Good afternoon. I’m Calvin Beisner, associate professor of social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary and a founder and spokesman of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance. I want to thank the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Democracy and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, whose new president, Jim Tonkowich, will be one of our speakers today, for co-sponsoring this briefing. To all of you, welcome, and thank you for coming.
We are excited today to launch what we are calling the “Cornwall Network” of religious congregations committed to the understanding and implementation of Biblically based earth stewardship. In the coming months we hope to enlist hundreds of congregations in this exciting effort to abide by the mandate God gave to mankind at the very beginning. This mandate is stated in Genesis 1:28.
Having created man, male and female, in His image, “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” Having placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, a small but beautiful part of the earth that Scripture later reveals was emblematic of the sanctuary in which men and women would commune with God, God instructed him to “cultivate it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). We are delighted today to join others who are striving to fulfill this stewardship vocation.
We are united around seven fundamental beliefs shared by all who hold a Biblical world view.
- First, we believe that God, the Creator of all things, rules over all and deserves our worship and adoration. We urge our neighbors who have embraced pantheism or otherwise made the earth an idol–an error prevalent in some environmentalist circles and to which many Bible believers sadly respond by rejecting environmental concerns entirely– to join us in worshiping God alone while admiring and enjoying the creation and putting it to wise, just, and fruitful use.
- Second, we believe that the earth, and with it all the cosmos, reveals its Creator’s wisdom and is sustained and governed by His power and loving kindness. Consequently we expect to observe God’s wisdom revealed in many ways. One that is particularly relevant to environmental concerns is analogous to the revelation of an engineer’s wisdom in the design of a building or machine. A wise engineer designs into his creation multiple levels of compensation to maintain its safety and functionality despite changes. Like the self-healing capacity of living organisms, we observe with gratitude and praise the amazing ability of living creatures and ecosystems to adapt, adjust to, and recover from changes. This does not mean that we blindly deny the reality of any ecological harm. But it does mean that we are predisposed, because of our faith in the Creator’s wisdom and sustaining power, to approach claims of great, irreversible catastrophes that threaten the whole human race, other species, large ecosystems, or the global environment as a whole with caution and to demand strong evidence before committing to high cost remedies.
- Third, we believe that men and women were created in the image of God, given a privileged place among creatures, and commanded to exercise stewardship over the earth. As moral agents, they require freedom for responsible action. Sound environmental stewardship must attend both to the demands of human well being and to the divine call to caring dominion over the earth. It affirms that human well being and the integrity of creation are compatible and mutually complementary. Consequently, we put a priority on environmental protection policies that preserve responsible freedom.
- Fourth, we believe that God’s moral law–summarized in the Decalogue and the two Great Commandments to love God and neighbor–reveals His own righteous character and represents His design for shalom. It is the supreme rule of all conduct. As a result, we believe it is important for public policy, including environmental protection regulations, to be firmly rooted in this law, and we caution against the tendency of constantly multiplying legal codes to substitute personal or social prejudices for this law and to curtail responsible freedom unnecessarily.
- Fifth, we believe that by disobeying God’s moral law human beings brought on ourselves moral and physical corruption and divine condemnation the penalty for which included a curse on the earth. Because of that curse, the earth and its ecosystems are not naturally optimal. Also, since the fall into sin, people have often ignored their Creator, harmed their neighbors, and defiled God’s good and beautiful creation. In light of this we call our neighbors to repent of sin, to seek God’s forgiveness, and to join us in seeking effective ways to reverse the effects of the curse in a renewed commitment to the dominion and stewardship mandates of Genesis 1:28 and 2:15.
- Sixth, we believe that God in His mercy has not abandoned sinful people or the created order but has acted throughout history to restore men and women to fellowship with Him and each other and, through their stewardship, to restore and enhance the beauty and fertility of the earth.
- Seventh, we believe we are called to be fruitful, to bring forth good things from the earth, and to join with God in making provision for our temporal well being. This call implies a serious call to foster the intellectual, moral, and religious habits and practices needed for free and responsible economies and genuine care for the environment, and it complements our call to stewardship of this planet. The mandate in Genesis 2:15 was not only to guard the Garden–to protect or restore it from harm–but also to cultivate it, to maximize its God-given potential. The mandate of Genesis 1:28 expands that in 2:15 to the whole earth.
