Climate policies said to harm poor
-- Benjamin Phillips
Meanwhile a former Obama adviser has argued in The Wall Street Journal that the popular claim "climate science is settled" is erroneous because scientists are uncertain how earth's climate will change in years to come.
Issued by the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation Sept. 17 and signed by more than 150 scientists, economists, theologians and others, "Protect the Poor: Ten Reasons to Oppose Harmful Climate Change Policies" contends that the effects of carbon dioxide on the climate are minimal and that policies mandating reduced carbon emissions inhibit economic advancement among the poor.
One of the signatories, Benjamin Phillips, associate professor of theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, said he believes "the blind embrace of many environmentalist policy proposals will harm the poor, here and around the world."
"Evangelicals have traditionally prioritized Christ's command to care for the poor as a tangible way of demonstrating the compassion of God in the Gospel of Christ," Phillips told Baptist Press in written comments. "By experiencing the love of a Christian they can see, the poor find it easier to believe in the grace of God, whom they cannot directly see.
"But if pastors and missionaries promote public policies, however well-intended, that only serve to make energy and the things powered by it prohibitively expensive for the poor, those same people will find it harder to listen when that Christian proclaims the Gospel to them," Phillips said.
Obama urged increased reduction of carbon emissions and announced new measures to help developing countries combat climate change at the U.N. Climate Change Summit Sept. 23 in New York City. He argued that the "urgent and growing threat of climate change" will "define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other issue."
But signers of "Protect the Poor" are skeptical about claims that catastrophic consequences of climate change are likely. Among the document's contentions:
-- While carbon dioxide may slightly raise atmospheric temperatures, its effect is probably "small and benign rather than large and dangerous."
-- "Empirical studies indicate that natural cycles outweigh human influences in producing the cycles of global warming and cooling, not only in the distant past but also recently."
-- The affordable energy produced by fossil fuels -- the primary source of carbon emissions -- is "indispensable to lifting and keeping people out of poverty."
-- "Mandatory reductions in CO2 emissions, pursued to prevent dangerous global warming, would have little or no discernible impact on global temperatures, but would greatly increase the price of energy and therefore of everything else." Mandatory CO2 reductions "would also harm the poor more than the wealthy, and would harm them more than the small amount of warming they might prevent."
-- Because the poor in developed countries spend a higher percentage of their income on energy than others, mandatory shifts to expensive "green" energy "will in effect be regressive taxes -- taxing the poor at higher rates than the rich."
In a call to action, the document asks political leaders "to abandon fruitless and harmful policies to control global temperature and instead adopt policies that simultaneously reflect a responsible environmental stewardship, make energy and all its benefits more affordable, and so free the poor to rise out of poverty."
In addition to Phillips, Southern Baptists who have signed the document include Richard Land, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary in Charlotte, N.C., and former president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Jeffrey Riley, professor of ethics at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Owen Strachan, assistant professor or Christian theology and church history at Boyce College.
A 2007 Southern Baptist Convention resolution on global warming took positions on climate change similar to those expressed in "Protect the Poor." The resolution encouraged Southern Baptists "to proceed cautiously in the human-induced global warming debate in light of conflicting scientific research." It also called for public policies that guarantee "an appropriate balance between care for the environment, effects on economics, and impacts on the poor when considering programs to reduce" carbon and other emissions.
Messengers voted to delete paragraphs from the resolution urging government funding of research on human induced global warming and supporting government initiatives to locate "viable energy alternatives to oil."
Some members of the evangelical left differ with the Cornwall Alliance and the SBC resolution, arguing that love of neighbors entails reducing carbon emissions. Jim Wallis, president of Sojourners, told a multi-faith service held in conjunction with the U.N. Climate Change Summit that Jesus' command to care for "the least of these" in Matthew 25 demands transitioning from "dirty and dangerous to clean and renewable energy."
Yet Phillips said efforts to mandate "green" energy sources could hinder evangelism -- especially in developing nations.
"Imagine a missionary in an African village, who lives in a home powered by electricity provided by expensive 'renewable' technology," Phillips told BP. "If that missionary insists that the villagers can only have electricity also if they use technology far beyond their ability to afford, then he consigns them to ongoing poverty. Such an approach would put that missionary on the wrong side of James 2:14-17. Yet American evangelicals, albeit with the best of intentions, may be putting our missionaries in exactly that kind of position when we promote policies that would effectively deny the inexpensive energy necessary to lift people out of poverty to the global poor."
In related news, Steven Koonin, former Obama undersecretary for science at the Energy Department, has attempted to chart a middle ground between denying and believing claims of harmful climate change. In a Sept. 19 Wall Street Journal editorial, he wrote that scientists don't know how the climate will change in coming years or how much humans will influence that change.
"Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science," Koonin wrote. "But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is 'settled' (or is a 'hoax') demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences."
He added, "Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about 'believing' or 'denying' the science."