I am not a prophet, not even a futurist. I do study trends, now and then, and I try to pay careful attention to popular culture. One thing I am quite sure about: global warming will be a central issue in public debates and political campaigns for some time to come. It has become the Apocalypse Now issue of our generation. (Overpopulation, the nuclear threat and global cooling did it only a few decades ago.) The simple premise, virtually unchallenged in many places, is that we are all destroying the planet. If we do not stop it now we are doomed to wreak havoc everywhere and kill millions of animals and people. Only calloused, cold-hearted, paleo-cons would be willing to battle such "hard" scientific facts and not support all moral efforts to save the earth.
Just last week Newsweek, generally a fairly moderate news source, had a cover story that provided a first-class object lesson about this debate. The story reduced the battle to one between the "good guys" and the "bad guys" and you can easily guess who is who without even reading the story. With righteous indignation (Is there any other kind in this debate?) Newsweek argued that there is a well-funded, anti-scientific "denial machine" at work in America that is determined to stop all serious attempts to solve this crisis. This machine is driven by money from oil companies and by loony-tunes conservatives who are driven by the almighty dollar. (Don’t look now but many profit-driven companies are getting on the global warming bandwagon because they read the signs of the times and intend to make a good profit by the scare itself! Check out Archer Daniel Midlands and look at their future plans for development sometime.)
In a great op-ed in this week’s edition of Newsweek (August 22) Robert J. Samuelson noted that "Newsweek‘s cover story on global warming was a wonderful read, but misrepresented a very complicated and intractable problem." Well, hooray for Newsweek for including this excellent rebuttal piece. That is more than I can say for many publications on the left or the right. Makes me want to keep getting the magazine really.
Samuelson demonstrates the complications in this debate by showing that there really is no cabal driving this issue at all. Newsweek, he shows plainly, has treated this story very sympathetically since way back in 1988, with numerous cover stories over the years speaking about "the dangers" and why we all should be "worried" about the planet. In 1989 a Gallup Poll found that 63% of Americans worried "a great deal or a fair amount" about global warming while in 2007 the number rose to 65%. (I am surprised it is not a lot higher actually.)
The problem, argues Samuelson and others like him (include me in their number), is quite simple. What really causes global warming and what can we do about it? What troubles me deeply is the way many evangelicals, to cite just one segment of the Church, want us to buy into the global warming theories and solutions as a matter of faith and morals. Here are the facts that make this approach pious nonsense:
1. Almost everyone who is sane about this issue knows that we can only cut emissions incrementally and that China and India will more than offset the small gains we can make in the US and Europe. But the blame America cry heard in all of this smacks of politics more than of real science and pragmatic workable solutions.
2. No single theory is the accepted scientific model that has been approved, or universally accepted. We are working off of various theories and hunches and the debate needs much more light and less heat, no pun intended.
3. What we can do is more research and development. We need to do this and we need to resist avoidance of the serious aspects of this matter.
4. We can find better ways to dispose of waste material than into the environment. Some of these are both safer and more cost effective. Real solutions will be found by those grapple with both sides of this equation.
5. Samuelson gets it right when he concludes: "The overriding reality seems almost un-American: we simply don’t have a solution for this problem." This is hard for us to admit. We are so convinced that we can solve anything and everything, especially if we created the problem in the first place (as is assumed in this debate).
This is why Samuelson suggests that we steadfastly refuse to address this issue as "a morality tale." Amen! Someone please tell this to Richard Cizik of NAE, or to Jim Wallis of Sojourners, or to Tony Campolo the prophetic screamer, and to all the others who have made this into one of the biggest moral issues of the day for Christians. We can all do a lot better in addressing this complex and real concern if we keep this type of rhetoric and silliness out of the picture. All it does is assign categories, or labels, and then we all know who the "good guys" really are. Game, set, match!
Absolutely nothing is resolved in this kind of zero-sum game of cheap moralizing.
John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening." His home blog is located here.