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Paper: 'Green' efforts actually may do harm

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
WASHINGTON (BP) -- Environmentalists' efforts to replace coal and other conventional fuels with alternative energy may result in actually harming the environment and human beings, according to a new paper released by a coalition of primarily evangelical Christians and scientists.

The document, released by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation at an Oct. 31 briefing on Capitol Hill, points to the following problems in the approach taken to creation care even by some well-intentioned evangelicals:

-- Efforts to preserve the environment through centralized government mandates instead of the free-market system can hurt the poor by reducing prosperity and "lead to further environmental degradation;"

-- Government regulation of less expensive energy sources, such as coal and natural gas, "may cost more lives through reduced income than they save by avoiding the risk they regulate against," while crippling businesses.

-- The promotion of "green" energy would appear to undermine job and economic growth without any assurance it would improve the environment.

Attempts to improve the environment "must be honest," said economics professor Timothy Terrell in the paper.

"Modern environmentalism, however, has employed fear and hyperbole to accomplish goals that may have as much to do with shutting down industrial competition as with promoting a cleaner world," wrote Terrell, a senior fellow with the Cornwall Alliance.

Through the exaggeration of threats to the environment "while downplaying the all-too-real costs of the policies they support, 'stewardship' is distorted into a government regulatory agenda that impoverishes and destroys lives," said Terrell, who is on the faculty at Wofford College in Spartanburg, S.C.


At the briefing, Terrell said the Cornwall Alliance is concerned about the poor in the United States and around the world. "I think the green energy movement has had a detrimental impact on the poor elsewhere in the world," he said.

The lack of knowledge by human beings and the great complexity of both the environment and economics should produce humility in those seeking to care for creation, not centralized attempts to gain control in either arena, Terrell said in the paper.

The Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory effort to reduce mercury emissions from power plants is an example of what appears will be insignificant results at a high price, he wrote.

The Environmental Evangelical Network (EEN), which contends climate change is human induced, has connected mercury pollution from power plants to brain damage in unborn children. EEN has linked opposition to mercury emissions with being pro-life.

In his paper, Terrell says there are indications the mercury reduction effort will likely fail to produce its intended results. He said at the briefing he thinks "allegations made with regard to the risk of mercury emissions into the environment have been exaggerated."

At the briefing, Calvin Beisner, founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance, rejected the use of the pro-life cause to further the campaign against mercury emissions.

"It is in fact not a serious risk to life at all," Beisner said. "Those who are exposed to the supposedly harmful levels of methylmercury do not pay for those levels with their lives.


"The pro-life movement is all about abortion," he said. "And in abortion, there is a dead person at the end of every single procedure or almost every single procedure. Some of them get muffed, and you wind up with a live person but probably one who is terribly injured for the rest of life. That's a pro-life issue. A slight reduction in neurological development over a period of seven years, that is not a pro-life issue.... I would just argue that it is a sad thing to see the pro-life label co-opted and in essence cheapened by being turned into a label that fits nearly undetectable neurological diminishment that is temporary."

Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, commended Terrell's work.

"We must never lose sight of those we put at risk by our good intentions," Duke told Baptist Press. "Dr. Terrell's paper sounds this caution with razor-like clarity."

A member of Cornwall's advisory board, Duke said, "The radical environmentalism movement has failed to count the true human cost of some of its agenda. While it sounds nice when we hear about efforts to create a cleaner, purer environment, we must remember that there are sometimes serious human costs associated with these green policies. At some point, the benefits of certain environmental policies to some people may not even outweigh the costs to a larger population. For example, if energy is made more expensive by green policies, and everything that requires energy for its production is inevitably made more expensive as well, there is a significant human cost.


"Today, millions of people around the world are sicker than they have to be, and many are dying, because unrealistic, wrong-headed green policies have made it impossible for them to obtain affordable energy and food. I am all for environmental stewardship. All of creation belongs to God, and we have a responsibility to care for it and treat it properly, but balance is needed."

Terrell's paper -- "The Cost of Good Intentions: The Ethics and Economics of the War on Conventional Energy" -- may be accessed online at

Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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