How should the Christian confront climate change? The White House has an answer. Secretary of State John Kerry says Christianity compels him to fight climate change by curbing fossil fuel usage and limiting carbon dioxide emissions.
This view is overly simplistic. The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, an evangelical Christian group for which I am spokesman, just released a study entitled, “A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor 2014.” Authored by a professor of climatology and a research chair in environmental studies and climate, and followed by “Protect the Poor: Ten Reasons to Oppose Harmful Climate Change Policies,” a declaration signed by 150 pastors, economists, scientists and other leaders, the study lays out our shared conviction that environmental policies must be based on an accurate reading of Scripture as well as sound climate science.
Neither of these stipulations has been met by the White House.
We start with Scripture. It is true that the Bible calls us to steward the Earth. This is evident from its first two chapters, which discuss “cultivating” “and “guarding” the Garden of Eden and “subduing” and “ruling” the whole Earth (Genesis 2:15; 1:28).
But Scripture also teaches that Christians must care for the poor. When the Apostle Paul visited the other apostles in Jerusalem, they urged him to “remember the poor, the very thing [he] was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10). And as Proverbs 14:31 puts it, “Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”
In light of these passages, we believe policymakers who oppose use of fossil fuels oppress the poor. Fossil fuels are the most affordable energy sources, as demonstrated by data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Policies that shift electricity generation to renewables will raise prices on electricity, heating bills, groceries and manufactured goods, as multiple studies have demonstrated in recent years. The poor can least afford rising prices.
Such policies will also make it harder for the poor who lack electricity — some 2.3 billion people in developing countries — to gain access to electricity and thereby escape poverty.
The rest of the world understands this. China, India and other developing countries account for more than 80 percent of carbon dioxide emissions because they use affordable fossil fuels to power their economic expansions. This has allowed them to raise billions of people out of poverty in the past few decades.
These advances would be jeopardized — perhaps even reversed — under President Barack Obama’s climate policies.
To play devil’s advocate, perhaps short-term economic pain is preferable to long-term climate catastrophe. True enough. Yet numerous climate scientists — including those who authored and signed our declaration — have raised serious concerns with the prevailing climate change orthodoxy.
To cite just one example, the models falsely predicted that global average temperature would rise between 1995 and 2014. It did not. One prominent scientific observer noted that this error is “so significant that it would invalidate the climate-change models upon which policy was being built.”
These aren’t the positions of fringe scientists. One of the president’s prominent climate advisers — Dr. Steven E. Koonin, who served in the Energy Department during Obama’s first term — now argues that the White House is “misrepresenting the current state of climate science” and is doing “a great disservice to climate science itself.”
For the Christian, this ought to bring some clarity to the climate change debate. More and more, the evidence indicates that the White House’s anti-fossil fuel crusade will disproportionately harm the poor in the name of increasingly questionable scientific claims. It is neither loving nor just to support that agenda.
E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.