Dr. Jay Richards made an appearance on the Steve Deace show yesterday on central Iowa’s 50,000 watt blowtorch of a radio station, WHO in Des Moines. The topic of conversation was climate change, and you can listen to the interview by clicking right here (3.2 mb mp3 file).
I was thinking this morning about the moral calculus that goes into discussions about climate change policy. It’s the case that for any even or action, there are an infinite number of causes (conditions that are necessary but not sufficient for the event to occur).
But only a finite number of causes, perhaps in most cases a single cause, can have any moral relevance. For a cause to be a moral cause, it has to have be related to a moral agent. So, for instance, if the earth is warming, one of the contributing causes is the energy output of the sun. Since the sun isn’t a moral agent (as far as I know), solar activity isn’t a moral cause of climate change.
But if human activity is changing the makeup of the earth’s atmosphere so that it retains relatively more of the solar output of energy, that’s a cause that has moral relevance. Even though the sun’s activity is a prior cause (both logically and temporally) to any human activity, only human activity has any moral bearing. This might be a major reason why folks in not only policy circles, but also in more popular discourse, tend to focus on what humans are or are not doing that is affecting the climate.
It’s a truism that the perspective of human beings is essentially anthropocentric, but this truism is valid even for those who like to think of themselves as more enlightened. So, environmentalists and other activists instinctively focus on the moral causes of various policy issues. For climate change, that means the focus is almost exclusively on the human contributions to climate change, even if these are objectively a rather small contributing cause compared to other factors.
This holds true in the most recent reaction to the flooding that has hit London. One commentator observes that “The prophets of Biblical times, who warned of the misfortune that would befall those who turned away from God, have been replaced by computer-generated models which apparently conclusively prove that ‘The End is Nigh!’”
Climate change prophets point directly to the “sin” of emitting carbon. There is a real reason to question the validity of this moral reasoning, not least of which because it resembles Pharisaical moral calculation. When a man born blind came to Jesus, the spiritual authorities inquired as to the direct moral cause of the blindness. Had this man sinned or had his parents? Jesus rejects their attempts to find individual or personal moral cause of the blindness.
If the London floods are a case of God’s judgment, it’s likely that the divine reaction isn’t exclusively, or even primarily, to the chosen mode of human transportation. When John Chrysostom preached a sermon following a huge earthquake, it did cause him to reflect on the moral causes of the disaster.
What Chrysostom didn’t do was point to specific human actions that would naturally occasion an earthquake. He wondered instead, “Have you seen the mortality of the human race? When the earthquake came, I reflected with myself and said, where is theft? Where is greed? Where is tyranny? Where is arrogance? Where is domination? Where is oppression? Where is the plundering of the poor? Where is the arrogance of the rich? Where is the domination of the powerful? Where is intimidation? Where is fear?”
Following Chrysostom’s lead, which better follows the biblical precedent than the latest eco-prophets, would lead us to question a far greater range of moral failings than filling up an SUV: “So I was not afraid because of the earthquake, but because of the cause of the earthquake; for the cause of the earthquake was the anger of God, and the cause of His anger was our sins. Never fear punishment, but fear sin, the mother of punishment.”
It’s also important to note that Chrysostom links punishment to love, in the sense that the punishment is intended to bring repentance and reconciliation. Divine wrath is one form of treatment for sin, and in this way can actually be an expression of God’s love. So, God’s love and God’s wrath might not be so easy to juxtapose as some others have done in the wake of the recent flooding.
More reading: “Blaming the Victims: An Ecumenical Disaster”
Over at the Becker-Posner blog, the gentlemen consider the question, “Do National Security and Environmental Energy Policies Conflict?” (a topic also discussed here.)
Becker predicts, “Driven by environmental and security concerns, more extensive government intervention in the supply and demand for energy are to be expected during the next few years in all economically important countries. Policies that meet both these concerns are feasible, and clearly would have greater political support than the many approaches that advance one of these goals at the expense of the other.”
Posner observes the difference between a gasoline and a carbon tax, noting that the former would “have a direct effect in reducing demand for oil, thus reducing, as Becker points out, the oil revenues of oil-producing nations.”
But for a policy that addresses both national security and environmental concerns, “a gasoline tax would be inferior to a carbon tax from the standpoint of limiting global warming, because producers of oil, refiners of gasoline, and producers of cars and other products that burn fossil fuels would have no incentive to adopt processes that would reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions per barrel of oil, gallon of gasoline, etc. A carbon tax would create such an incentive and would also have a strong indirect negative effect on the demand for fossil fuels.”
There’s a lot more to these posts worth mulling over.
Here’s an interesting report from the Media Research Center’s Business & Media Institute on the cyclical nature of media coverage on the issue of climate change. We all know about the global cooling craze of the 1970’s, but who knew that the issue goes back more than a century?
It was five years before the turn of the century and major media were warning of disastrous climate change. Page six of The New York Times was headlined with the serious concerns of “geologists.” Only the president at the time wasn’t Bill Clinton; it was Grover Cleveland. And the Times wasn’t warning about global warming – it was telling readers the looming dangers of a new ice age.
