Posts tagged with: climate change

“Letter on Immigration Deepens Split Among Evangelicals,” trumpets a story from the Washington Post. Ever since evangelicals received such credit in the election and reelection of George W. Bush, the ins and outs of evangelical politics has recieved a greater share of media attention. A great part of this attention has focused on so-called “splits” among evangelicals, as a way to highlight the newly recognized reality that all evangelicals aren’t card-carrying Republicans.

So from issues like immigration to global warming, the press is eager to find the fault lines of evangelical politics. And moving beyond the typical Jim Wallis-Jerry Falwell dichotomy, there are real and honest disagreements among evangelicals on any number of political issues.

This stems from the fact that political policy is most often about the prudential application of principles, and thus is a matter where there can and should be a variety of informed and committed voices. Thus, says Aquinas, human law should not seek to make illegal everything that is immoral, but only that which is necessary for the maintenance of a just society.

He writes, “many things are permissible to men not perfect in virtue, which would be intolerable in a virtuous man. Now human law is framed for a number of human beings, the majority of whom are not perfect in virtue. Wherefore human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft and such like” (Summa Theologica, II.1.96.ii).

For Aquinas then, human law is the result of the prudent and contextual application of the natural and divine law. And it’s not surprising that among a diverse group like evangelicals, different opinions will exist as to what considerations are relevant to the construction of a particular policy.

With respect to immigration reform, for example, the previously noted Cooperman article reports that a letter signed by numerous evangelical leaders outlining four major points of emphasis was sent to members of the federal government (original letter here in PDF). Among the national evangelical organizations that signed on to the letter are the Christian Reformed Church in North America and the World Evangelical Alliance.

Notably absent, however, was the National Association of Evangelicals, and the lack of support for the bill was noted as the occasion for the Cooperman headline. According to the NAE’s vice president for governmental affairs, Rev. Richard Cizik, “the NAE itself did not sign the letter because its members are divided on how to deal with immigration.” Since the letter makes rather specific policy proposals rather than general moral and theological guidelines, many evangelicals are not ready to endorse the statement. (more…)

In yesterday’s Acton Commentary, I argued that the biblical foundation for the concepts of stewardship and economics should lead us to see them as united. In this sense I wrote, “Economics can be understood as the theoretical side of stewardship, and stewardship can be understood as the practical side of economics.” I also defined economics as “the thoughtful ordering of the material resources of a household or social unit toward the self-identified good end” and said that the discipline “helps us rightly order our stewardship.”

Within the context of environmental stewardship in particular, I concluded that economics should play a key role in defining public policy. This is becoming a more pressing issue as a number of evangelical and religious leaders around the world are endorsing specific policy initiatives to combat global warming.

Following the formation of the Evangelical Climate Initiative by a number of prominent evangelical leaders in the United States, general secretary of the World Council of Churches Rev. Samuel Kobia said yesterday, “Just as atomic weapons changed the very way we thought about life, so too the potential of major climatic changes put life as we know it in danger” He said this while emphasizing that all religious people should “speak with one voice” about climate change.

My brief commentary outlined some reasons why Christians may have differing opinions on this point. And Chuck Colson’s BreakPoint feature, “Evangelical Activism,” details some of the other aspects of the debate.

“Now, we all have a stewardship responsibility for God’s creation, but we also have responsibility for God’s creatures. Balancing those interests requires prudence,” he writes. On issues of prudential wisdom, Christians on both sides of a debate may well have good reasons to disagree. Check out his commentary for links to a number of pertinent resources.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, February 14, 2006
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George H. Taylor, the State Climatologist for Oregon, writes at TCS Daily, “A Consensus About Consensus.” The article is worth reading. It shows that scientific consensus is often overrated, both in terms of its existence and in terms of its relevance.

With resepct to global warming, Taylor looks at some of the claims for scientific consensus, and states, “But even if there actually were a consensus on this issue, it may very well be wrong.” This simply means that the majority can often be terribly wrong.

It is noteworthy that what holds true for consensus in the hard sciences also holds true for efforts in other fields. So, while Christians should take seriously the work of the Copenhagen Consensus, for example, there should not simply be an uncritical move from consensus to specific policy action. Christians are called to critically engage the efforts of science and economics, and the failure to do this on either count is an abdication of responsibility.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 10, 2006
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There’s something like a question of theodicy implicitly wrapped up in the debate about global warming among Christians. It goes something like this:

Why did God create oil?

