have risen faster since 1900 compared to any century in the last 3,000 years.
Heatwaves, fires and droughts have all increased.
Rainfall has become more intense, leading to increased flooding and flood damage.
According to the report, even more extreme examples of these events are coming in the near future:
"Extreme sea level events" that used to be seen only once every century may begin to occur annually by the end of this century.
By 2100, we could see significant increases in sea level every year, with levels rising as much as 2 meters by the end of the century, resulting in major flooding.
Changes in the ocean itself, including heatwaves, acidification and lower oxygen levels, could cause an environmental shift that affects all oceanic life.
Rain patterns around the world may change, causing extreme flooding and droughts in unexpected locations.
Warm seasons will get longer and cold seasons will get shorter—which may result in ice-free seasons in the Arctic where warming is already more pronounced.
Those involved with the report—and media outlets reporting on its results—assert that "stabilizing" the climate is all we can do at this point. Achieving stability will require the sweeping industry changes that, as yet, we’ve failed to make.
The ultimate goal? Net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
In other words, we need to remove as many greenhouse gasses from the environment as our collective emissions put in. This may, the report concludes, allow us to reach stability for long enough that there could be hope of the situation eventually reversing and the earth beginning to cool down.
Climate, Catastrophe and the Book of Revelation
The Bible paints a different picture of our planet’s future across both the Old and New Testaments.
Prophecies of the end times—ranging from cryptic to startlingly clear—appear in the writings of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel and Zechariah. Both Matthew and Luke record Jesus speaking at length about the “last days.” And, in perhaps the most cryptic and famous of all the prophetic end times writings, John wrote of the revelation given to him by Jesus Himself, in which the final years of the earth are described in graphic detail.
These instructional warnings from God should elicit both concern and awe: concern at the ultimate judgement and destruction that is to come and awe in the face of all God plans to do on and with the earth.
The Curse on the Earth
Earth, as it stands, is under a curse—the same curse Adam and Eve brought upon themselves when they chose to disobey God in the garden of Eden. Their sin didn't affect them alone; it was passed down through all of humanity, and it disrupted the beauty and balance God intended for the whole of creation: humans, animals, the earth and the universe (see Genesis 3:17-19).
As a result, the whole of creation is "groaning." The apostle Paul wrote of this burden in his letter to the Romans, declaring that everything God created is suffering the same pains as a woman in labor:
"For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.
And not only they, but ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, ..." (Romans 8:22-23a, KJV)
The Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Joel and Zechariah all wrote that these groanings will come to a climax in the end times. They predicted a series of natural disasters and social calamities occurring as the earth "wax[es] old" (see Isaiah 50:9, 51:6; Joel 2:30-31; and Zechariah 14). Jesus echoed their prophecies in Matthew 24 and Luke 21, confirming the chaos to come.
In Revelation—the Bible's final book—the apostle John records the fulfillment of these prophecies during the seven-year period known as the Tribulation, which will take place immediately prior to Jesus’ return to earth.
John writes of many events this future period that eerily resemble what we’re beginning to see with climate change, including:
Widespread famine (5:5-8)
Terrestrial ecosystem destruction (8:7)
Oceanic ecosystem destruction, resulting in widespread death of ocean life (8:8-9)
Water becoming undrinkable and/or unusable (8:10-11)
Changes in the regular cycle of day and night (8:12)
The apostle also records two distinct events that bring a great deal of perspective to the cries of alarm we find in the UN report:
"And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. …
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away;" — (Revelation 20:11; 21:1, KJV, emphasis added)
Taken together with the Old Testament prophecies, we see two things:
The earth, as it is now, will not last forever.
God’s plan for eternity includes creating a new heaven and a new earth.
So, although we currently see a great deal of “groaning“ on the earth, this is not, as the UN report might suggest, the end of the story.
Destruction Before Redemption
John’s record of the coming Tribulation indicates that things will get worse before they get better. And, as preacher and Bible teacher David Jeremiah often says, “future events cast their shadows before them.“
Such shadows appear throughout the UN climate report—and can already be seen in environments around the world—running in close parallel with John’s observations of the Tribulation period:
Significant ecosystem destruction has already occurred, and, according to the report, will continue without immediate changes in human activity.
Oceans are being depleted through overfishing and polluted with both agricultural runoff and plastic waste. This has resulted in marine animal deaths, dead zones, coral reef destruction and suffocating algal blooms.
Normal temperatures and precipitation patterns have already begun to shift, cursing changes in once-familiar seasons.
Changes to the water cycle, tide levels and aquatic environments could make water inaccessible or unsafe to drink.
The combination of biodiversity loss, seasonal changes and an uptick in natural disasters is already causing climate-related famine. These events are likely to continue if events track according to the UN’s predictions.
That’s not to say the book of Revelation is a picture of climate change; rather, climate change could be the vehicle through which God is sending us a wakeup call, a warning of things to come. And, although the bulk of Revelation shows us the stark and unsettling reality of just judgement on sinful humanity, God is never without mercy.
Throughout the Bible, warning precedes judgment. God sends messengers to open His people's eyes to behaviors and habits that run contrary to His will. Being just and holy, He must punish sin, but He doesn't want to see us bring ourselves to ruin (see Ezekiel 18:32).
And, over and over, findings like those in the UN report keep pointing to one significant collection of behaviors that we can each address on an individual level: our eating habits.
Climate Change and the Food System
Seeing the impact food has on the climate shatters the myth—or the discouragement—of thinking one person can't make a difference. What and how we eat matters.
Producing all that food requires grain to feed animals, which is grown using synthetic fertilizer and often sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. The majority of animals raised for food are packed together on factory farms in large numbers, creating what amount to greenhouse gas factories where both the animals and their manure release large quantities of methane into the atmosphere.
In addition, agricultural practices associated with meat, dairy and feed grain production lead to deforestation as more land is cleared to grow crops and raise animals. This removes trees and plants that would otherwise pull greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide out of the air.
Finally, there's the transportation necessary to shuttle food from farms to warehouses and from warehouses to retail outlets. Unless we buy our food from a local farm, the majority of we eat goes through a multi-step journey before it winds up on our plates:
Growth and/or production
Harvesting, washing and preparation
Storage in temperature-controlled environments
Canning, cooking or processing into branded products
Transporting to retail by truck, ship or air
Every step, including any refrigeration or cooling required once the food reaches the grocery store, creates more emissions. And, if we don't eat what we buy, it winds up in a landfill—where it releases more methane as it decomposes.
(For a deep dive on food, the food system and climate change, see this article from Foodprint.)
Emissions: High, Lower, Lowest
Among all food produced for our consumption, beef is responsible for the highest level of emissions. Poultry, eggs and milk create much less by comparison, and cheese falls somewhere in the middle.
But when compared to nearly all plant foods, animal-based foods are by far the most environmentally damaging when produced using modern conventional methods. According to charts from Our World In Data, only two common plant-based foods produce more emissions than food that comes from animals: rice and tofu. (And this is in comparison to milk, which creates the least emissions of all animal-based foods)
There are nuances to this, of course. Fruits, vegetables and other plant foods can be grown on large monoculture farms where diversity suffers for the sake of production. Fertilizer, pesticides and herbicides are still the norm on many large farms. And much of the produce grown this way must still be transported long distances, stored in warehouses and refrigerated once it reaches grocery outlets. Less environmental harm doesn't equate to no environmental harm—but the numbers make it clear where the bulk of our emissions are coming from.
Relying largely on a system that stresses the environment and contributes to damaging changes in climate also impacts the people who work in the system. These are often migrant workers or financially impoverished farmers who live without any assurance that they'll be paid a wage that reflects the amount of work they put in.
And then there are the populations around the world whose food supplies require consistent weather patterns and ocean conditions, such as subsistence farmers who rely on seasonal yields to feed their families and coastal populations who get the majority of their protein from fish.
When viewed through the lens of our habits, climate change hits much closer to home. It is, in effect, another result of chasing our own cravings and lusts at the expense of God's creation—both the planet and the people on it.
And much of it could be avoided if we stopped feeding our appetites and put a little more thought into what goes on our plates every day.
How Should Christians Respond to Climate Change?
For Christians, thoughtfulness regarding our food choices must be coupled with a clear view of eternity. The groaning Paul writes of in his letter to the Romans will ultimately culminate in the redemption of all things, including the earth:
“…because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21 KJV)
So, although it’s important to recognize that human activity has indeed impacted the climate in ways that may not (according to the UN) ever be fixable, God is in control. He knows what’s happening and has allowed humanity to get to this point for whatever purposes He has in mind. Until He decides the time is right to bring about judgment through the Tribulation, He Will hold all things together in Christ (see Colossians 1:16-20). He will ultimately bring about the new heaven and new earth that John saw and wrote of in Revelation (see 2 Peter 3:10-13), where sin will no longer work corruption—including the kind of corruption that has led to climate change.
At the same time, this doesn’t negate our responsibility to take care of the planet. God left this part of His creation under the stewardship of human beings, and as its stewards, we need to recognize that a large part of our responsibility comes back to what we eat on a regular basis.
Being more conscious about what we consume—including how our food is produced and the resources required to process and transport it—starts with prayer.
Given that we live in a world broken and cursed by sin, it’s not possible for anyone to make “perfect“ choices all the time. What we can do is examine our eating habits and ask ourselves how much of the food we consider normal or essential is actually an indulgence we can give up. We can look into alternatives that don’t require as many resources and purchase from farmers who grow locally whenever possible.
And, when we really struggle with making the right choices, we can take it back to God once again in prayer.
Prayer also opens our eyes to the needs of those around us. Many people studying the climate situation view the coming years with pessimism and fear. Vulnerable populations around the world are having their livelihoods threatened. God knows how to deal with the emotional, cultural and social nuances of the situation. As Christians, we only need to ask for wisdom and clarity regarding our role in the situation and respond in obedience when God calls us to act.
Looking to God first, stewarding the planet according to His principles and showing compassion to everyone affected by the climate situation will bring about the best outcomes for the remainder of time He gives us on this earth.
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness ..." (Matthew 6:33a, KJV)