The year was 1895, and it was just one of four different time periods in the last 100 years when major print media predicted an impending climate crisis. Each prediction carried its own elements of doom, saying Canada could be “wiped out” or lower crop yields would mean “billions will die.”
Just as the weather has changed over time, so has the reporting – blowing hot or cold with short-term changes in temperature.
It appears that we’re reaching the “outright hysteria” part of the current coverage cycle, considering that Al Gore can get completely credulous coverage for statements like this:
“There’s an African proverb that says, ‘If you want to go quick, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ We have to go far quickly,” former Vice President Al Gore told a packed, rapt house at the Benedict Music Tent Wednesday. With many scientists pointing to a window of less than 10 years to moderate the effects of global warming, he said, meaningful change is still possible, but “It is a race.”
…”What we’re facing worldwide really is a planetary emergency,” Gore said. “I’m optimistic, but we’re losing this battle badly.”
…”The habitability of this planet for human beings really is at risk,” he said.
I don’t know about you, but my BS detector is going crazy at the moment. I’d say that we’re about as likely to be in a 10 year race for survival today as we were to be in a 10 year race to save the oceans back in 1988 (according to the then-popular TV star Ted Danson). Apparently Cristopher Hitchens isn’t the only one prone to wild overstatement these days. And while we’re on the topic of overstatement…
In a recent CT column, David P. Gushee, Graves Professor of Moral Philosophy at Union University, writes, “I am becoming convinced that creation care and what we evangelicals usually call “stewardship” are basically the same thing.” That’s precisely why Acton prefers the term “environmental stewardship” to “creation care.”
But this connection between stewardship and care for the environment means something else too. Gushee concludes that “economic and environmental stewardship go together, hand in glove. Perhaps this rediscovery will motivate us to preserve the health of our planet.”
I’ve made that argument here, “Stewardship and Economics: Two Sides of the Same Coin,” where I contend, “If we hold a biblical view of economics and stewardship, we will not be tempted to divorce the two concepts but instead will see them as united.”
Gushee may find, however, that as his realization of the connection between responsible stewardship and sound economics really sinks in, the positions of the Evangelical Climate Initiative and the Evangelical Environmental Network are in need of some modifications…such that “when economics tells us that there are much more imminent threats and opportunities than global warming, the proper approach to Christian stewardship is to heed these priorities and work to effect changes in the most pressing areas.”
On today’s Diane Rehm Show, a panel of experts discussed the pending energy policy legislation in the US Congress. Karen Wayland, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel talked about the need to join the concepts of national security and climate change when discussing energy policy (RealAudio).
From her perspective, these two concerns are tied up together and shouldn’t be separated, in part because if you take energy independence and national security alone, you might think that reliance on coal would be the best option.
“If you go down the path of energy independence separate from considering global warming what you get is the possibility that some of the solutions to energy independence, like coal-to-liquids, actually leads you to higher global warming emissions,” says Wayland.
Wayland and the NRDC don’t want to see “is this jumpstarting of a whole new industry for coal, which is the greatest emitter of carbon dioxide.”
The linkage of concerns about climate change to international security policy is a critical part of an emerging narrative of international relations. For instance, new UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said of the genocide in Sudan, “The Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.” This is the latest in a long series of attributions of blame for global crises coming from leading international figures. Following the tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, ecumenical faith leaders blamed the extent of the damage on man-made global warming.
Then, as now, I think that using tragedies and conflicts like the tsunami or the Darfur genocide to advance an ideological agenda, like the fight against global warming, is irresponsible. Ban Ki-moon may indeed be right to point out the ecological roots of the Darfur situation. When necessary commodities are scarce, it is not surprising that conflict often arises.
But to connect that particular situation, directly or indirectly, to man-made climate change (driven in large part by Western economies, most especially America) smacks more of opportunism than legitimate and responsible commentary. And if this kind of narrative becomes the dominant one politically, you can expect there to be talk of environmental economic reparations from the industrialized world to the developing world.
Last week, the Southern Baptist Convention issued a statement about global warming that acknowledges the intimate linkages between global concerns about the environment, peace, and prosperity. According to MSNBC, “The SBC statement frames the global warming debate as a moral issue with profound implications for the poor — but does so through a different lens.”
“Our concern is for the vulnerable communities as well,” said Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research with the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “But we think if the data is being misinterpreted, and policies are being implemented to reduce the human contributions, those policies are bound to drive up the costs of goods and services for poor and underdeveloped parts of the world.”
Increased and growing poverty and environmental devastation do indeed have profound implications for geo-political relations, and particularly so when the blame flows only one way. But against the narratives of Western oppression and victimization of the developing world, we need to better understand and articulate the positive aspects of a globalized, interdependent, and interconnected political and social economy.
It’s time again for another action-packed edition of Global Warming Consensus Watch, wherein we highlight the unshakable, unbreakable scientific consensus that Global Warming is a dire threat to our existence and humans are entirely to blame. Long Live the Consensus! In this roundup: WE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ PROOF!; AL GORE DON’T NEED NO STINKIN’ MEDIA COVERAGE; just how accurate are those predictions, anyway?; a whole bunch more scientists off the reservation; Kyoto – not all it’s cracked up to be; and Live Earth vs. the British Power Grid. (more…)