One answer is that the burning of fossil fuels is simply a divine trap for unwitting and greedy human beings, who would stop at nothing to rape the earth. Another answer is that there is some legitimate created purpose for fossil fuels.

I’m inclined to think the latter, for a number of reasons. The first answer strikes me akin to the claim that God created the earth to look old…it just doesn’t seem like something God would do. It would cast doubt on the veracity of God, in whom there is nothing false. After all, I don’t recall the covenant with Adam having anything to do with burning fossil fuels.

One possible argument in favor of the first view is that God has created the world in such a way that wrong actions tend to bear negative consequences. The wisdom literature of the Bible attests to this natural order, in which evil bears its own fruit of destruction. But this would mean that fossil fuels were created only with the fallen state of human beings in view, as a check or consequence on human sinfulness (see the corollary at the end).

It seems much more tenable to me to assert that oil was created by God as a natural resource for human beings to use wisely and to steward well in the culturing of the world. It would be much more difficult to “fill the earth and subdue it” if we didn’t have cars and planes and ships to carry us about.

If this is the case, then oil, natural gas, and other petroleum products exist to be used by human beings, but just like any other thing, are to be used responsibly. For example, we can use or misuse food: we can gorge ourselves on it (gluttony), we can waste it, we can hoard it, or we can eat and grow and share food appropriately. Oil might well be a tool like any other, that can be used for good or ill.

Supposing that one of the inevitable effects of the human consumption of oil (speaking here only about engine combustion and not other uses of fossil fuels, e.g. to make plastics) is carbon dioxide emission which inevitably raises global temperatures and adversely effects global climate, what then is our answer to the question? Is there any legitimate use for oil left if this is true? Is oil the forbidden fruit of the twentieth century?

Or perhaps petroleum products are here as a transitional stage in human development, much like societies based on wood-burning sources of energy progressed into the usage of fossil fuels. In this case, petroleum products would have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy, which would raise the standard of living and economic situation of the societies to the point where technological research would find even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.

I don’t think anyone is claiming that oil is going to be the primary source of fuel forever. It’s just the best we have right now. And most of the world, China, for example, is heading into the stage of development where use of fossil fuels is necessary and are not at the point of progressing beyond it.

A corollary: the issue of the creation of fossil fuels through animal death may or may not have an impact here. It’s an open question to me whether animal death existed before the Fall. Certainly some kind of death (plant) undoubtedly occurred, and some form of animal death (bacteria) probably existed as well. If oil is only the consequence of animal death which is itself the product of the Fall, perhaps the well is tainted, so to speak. You might be able to argue conversely, however, that this is an example of God bringing good from evil, so the origin of fossil fuels from animal fossils doesn’t seem to be definitive.

A few others have addressed this issue in previous posts, but I wanted to jump in with my two cents.

Yesterday’s New York Times notes that a group of evangelical leaders have entered the debate over climate change:

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying “millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.”

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

“For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority,” the statement said. “Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough.”

Later in the article, Rev. Ted Haggard – speaking for himself and not in his capacity as president of the National Association of Evangelicals, which is not participating in this effort – states that “there is no doubt about it in my mind that climate change is happening, and there is no doubt about it that it would be wise for us to stop doing the foolish things we’re doing that could potentially be causing this. In my mind there is no downside to being cautious.” Well, no downside except nearly destroying the global economy in an effort to reverse a process that may or may not be caused by man in the first place. (Jay Richards sums up the downside nicely in this post.)

One wonders whether Rev. Haggard and the others behind this declaration have been informed of the recent discovery that plants release vast amounts of greenhouse gasses. Or that one of the most famous pieces of supporting evidence for the global warming hypothesis – the “hockey stick” graph that purports to show a sudden rise in global temperatures at the beginning of the 20th century after centuries of relative stability – has been found to be riddled with serious errors. Or that global warming is not just restricted to Earth, but also seems to be occurring on other planets in the Solar System, which may cause one to think that global warming on Earth might just have something to do with… the Sun.

Since the dawn of time, man has longed to destroy the sun…

The group will be taking their message into the media via a television campaign:

The television spot links images of drought, starvation and Hurricane Katrina to global warming. In it, the Rev. Joel Hunter, pastor of a megachurch in Longwood, Fla., says: “As Christians, our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbors and to be stewards of God’s creation. The good news is that with God’s help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world and for the Lord.”

That would all be well and good if we knew for sure that humans were the cause of global warming. But it’s clear that we don’t know that for sure. (And if warming is indeed caused by the Sun, we’re completely dependent on God for a solution unless we embark on a Monty Burns style quest to block the Sun’s energy from reaching Earth.) In their editorial on the “hockey stick,” the Wall Street Journal sounded a note of caution that we would all do well to heed:

But the important point is this: The world is being lobbied to place a huge economic bet–as much as $150 billion a year–on the notion that man-made global warming is real. Businesses are gearing up, at considerable cost, to deal with a new regulatory environment; complex carbon-trading schemes are in the making. Shouldn’t everyone look very carefully, and honestly, at the science before we jump off this particular cliff?

One aspect of the evangelical involvement in debates over global warming and climate change that has intriqued me has been what I deem to be a rather large blind spot about the relation of religious conservatives to science.

By this I mean that if there is any group of people who ought to understand the rigidity of scientific dogma, it should be evangelical Christians. Given the treatment of their views in debates about evolution and more recently “intelligent design,” it shoud be clear just how biased and close-minded scientific orthodoxy can be. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to get anything published in scientific journals that takes ID seriously.

There’s a similar dynamic at work in the debate about global warming. Sure, most prominent scientists that you hear about in the news believe that global warming is real, humans are causing it, and something like the Kyoto protocol is the answer. But why can’t evangelicals see that the minority opinion among scientists in the global warming debates is receiving similar treatment to that which IDers receive?

For more background to the evangelical approach to global warming, and today’s announcement of the Evangelical Climate Initiative, you can see my dialogue with CT’s Andy Crouch. Interestingly enough, he argues that part of the fallout from the evolution controversy was that evangelicals distrust science, but that this distrust is misplaced when it comes to global warming.

See Crouch’s original piece, “Environmental Wager,” my response, “Pascal’s Blunder,” Crouch’s rejoinder to my response, my further reply, “Comet-Busting Lasers,” with Andy getting the last word here.

Blog author: jrichards
Wednesday, February 8, 2006
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After much whispering and pre-publicity, a group of 86 evangelical leaders has announced their support for what The New York Times calls “a major initiative to fight global warming.” As part of the “Evangelical Climate Initiative,” they are calling for “federal legislation that would require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through ‘cost-effective, market-based mechanisms.'” (For a response from another group of evangelical leaders, go to the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance.)

I have great respect for the supporters of this initiative, and I don’t doubt their sincerity. And I’m glad to see a call for “market-based” solutions to a problem. Unfortunately, this looks to me like another example (alongside the fuzzy advocacy of the ONE Campaign) of Christians, evangelicals in this case, endorsing a hip cause without thinking through its economic logic.

I doubt any of these evangelical leaders has relevant expertise when it comes to global warming, especially since the scientific issues involved are exquisitely complex and change from day to day. So presumably they are simply trusting the advertised “scientific consensus” on this issue and using that perceived consensus as a filter for interpreting mundane events, like ice melting in Antarctica. That’s a problem, not only because the consensus is more manufactured than real (that is, objectively decided), but also because a scientific consensus that the planet is warming still wouldn’t tell us what to do about it. That’s a prudential question that can only be answered by taking account not only of the intended consequences of a policy, but also its unintended consequences.

The issue is not whether we should see ourselves as stewards over creation. That’s a non-negotiable Christian principle. The issue is whether these evangelicals have done the obligatory serious thinking before advocating a specific public policy.

When it comes to global warming, there are at least four separate issues to keep in mind. You don’t need to be a climate expert to do this.

(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, and we’re causing it, 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, restrictions on CO2 emissions) make any difference? (more…)

Blog author: mvandermaas
Friday, January 13, 2006
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There’s interesting news on the global warming front in today’s Financial Times:

Everyone knows trees are “A Good Thing”. They take in the carbon dioxide that threatens our planet with global warming and turn it into fresh, clean oxygen for us all to breathe.

But now it seems we need to think again. In a discovery that has left climate scientists gasping, researchers have found that the earth’s vegetation is churning out vast quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent even than CO2. This is not a product of trees and plants rotting, which everyone already knew was a source of methane; it is an entirely natural side-effect of plant growth that scientists had somehow missed. Yet it is by no means trivial: preliminary estimates suggest that living trees and plants account for about 10 to 30 per cent of the methane entering the atmosphere.

(Via The Corner) The whole article is well worth a read. Perhaps it’s not such a great idea to destroy the global economy via Kyoto in order to save the planet from a phenomenon that may have much more to do with natural causes than climate change advocates have been willing to admit.