The television ad shows footage of devastating storms, droughts, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As the images flash by, a voice intones, “The good news is that with God’s help, we can stop global warming, for our kids, our world, and for our Lord.” That’s quite a promise.
The ad is part of a publicity campaign by an organization called the Evangelical Climate Initiative—and it highlights both the controversy over global warming and the eagerness of the secular press to promote supposed divisions among evangelicals.
Last week, to much fanfare in the secular press, the Evangelical Climate Initiative—ECI—issued a report signed by eighty-six evangelical leaders titled, “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action.” Among other things, it called for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.
The New York Times, in particular, seemed to delight in the fact that this initiative represented a split in evangelical ranks. The Times gleefully reported that prominent evangelicals—including Jim Dobson, Richard Land, and yours truly—did not sign the report. The implication was that more enlightened Christian leaders were now breaking ranks with the Bush administration and conservatives.
What the press left out was the fact that some of us were never invited to sign the statement. Maybe that was because we had earlier signed the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship, in which we argued that there had to be a balancing of interests. In particular, the world’s poor could be adversely affected economically by some of the more radical environmental proposals.
Let me be clear: Some of the ECI recommendations—like driving fuel-efficient cars—are sensible. And there is no disagreement about our goals: Everybody is for stopping global warming. But at what cost?
We are not alone in believing that some of the global warming solutions go too far and do too little good. Two days after the Times exploited so-called divisions within the evangelical community, John Tierney, an op-ed writer for the Times, lampooned the entire debate over global warming. Solutions like the Kyoto treaty, writes Tierney, “amount to expensive hair shirts that appeal to [environmental] penitents,” but with costs that economists say are far too high. He cited four Nobel laureates and their colleagues, who met in Copenhagen in 2004 to study proposals to help the poor, and concluded that programs to slow global warming are “far less worthwhile than programs to immediately combat disease and improve drinking water and sanitation.”
“Saving lives now,” Tierney concludes, “makes more sense than spending large sums to avert biblical punishments that may never come.” Besides which, scientists are still unsure of how much the planet will heat up or how much—if any—damage will be done.
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. I’m convinced most evangelicals agree on this—the New York Times notwithstanding—even if we may disagree on how resources are most effectively employed. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” as the Scriptures put it. But it takes wisdom to figure out exactly how best to take care of it—and people too.
“Climate Change Policy: Scientific, Moral, and Theological Implications” from the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance.