Evangelicals differ on climate dispute

ORIGINALLY POSTED March 19, 2008

NASHVILLE (BP)--Disagreements among evangelical Christians about global warming are rooted in a fundamental question: Is human-induced climate change a real problem? And, if interviews with two evangelical advocates are any indicator, proposed responses to the issue differ dramatically, depending on how a person answers that question.

E. Calvin Beisner, national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (www.cornwallalliance.org), believes people are genuine in their convictions.

"I hope the primary reason is that different people understand the scientific and economic evidence differently," Beisner said. "Some are genuinely convinced that the scientific evidence supports belief in catastrophic manmade global warming. Others genuinely think it supports belief that human influence on climate change is minuscule.

"I'm in the latter category, but what all of us should be committed to is trying to follow the evidence, to the best of our ability, wherever it leads."

Rusty Pritchard, national outreach director for the Evangelical Environmental Network (www.creationcare.org), believes the evidence supporting human-induced climate change is persuasive, so he sees the issue more in terms of education.

"People are at different places on the learning curve," Pritchard said. "The science on global warming has gotten progressively more serious in the past 10 years, so that those of us who studied this issue 10 or 20 years ago are being rapidly educated about its importance.

The issue of global climate change is complicated, "and it doesn't lend itself to the oversimplified rhetoric of the political left and right," Pritchard added. "Christians have got to lean more on Scripture, on sound science and on common sense than on ideological positions.

"The skeptics engage in some curious theological acrobatics to try to appeal to Christians. There are some who seem to imply God made the world like a childproof bouncy castle that we couldn't harm if we tried," Pritchard said. "At the same time, Christians have to be cautious about uncritically adopting secular environmentalist perspectives. As salt and light in the debate, we can bring a voice of hope to a conversation that's been dominated by doom-and-gloom."

Activists paint doomsday scenarios of global catastrophe, Beisner says, but the drastic measures they advocate would themselves create a worldwide disaster.

"Decisions on this issue will undoubtedly have important repercussions for the size and intrusiveness of government -- not just national and local but global," he said. "Enforcing international treaties to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will necessitate minute control of many aspects of our economies, not just of businesses but also of private persons."

Some observers say that energetically addressing the broader issue of pollution in the context of creation care -- an agenda virtually all evangelicals could agree on -- would go a long way toward mitigating human contributions to global warming. For example, billions of wood fires used for cooking and heating around the planet could be eliminated by extending and improving the electrical supply in remote areas.

Beisner argues, for example, that economic development would have a greater impact on human pollution for much less cost than radical proposals being suggested by environmental extremists -- and have the benefit of saving lives too.

"Kyoto-like policies will have almost no impact on future temperatures and therefore will be of no significant benefit to humans, including the poor, yet will cost trillions of dollars," Beisner said. "At a fraction of the cost, we can promote economic development to provide electricity, pure drinking water, sewage sanitation and nutritional assistance to roughly 2 billion homes and prevent millions of deaths every year."

For his part, Pritchard sees "a robust scientific consensus" about the need to reduce human pollution that should neither be exaggerated nor ignored.

"Those who deny the human causes of climate change would hold back common-sense attempts to regulate pollution and save lives," Pritchard said. "Those who exaggerate the consensus can be faulted for emphasizing only regulation without adequate attention to helping poor people cope with the climate change already in the pipeline. Christians can be involved to help moderate both extremes."


Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.

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