We millennials have seen and (obviously) survived a lot of doomsday fear-mongering over the years. From the Y2K scare, to the half-mad ravings of Harold Camping (as well as other warnings of Rapture and the Second Coming of Jesus) to the worrying over the December 21 Mayan calendar prophecy, most of us are pretty immune and just ignore it. There are those who take it seriously though, seriously enough to where it affects the rest of us. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Colorado have found that belief in the biblical end-times has been a motivating factor behind a much of the resistance to curbing global climate change.
The study, carried out by David C. Parker (Univ. of Pittsburgh) and David H. Bearce (Univ. of Colorado) and set to be published in the June issue of Political Science Quarterly, is based on data gathered from the 2007 Cooperative Congressional Election Study. It has shown that belief in the “Second Coming” reduced the probability for strong support of government action on climate change by 12% after controlling for demographic and cultural factors. Once other effects such as party affiliation, ideology, and media distrust were removed the number jumped to 20%.
“The fact that such an overwhelming percentage of Republican citizens profess a belief in the Second Coming (76% in 2006, according to our sample) suggests that governmental attempts to curb greenhouse emissions would encounter stiff resistance even if every Democrat in the country wanted to curb them...It stands to reason that most nonbelievers would support preserving the Earth for future generations, but that end-times believers would rationally perceive such efforts to be ultimately futile, and hence ill-advised,” the study states. The most prominent evidence of the attitude comes from Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and Economy. In 2010 Shimkus stated that he opposed action on climate change because “the Earth will end only when God declares it to be over.”
It's not really that surprising a find. If you think you and all the other True Believers are going to be whisked away to heaven, then you don't really have much incentive to care about the environment. The only ones who'll be left to it are all the non-Christians, and they of course deserve whatever ill befalls them for refusing to believe in the one true God. So since you're off to the land of sunshine and butterflies what does it matter if the environment is damaged beyond repair? As one of the dedicated nonbelievers I'm patently unamused by this kind of selfish, backwards thinking. It really does boggle my mind that how scientifically and environmentally illiterate men like Lamar Smith and John Shimkus have managed to rise to positions of power in committees dealing with issues that they have zero understanding of.
It's impossible to gauge exactly how much damage this kind of thinking has caused or know how much could've been avoided, but the study goes on to conclude that any change to the status quo is unlikely while so many American Christians (particularly Republicans) believe in the Second Coming. “That is, because of institutions such as the Electoral College, the winner-take-all representation mechanism, and the Senate filibuster, as well as the geographic distribution of partisanship to modern partisan polarization, minority interests often successfully block majority preferences,” Barker and Bearce wrote. “Thus, even if the median voter supports policies designed to slow global warming, legislation to effect such change could find itself dead on arrival if the median Republican voter strongly resists public policy environmentalism at least in part because of end-times beliefs.”
Unlike many of my fellow atheists, I don't particularly care if other people choose to believe in gods. I do have an issue, however, when they let those beliefs carry over from the personal realm into the professional realm, where their delusion of being whisked away from the world leads them to not care that we've taken the one home humanity has and brought it to the brink of an environmental cliff with no road back. The environment isn't going to get better, so we need to do our best to stop it from getting worse, but as long as people continue to believe that the world is going to end it's unlikely to happen.