In light of these beliefs, we bring three principal concerns to our engagement in environmental dialogue.
- First, we are concerned that many people, mistakenly viewing human beings as principally consumers and polluters rather than producers and stewards, ignore our potential as bearers of God’s image to enhance the earth’s abundance, beauty, and habitability not only to human beings but also to other creatures. Because of this mistaken assumption, widely promoted by environmentalists, many people view growing population as threatening planetary well being by using up resources and poisoning ecosystems by pollution. Yet, consistent with the Biblical view of the imago Dei, history, especially in societies heavily influenced by Biblical world view and morality, where responsible freedom within the limits of God’s moral law prevails, records two amazing things. The first is that people can make more resources than they consume, so that, rather than becoming more scarce, resources become more abundant–a phenomenon reflected in falling long-term resource prices as indexed by wages. The second is that as increasing wealth enables people to prioritize more things than food, clothing, and shelter, they are able and eager to invest in the protection and restoration of the earth’s ecosystems, so that growing economies presage not degrading but improving environments–a phenomenon reflected in the pollution transition, the tendency for pollutant levels to rise during early industrialization but to decline and eventually fall below pre-development levels in later stages of economic growth.
- Second, we are concerned that many people assume that “nature knows best,” or that the earth untouched by human hands is the ideal. Such romanticism leads some to deify nature or oppose God-given human dominion over creation. It fails the test of history, which records great human suffering in the form of epidemic disease and famine in subsistence economies and great natural catastrophes such as earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, and ice ages that have periodically disrupted ecosystems on a scale unmatched by any human activity. But it also fails the test of divine revelation, for it forgets that the Bible tells us that God cursed the earth consequent to our sin. Therefore we should not expect natural systems to be optimal apart from human stewardship. Humanity alone of all the created order is capable of developing other resources and enriching creation. Thus human beings are the most valuable resource on earth, and human life must be cherished and allowed to flourish. Many secular and New Age environmentalists speak of human beings as the population bomb, the population explosion, the population boom, people pollution, or a cancer on the face of the earth. In joyful contrast, our Biblical faith enables us to see people not as the population explosion but the population blossom; not the population boom but the population bloom; not people pollution but the people solution; not cancer but an answer to the planet’s needs.
- Third, while we recognize that some environmental problems are well founded and serious, we are concerned that some are ill founded or greatly exaggerated. We urge that priority be placed on well-founded concerns, especially those that put large numbers of people–especially the poor–at risk. As examples of well-founded concerns we name:
- widespread diseases in the developing world arising from inadequate sewage sanitation and drinking water treatment, use of primitive biomass fuels like wood and dung for heating and cooking, and primitive, low-tech agricultural, industrial, and commercial practices;
- distorted resource consumption patterns driven by perverse economic incentives; and
- improper disposal of hazardous wastes, a problem most prevalent in nations lacking adequate regulatory and legal safeguards.
Ill-founded or exaggerated concerns include fears of catastrophic manmade global warming, overpopulation, resource depletion, and historically rapid species extinction.
Because the fear of catastrophic global warming has gained enormous media attention lately and is the subject of a “Call to Action” issued by the Evangelical Climate Initiative, let me take a few minutes to outline why our views differ on that subject. I would emphasize first, however, that despite our disagreement about predicted climate change and its consequences for human beings, we respect those who signed the ECI’s “Call to Action.” We share with them the same Biblical world view, the same fundamental ethical commitments, and the same driving motivation of concern for the poor. We do not question their motives. But we do disagree with their assessment of the scientific evidence of the extent of human contribution to global warming, their predictions of the impact of climate change on human communities and the rest of the ecosystem, and their prescription of major reduction of carbon dioxide emissions as a solution to the alleged problem. Let me discuss each of those briefly and then refer you to our monograph, An Examination of the Scientific, Ethical, and Theological Implications of Climate Change Policy, available on our website, for more details.
