Global Warming on the Hot Seat

Harry R. Jackson, Jr.
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Posted: Apr 02, 2007 12:00 AM
Global Warming on the Hot Seat

A few days ago, I sat on the set of CNN’s Washington studio. The lights were as bright as the sun in this plush high tech setting. Everything about the office and the organization was very impressive. My task was to talk about Christianity and the environment for a special edition of the Anderson Cooper Show which airs this week.

In classic debate style, a kindly evangelical leader was placed in another studio and asked to share a contrasting view from my own. As I waited for the gracious Mr. Cooper to address us, I could not help ask myself, “How did I get here?” After all, I am not nor ever have been a scientist.

The answer was simple – a private letter, sent to a national religious leader, was leaked to the press. A concerned group of evangelical leaders simply wanted to correct one of their own. The signers of the letter unanimously believe that there was a need for the evangelical community to come to some corporate agreement on this huge social issue before we rush into a national fight. After all, Vice President Gore’s documentary (An Inconvenient Truth) and senate hearings have made this a major popular concern.

As I sat in the hot seat, I hoped desperately that I would not be called upon to attack one of my fellow evangelical comrades. I decided before the program that I would not let the session dissolve into a name-calling contest. Further, I realized that in the name of scientific faithfulness, the reporters could cast me as a well-meaning Neanderthal or worse – a mean-spirited, religious zealot.

I have learned from Martin Luther King, Jr. that the strength of the civil rights movement was twofold – its strategic focus and its public unity.

King’s “strategic focus” was his ability to fight a war based on successive meaningful campaigns. The fight he chose was important but also winnable. He looked for measurable results. King and his team were not looking to be echoes of what others were saying and doing. Instead, they wanted to chart a new course and eventually overthrow the grizzly demon of racism which held America in a death grip.

In addition, King’s ability to mobilize a diverse group of leaders who spoke the same message to the nation gave their cause credibility long before it gained popularity. Through this public unity, a group of relatively unknown men changed the course of the nation. If they had sought personal notoriety instead of advancing a corporate message, their cause would have died with them.

With strategic focus and public unity in hand, early civil rights leaders were extremely effective despite limited financial resources. From the Montgomery Bus Boycott to each successive city campaign or national march, they advanced their cause. Tangible milestones were reached and a growing awareness of the power of the civil rights movement impressed the nation.

The message I sought to deliver on Anderson Cooper’s program was that many evangelicals oppose making global warming a top drawer issue. Further, they do not want global warming alarmism to become a defining or a dividing issue for evangelicals.

As I have stated many times, I believe that evangelical church must take the lead in defining the key moral issues of our day in clear measurable terms. We must be willing to discuss the hot topics that capture popular attention, while maintaining our core commitment to preaching the gospel, the sanctity of life, the defense of marriage, and the protection of religious liberty in the public square.

My greatest concern about global warming has to do with the action steps that people are proposing. All scientists are not in agreement on a course of action that makes both moral and financial sense. For example, Dr. Richard Lindzen (Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT) wrote a compelling article for the Wall Street Journal in 2006 entitled “Climate of Fear.” This must-read article would give any rational person pause to reflect. In addition, the mainstream media fails to report that the earth’s temperature dramatically rose from 1900 through the 1940s, causing scientists to recommend immediate and drastic action.

And then, before we could martial the resources to take major steps of action, the temperature fell through the 1970s. Some of you may remember magazine covers and headlines warning us of global cooling. Once again, immediate and drastic action was recommended.

While evangelicals are open to being convinced by new information, we may be wise to weigh the data awhile longer. Instead of launching into programs that could consume hundreds of billions of dollars a year, perhaps we should put this money to better use solving tangible problems we all know something about. With it we could wage quite a war against HIV/AIDS or develop a clean water campaign in third world nations.

Finally, all Americans need to know that we will need an international buy-in to any plan we concoct. Can we guarantee that China, India, Pakistan and other massive nations will work with us for the common good?

I am thankful for the Anderson Cooper program. These issues must be discussed in evangelical circles. My sincere hope is that the next time global warming surfaces in the media we will have a unified evangelical position on the topic.