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? Read more on Evangelicals and Global Warming…