Category: Environmental Stewardship

"Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?" [John 6:9]

Among all the many good things going on last weekend in Boise, I (and a few others) noticed something a bit disconcerting.

The way many of the topics were covered shows how prone Christians are to being consumed by doom and gloom messages of scarcity and lack and overpopulation and an "ever smaller earth." While it’s reasonable to take a survey of the damage and an inventory of the challenges facing the Church on the subject of caring for creation (…first sit down and count the cost…), we must guard against the negative motivation campaigns that are a hallmark of the environmental movement.

This sort of thinking fosters false choices and unecessarily narrows our options for moving forward. For instance, during the session on climate change, this question was asked:

Do we spend our time, energy and money taking care of people? Or is it wiser to use our resources to rescue the planet so people will have a better place to live?

As children of God that thinking should immediately strike us as out of place. It is, in fact, in direct opposition to what we know (or should know!) about how God works.

God makes everything from nothing [see footnote]. His abundance is not dependent on or limited by what exists on the earth yesterday, today or tomorrow. The cattle on a thousand hills are His. He can make stones cry out or turn them into bread. He both creates and tends to habitats.

– He is the author of life, and rules both the natural and supernatural. He creates living things from dead, whether that be almond branches or best friends. The life He creates does not merely sustain the status quo but is fruitful and multiplies itself abundantly.

– In our relationship with God through Christ we have access to the infinite resources of the Creator. We have the power of prayer that transforms the lives of individuals and nations. Prayer can bring buckets of rain or extended drought. Through Him we can bring water from a rock in the desert, or get money from a fish’s mouth.

– God gives the Church no reason to doubt that if He has given us a mandate, He will also give us the power and the means by which to carry it out. Likewise, we should not be surprised when our own means to solve problems – ecological or otherwise – are limited. Truth be told, He doesn’t need us around to make any of this happen. Our weakness and limitations force us to depend on His abundance and strength so that He is glorified, not us.

I couldn’t summarize this any better than this Torah teacher does here:

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah: "I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?" (Jeremiah 32:26,27)

To deny God’s ability is to deny God himself. Nothing is too hard for God. However else we may struggle in our faith, we must come to the place where we accept that his power is limitless. Once we get to that point, the door of our hearts is open to whatever he may want to do in our lives. I wonder how many of us cannot hear the great things God wants to do in us and through us, because we don’t believe in his ability. Think of how we would pray and live differently if in our heart of hearts we knew God’s power had no limits.

A hallmark of the Christian ecologist must always be an unflappable, unstoppable confidence in God’s abundance.

Let’s admit here and now that fire and brimstone sermons do little to change hearts, and neither will they green the Church or transform our world.

[Don’s other habitat is The Evangelical Ecologist. Click here for his other posts in this series.]

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[Footnote: This is also a good argument for thoughtful debate over earth’s origin. A materially-limited view of God is a natural outcome of routinely seeing Him as merely an intelligent agent acting within the confines of the earth’s self-existing (and thus finite) evolutionary processes.]

Blog author: rnothstine
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
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You may have heard this line before, “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” The quote was attributed to Johann Tetzel, a German Dominican Friar, in charge of collecting indulgences in 16th Century Germany.

However, it’s not Roman Catholics who have embraced a re-run of indulgences, but the new gurus of carbon-offsetting at the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Iain Murray of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, takes issue with ECI’s latest venture into indulgence – carbon offsets in his piece for the American Spectator titled, A Pardoner’s Tale. Murray sarcastically notes, “You can atone for your carbon sins by buying carbon offsets from the Evangelical Climate Initiative.” Murray also says:

Not to worry. ECI tells us that “The average American is responsible for about 23 tons of CO2 pollution.” And it just so happens that $99 (Not $78 or $103.54? How did it just happen to come to a price right under the $100 threshold past which consumers are much less likely to purchase?) is just enough to offset 23 tons of CO2 per year.

Murray also highlights the new found free market spirit of ECI, but also calls the faithful to their reformation roots, declaring:

One last concern: Where’s the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on ECI’s moneymaking site? Or the Better Business Bureau logo? Or the link to information about how the Securities and Exchange Commission regulates the carbon offsets and carbon trading businesses to make sure there’s no monkey business going on? They’re not there, because — well, because there is no regulation of this business. Apparently the ECI has finally found a tiny bit of the free market that it doesn’t want to strangle with regulation. One wonders, though, what happened to the ECI’s strong suspicion of sin in every branch of the corporate world. Or is the carbon offset industry impeccable?

It appears to me that this particular branch of evangelical theology is in dire need of a reformation. When it comes to the sin of carbon emission, perhaps carbon-using Christians should remember the words of Martin Luther’s Letter to Melanchthon: ‘Be a sinner and sin strongly, but more strongly have faith and rejoice in Christ.’

(Powerblogger Kevin Schmiesing pointed out the indulgent nature of carbon offsets in a post last February.)

On the campaign trail just recently, John Edwards called for Americans to give up their SUVs, and then was seen leaving the rally in none other than a sports utility vehicle. But not to worry an Edwards spokesmen said, “We buy carbon-offsets for the vehicle.”

It seems as if individuals and families were serious about altering their carbon footprint, they would curb their energy use instead of purchasing an indulgence for their guilt. It seems to resemble a fad or a trendy phase by guilt-ridden polluters. I wonder if I have to purchase a carbon offset for those parachute pants I once owned in kindergarten?

However, with the rising free and unregulated market of carbon-offsets, it will be interesting to see what other offsets emerge in the marketplace, and whether this will trickle down to the health, food, and tobacco industries. Entrepreneurs who miss out on this exploding market, may be feeling a bit of guilt and remorse as well.

Jay W. Richards of the Acton Institute, has a commentary today in the National Review Online titled, What Would Jesus Drive?: Electrified Evangelical theological confusion. Richards notes in his article, “With respect to the environment, the theological principles are uncontroversial: human beings, as image bearers of God, are placed as stewards over the created order.”

He asks four separate questions, which he calls “tough.”

(1) Is the planet warming?

(2) If the planet is warming, is human activity (like CO2 emissions) causing it?

(3) If the planet is warming, is it bad overall?

(4) If the planet is warming, we’re causing it, and it’s bad, would the policies commonly advocated (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol, legislative restrictions on CO2 emissions) make any difference and, if so, would their cost exceed their benefit?

Furthermore, he offers a tough critique of the defenders of the Evangelical Climate Initiative:

The problem with the chief defenders of the Evangelical Climate Initiative is that they haven’t thought through these four questions, at least not publicly. What they have done is label their position as the authentically Evangelical one. Other Evangelicals need to call them on this tactic, exposing the false dilemma for the piece of cheap rhetoric it is.

Be sure to read the entire commentary, it is a helpful analysis on the climate debate, as well as a good look at the political strategy of the Evangelical left and their allies, the Democratic Party.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 21, 2007
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The PowerBlog’s own Don Bosch is attending the Let’s Tend the Garden evangelical environmental conference this week. He’s liveblogging at his own habitat, and will cross-post and update us here as opportunity permits.

He writes to me briefly that there are “lots of Christian environmental leaders (Rich Cizik is here, along with Rusty Pritchard, Floresta, A Rocha, etc) and also secular groups (Sierra Club).”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, September 14, 2007
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Here’s a PCWorld piece wondering whether the “green” trend in information technology is a fad or a fixture, “Green IT: Popularity Due to Savings or Morals?” One beef I have with the piece is that it presupposes a conflict between “morality” and “efficiency” concerns. Isn’t it a part of morality to be concerned with waste and economic stewardship?

These need not be contrasted in such a way, as is evident by the words of Brian Cobb, senior vice president for enterprise systems management and IT at Fannie Mae and a presenter at IMW: “In IT, we have a responsibility to be as efficient as possible.” Surely at some level that responsibility has an explicitly moral component, even if it is cast in purely utilitarian terms.

What we have at play often are competing moral claims, not explicitly moral vs. immoral/amoral claims. To present the case otherwise is a rhetorical choice that skews the argument, whether intentionally or not.

So here’s a brief tip for the article’s author Johanna Ambrosio: You don’t need to oppose environmental stewardship and economic responsibility.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from supporters of climate change alarmism, it’s this: Science = consensus, and consensus = TRUTH.

Well, it appears that science and truth have taken another hit:

A new analysis of peer-reviewed literature reveals that more than 500 scientists have published evidence refuting at least one element of current man-made global warming scares. More than 300 of the scientists found evidence that 1) a natural moderate 1,500-year climate cycle has produced more than a dozen global warmings similar to ours since the last Ice Age and/or that 2) our Modern Warming is linked strongly to variations in the sun’s irradiance.

Via Henry Payne at Planet Gore.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
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The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) in the UK has given generic approval allowing “human-animal embryos to be created and used for research.” According to a Christian Science Monitor report, Evan Harris, “a lawmaker on a parliamentary committee that has oversight in this field,” says that “No scientist I have found has provided scientific reasons as opposed to religiously based ethical reasons for not proceeding,” he adds, even though his committee “looked high and low for such scientists.”

Typically the case that secular scientists make for such research is based on the necessity of the measure for their all-important research: “Stem-cell researchers say they desperately need the animal matter because not enough human eggs are available. Britain has adopted an accommodating attitude toward stem-cell science, fostering a favorable environment that scientists argue would be undermined if this latest experimentation is rejected.”

“We pride ourselves here on working in a pro-science environment,” says Stephen Minger, director of stem-cell biology at King’s College London, one of two scientists who have applied for the HFEA license. “It would be viewed as a depressing turn of events” if the application were turned down.

Anything not clearly “pro-science” in such a narrow way, like any ethic with religious foundations, is similarly understood to be archaic, obsolete, irrelevant, and reactionary.

For some such “religiously based” arguments, see my series on chimeras in five parts.

For more on how scientists and religious leaders dialogue in the public square, see Thomas M. Lessl, “The Priestly Voice,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 75, no. 2 (1989): 183-97; and this 2005 interview on science and rhetoric.

Update: Reformation21 provides a link to the “Linacre Centre Submission to the Science and Technology Committee Inquiry into Government Proposals for the Regulation of Hybrid and Chimera Embryos” (PDF). The Linacre Centre for Healthcare Ethics is a bioethics research institute under the trusteeship of the Catholic Trust for England and Wales.