Johnny Townsend: If climate change is real, but not caused by human activity, don’t we still need to address It?

(Scott Sommerdorf | Tribune file photo) Michael Dowd, aka "Reverend Reality" sings as environmental activist demonstrators blockaded this Exxon station in Murray with red lines meant to symbolize Exxon's closure, which the activists demand as retribution for the company's alleged role in denying climate change, Saturday, December 12, 2015.

Of all the baffling comments climate change deniers make, the one that astounds me most is their admission that yes, climate change “appears” to be real, but it isn’t caused by human activity.

Even if humans aren’t responsible for causing climate change, though, we’re still going to do something about it, right? If scientists discovered that an asteroid was heading for Earth and would cause global destruction, are you saying that as long as it hadn’t been sent on that collision course by humans, you wouldn’t want to deflect it?

Many devout Christians believe that the Second Coming is imminent, and Jesus will fix everything when he arrives. To address climate change on our own would imply that we don’t trust God to take care of us.

But God could conceivably perform some miracle right now to bring people to him. So are Mormon missionaries preaching in Italy, and Baptists preaching in Guatemala, and Catholics preaching in Kenya implying that God can’t take care of saving souls himself?

Despite the Amish opposition to electricity, and the opposition of Jehovah’s Witnesses to blood transfusions, and that of Christian Scientists to medicine in general, most Christians have no problem accepting medical treatment or taking advantage of combustible engines or computers or any other scientific or technological advance.

So why do we draw the line at using science to solve a crisis that is already creating devastating floods and fires and famines at an ever-increasing pace? Especially when we know that our refusal to act will only make our lives exponentially more miserable later?

Part of it is the sunk cost fallacy. We’ve put a great deal into the status quo, and changing things will be so difficult and costly that it’s easier to pretend the responsibility is someone else’s, not ours.

But time and effort and money aren’t the real issues, at least not for most voters fighting climate action. For them, the overriding reason they won’t support Green New Deal candidates is that to do so would cause them to lose face.

This refusal to address a global climate crisis is the natural result of people trying to protect their fragile egos. But I’m not saying that disparagingly. This is a normal human reaction. The phrase “cutting off your nose to spite your face” didn’t come out of nowhere.

When I tested positive for HIV, I dreaded the day I had to tell my family because I knew what it would mean. They’d express sympathy, but they’d do it with a gleam in their eye, feeling vindicated that God had punished me for leaving the Mormon church. Painful as it was, I did tell them. Perhaps they didn’t need to know, but I needed to live an honest life.

Opponents of fracking bans, as well as bans on all new drilling and pipelines, can convince themselves they are saving face through their opposition, but the thing is, the people they want to deceive can already see through them.

Four decades ago, one of my fellow missionaries wrote home weekly about all his incredible callings out in “the field.” He told his friends and family he was a district leader, then a zone leader, then an assistant to the mission president. He did this even knowing that upon his arrival home, the bishop of his congregation would read a letter from the mission president specifying each position he’d actually held. My missionary colleague knew a day of reckoning was coming, but he kept lying anyway, because the benefits of lying were immediate while the consequences of being found out would only occur later.

Climate change is real. Whether or not it is caused by human activity, it is an existential crisis we must address. Climate change activists must not rub their “rightness” in the face of those we’re trying to enlist. And climate change deniers need to accept their lumps and do the right thing.

Humiliation isn’t fatal. But if we don’t act now, there may be no plastic surgeons left the day we’re ready to have them build the new noses we’ll need.

Johnny Townsend

Johnny Townsend, Seattle, is the author of “Behind the Bishop’s Door” and many other collections of Mormon short stories. His latest book of essays, “Human Compassion for Beginners,” was recently released by BookLocker.