HOUSTON (BP) -- Many churches and individual Christians are looking for ways to take up the responsibility God has given people to be stewards of the earth (Genesis 1:26, 28). That's a good idea. But how can it be done? Here are some fundamental yet practical tips that go beyond banal and often unjustified demands.
-- Count all the costs.
One reason many families and churches are reassessing their energy use is growing costs. Being a good steward involves not paying more than is necessary for goods and services. Wasting money in one area means fewer resources for essential ministry. Yet there are hidden costs to some approaches to "going green." Much of the real cost of "green" energy sources is masked by government subsidies -- from ethanol to wind to solar. Those subsidies hide the real cost by artificially and temporarily lowering the price.
The federal budget crisis shows us that "green" energy subsidies can't continue as they are. When Spain ended its unsustainable subsidies for wind and solar, the industry collapsed. Just lately, three heavily subsidized American solar companies -- Evergreen Solar, SpectraWatt, and Solyndra -- have filed for bankruptcy, joining some ethanol companies that have done likewise.
The point is that good stewards must resist being deceived by the promise of lower prices that cannot last. Just as three free months of cable movie channels can blind consumers to a high-priced two-year contract, so temporarily subsidized prices can trick churches into much greater long-term costs.
Other options are much more cost-effective and have less long-term downside. Turning off lights and idle computers will use less power. Maintaining HVAC units and using high-tech thermostats will also save power and money. Energy Education, a Dallas-based company, works with large churches to apply the EPA's Energy Star program. Many of their ideas would be applicable to smaller churches and homes.
-- Insist on sound environmental science.
The scientific debate over global warming can seem daunting for non-specialists to assess. Ministers are too busy with addressing immediate needs to become climate-science experts. Yet, good stewardship must be based on the truth, and in this case, that includes scientific truth.
Over the last few years, the scientific case for dangerous, manmade global warming has collapsed. The Climategate scandal brought to light the deliberate corruption of temperature data and research -- and the corruption of the scientific peer-review process -- by key global warming proponents. Satellite data have demonstrated that the atmosphere is bleeding off heat at a much faster rate than global warming models anticipated, requiring reduced estimates of warming from increased carbon dioxide.
Research by scientists at CERN (Europe's high-energy physics laboratory) has provided empirical support for the thesis that cosmic ray concentration, which is affected by cycles in solar magnetic wind, plays a major role in cloud formation, which in turn has a stronger effect on atmospheric temperatures than does carbon dioxide. That's something of a relief, for all plants use carbon dioxide to build fiber and fruit. More of it means more food for everybody -- people and animals alike. Most significantly, there has been no statistically significant rise in global temperatures since 1995, despite continued increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Thankfully, non-specialists do not need to trust specialists blindly. Philosopher of science Jay Richards has provided excellent, practical advice for non-scientists trying to get a handle on the competing scientific claims about global warming (http://bit.ly/9JuNgg). And 29 evangelical scientists, economists, and theologians have produced a sound analysis of the issue in the Cornwall Alliance's "A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming" (http://bit.ly/nBmi7o).
Science is not the enemy. Modern science and engineering have improved human stewardship of the environment. Even the use of technologies that we take for granted in Europe and North America can make a large and positive difference in the environment and the lives of people in Africa, Asia and South America. But crisis-mongering on the basis of faulty scientific claims is not the way to motivate faithful obedience to God's Word.
-- Engage environmental issues Christianly.
As shown in the video lecture series and accompanying book "Resisting the Green Dragon," much of the modern environmental movement has a spiritual orientation that runs counter to historic, orthodox Christianity. Christians should engage in the current discussions on the environment, but we must not fail to speak and think Christianly as we do so. Biblical theology provides both significant support and needed correction to the modern environmental movement.
Scripture calls people to be good stewards of the earth. But it does not see the ideal world as pristine nature. We are to develop a beneficial and fruitful dominion over nature that reflects the harmony of the original Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:26, 28; 2:15). Scripture does not reject human intervention in nature; it demands it (Matthew 25:14ff).
Scripture also prioritizes the value of human life in the context of creation (Psalm 8:5-8). Christians concerned about fulfilling our stewardship responsibility cannot faithfully make environmental stewardship equivalent to evangelism and missions (Matthew 28:19-20). What will it profit us if we gain the whole earth, yet lose millions of souls (Matthew 16:26)?
Yet concern for evangelism does not rule out concern for the environment. Some of the most immediately pressing environmental problems dramatically affect the lives of people in the Third World: water pollution, indoor air pollution from cooking fires, and soil erosion are among the many environmental hazards that lead to disease, malnutrition and early death.
Christians can combine environmentalism and evangelism at the point of addressing the environmental issues that inflict the greatest immediate harm on the world's poor. In so doing, they win a more sympathetic hearing for the Gospel. Many of these solutions run counter to the current anti-carbon orthodoxy of the global warming movement, but providing low-cost electricity makes a huge difference in the level of life-enhancing, environment-saving technologies available in poor countries. Building power-plants may be beyond the resources of churches, but drilling water wells, teaching soil-conserving farming, and constructing chimneys to alleviate indoor air pollution are well within our means.
Benjamin B. Phillips is an assistant professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Houston Campus and a contributing writer of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a national network of clergy, scientists, economists, and other experts committed to caring for the environment, helping the poor, and proclaiming and defending the Gospel of Christ.