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Religion, science and blarney

By Paul Driessen
web posted February 13, 2006

Activists recently had breakfast in hoary Senate chambers and a briefing at the National Press Club, in an attempt to convince America and the world that the evangelical Christian community is united in concern about global warming and the need for immediate federal action. Don't be deceived.

Just last month, the executive council of the 30-million member National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) passed a motion saying there is "ongoing debate about the causes and origins of global warming," and a "lack of consensus among the evangelical community on this issue." Reverend Ted Haggard, President of the NAE, subsequently sent a letter to leading evangelicals, assuring them that his group was not taking a position on climate change policy.

Haggard urged evangelicals to become involved in the debate, however. "For too long we've allowed a liberal faction with a humanism mindset to determine the national tenor of the discussion," he said. "It is time for Bible-believing evangelicals, who believe that God created the Earth and we are to be its steward, to be a voice at the table."

The February 8 breakfast meeting, hosted by Senators John McCain and Joseph Lieberman, was intended to counter this, by introducing a new organization that calls itself the Evangelical Climate Initiative or ECI. This small but vocal group is lending its support to environmental activists who want to point to the involvement of religious conservatives as further evidence that momentum is growing across the political spectrum for immediate action to reduce what they say is potentially catastrophic climate change.

The federal actions they have in mind would likely include mandatory emission controls, restrictions on energy use, and/or higher energy taxes to "encourage" conservation by driving up the costs of nearly everything.

Their assertions are contested by the vast majority of evangelicals. Even as the ECI released its policy statement, top evangelical leaders took issue with the new group and declared that "there should be room for Bible-believing evangelicals to disagree about the cause and severity of global warming, and solutions to this issue." Those leaders include Charles Colson (Prison Fellowship Ministries), Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family), Dr. D. James Kennedy (Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church), Dr. Richard Land (Southern Baptist Convention), Dr. Richard Roberts ( Oral Roberts University ), Rev. Louis P. Sheldon (Traditional Values Coalition), and Donald Wildmon (American Family Association).

They and the NAE have made it clear that mankind has "a sacred responsibility to steward the Earth and not a license to abuse the creation of which we are a part." But they also underscore the need to recognize the adverse impacts that energy and environmental policies can have on the poor.

The desire to make religious and ethical concerns, sound science and economic progress cornerstones of public policy prompted the recent formation of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA). This new organization also reinforces the fact that the majority of evangelicals in the United States do not share the ECI's viewpoint and do not embrace its policy.

"While there is a lot of debate about the causes and hazards of climate change and how best to respond to it, there is no debate about the Bible's priority on helping the world's poor to improve their lot," ISA national spokesperson Dr. E. Calvin Beisner noted. "By declining to embrace anti-warming policies that would delay economic development and access to clean air, clean water, and reliable food and energy supplies in poor countries, we and the NAE are putting the needs of the poor at the forefront."

The science is not settled on global warming, he and the ISA emphasize. More than 17,000 scientists have signed the Oregon Petition, which states: "There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane or other greenhouse gasses is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate." And the ISA has issued a report, "An Examination of the Scientific, Ethical and Theological Implications of Climate Change Policy," addressing the moral, theological and scientific aspects of climate policy." (see www.interfaithstewardship.org/pdf/ISA_Climate_Change.pdf)

In that report, Dr. Roy Spencer, principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and former senior climate scientist with NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, observed: "We cannot say for certain how much the planet may be warming, how much is due to human activities versus natural cycles, or whether these changes in global temperature would be mostly good or mostly bad for the majority of people." (Beisner and this author also wrote sections of the ISA report.)

Our atmosphere and climate are so complex that meteorologists have only a rudimentary grasp of what actually causes storms, droughts, heat waves, cold snaps and climate conditions that have changed many times over the centuries, often dramatically. In addition, as pointed out in the ISA paper, feedback mechanisms are poorly understood and "only a couple percent increase in low clouds would offset the warming effects of a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use." All this makes climate models inherently suspect.

"We believe the embrace of mandatory greenhouse-gas emission reductions would pose very high risks to the world's poor and low-income people, without offsetting those risks with sufficient benefits from such a policy," Beisner said. "We don't think that's a ‘right-wing' concern, but a basic human and indeed Christian concern."

By making energy less affordable and accessible, mandatory controls would drive up the costs of consumer products, stifle economic growth, cost jobs, and impose especially harmful effects on the Earth's poorest people. The Kyoto climate treaty, for example, could cost the world community $1 trillion a year – five times the estimated price of providing sanitation and clean drinking water to poor developing countries, the ISA report observes, citing various studies.

According to the US National Center for Atmospheric Research, even "full and perfect compliance" with the Kyoto Protocol would mean the average global temperature in 2050 would be only 0.2° F lower than it would be in the absence of emissions controls. Its impact on minority communities in the USA , on the other hand, could cost Black and Hispanic families 1.3 million jobs in 2012.

A panel composed of eight of the world's most distinguished economists examined various proposals for dealing with climate change by reducing carbon emissions. The panel's "Copenhagen Consensus" concludes that these proposals are "bad projects" whose "costs were likely to exceed the benefits."

Neither constant drumbeats about climate catastrophe, nor the blarney of venerable statesmen like Senator McCain, can change these facts or the need to address these concerns. Moreover, it would be morally wrong to focus on distant theoretical concerns about global warming – while ignoring the real, immediate and often life-or-death dangers faced by our poorest citizens.

Paul Driessen is senior policy advisor for the Congress of Racial Equality and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power ∙ Black death

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