Regarding human contribution to global warming, the ECI, relying on the 2001 Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, claims that global warming is “being caused mainly by human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels.” That claim has been seriously challenged by well-qualified climatologists and other scientists, like the ISA’s advisory board member Roy Spencer, senior research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, his colleague and IPCC contributor John Christy, the University of Virginia’s Patrick Michaels, Arizona State University’s Robert C. Balling, MIT’s Richard Lindzen, Ohio State University’s Robert Essenhigh, George Mason University’s S. Fred Singer, and past President of the National Academy of Sciences Frederick Seitz. Let me mention just a few among many grounds for the challenge:
- Most of the net warming since the mid-nineteenth century occurred by 1940, before most of the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
- net cooling occurred from 1940 to 1980 during heavy buildup of carbon dioxide.
- As the fact just mentioned hints, there are good reasons, including the fact that analysis of Antarctic ice cores shows that CO2 rise lags behind temperature rise by 400 to 1000 years, for thinking that temperature drives carbon dioxide concentrations rather than vice versa.
- There is strong evidence of two cycles of global warming and cooling, a long one with an amplitude of about 5 to 10 degrees F, and a short one with an amplitude of about 0.5 to 2 degrees F, both driven by changes in solar energy output–that is, by cycles in the sun, which of course is not subject to human control. The planet is presently nearing the peak of a shorter upward cycle within a longer upward cycle, implying that the warming since the mid-nineteenth century is within the range of natural variation for these cycles.
Regarding the impact of global warming on humanity and the rest of the planet, the ECI claims that “Even small rises in global temperatures will have such likely impacts as: sea level rise; more frequent heat waves, droughts, and extreme weather events such as torrential rains and floods; increased tropical diseases in now-temperate regions; and hurricanes that are more intense. It could lead to significant reduction in agricultural output, especially in poor countries. Low-lying regions, indeed entire islands, could find themselves under water.” Without going into detailed response to each of these claims, let me simply say that there is good scientific reason to question, deny, or even predict the opposite of each one. Sea level has been rising since long before the current global warming began and its patterns do not correlate significantly with the global warming since the mid-nineteenth century; there is no statistically significant evidence of increasing frequency of heat waves, droughts, or other extreme weather events correlated to the warming; correlation of tropical disease rates with global average temperature changes is weak to nonexistent; and there is good reason to think that global warming, by reducing the difference between polar and tropical temperatures, could actually reduce rather than enhance hurricane intensity.
The ECI also claims that “Poor nations and poor individuals have fewer resources available to cope with major challenges and threats. The consequences of global warming will therefore hit the poor the hardest, in part because those areas likely to be significantly affected first are in the poorest regions of the world. Millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors.” Yet it is precisely the ISA’s commitment to the world’s poor that makes us oppose the ECI.
- First, the ECI ignores the fact that its policy for reducing global warming–reduced use of fossil fuels for energy–will drive up energy prices and slow economic development, both effects having serious impact on the poor.
- Second, the ECI ignores likely benefits from rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. For every doubling of atmospheric CO2, there is about a 35 percent increase in plant growth efficiency. That means higher crop yields and consequently higher food supplies and lower food prices–extremely important to the poor, for whom food is the most fundamental expense.
- Third, the ECI neglects that millions of poor people in the developing world already die not just in a century but every year as a result of unsafe drinking water, poor or no sewage treatment, and such preventable diseases as malaria. Unlike the hypothetical deaths forecast from global warming, these deaths are already occurring. Preventing them would cost a fraction as much to the global economy as reducing carbon dioxide emissions enough to have any measurable, let alone risk-reducing, effect on global warming–even assuming that it would have any effect.
Finally, the ECI prescribes major reductions in “carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels” to counteract global warming.
Yet the facts I’ve mentioned that undermine the case for human-induced global warming also undermine the expectation that emissions reductions would reduce it. Further, the ECI does not specify how much emission reduction is needed to achieve its goals. But that is to ignore one of the most important aspects of the climate policy debate: how much benefit would be gained at what cost to the global economy–which is not merely an abstract economic concept but real people who depend on that economy for jobs, incomes, and the food, clothing, shelter, transportation, education, medical care, and all other goods they need.
What the ECI does not mention is that even proponents of the Kyoto Protocol to reduce CO2 emissions admit that complete compliance–which even the Protocol’s signers admit they are extremely unlikely to achieve–would only reduce global average temperature increase due to a doubling of CO2 concentration by about 0.2 degree F–so little as to be hardly detectable, let alone to have any significant effect on the impacts of global warming. They also now say that Kyoto would be only a first step and would need to be followed by dozens or scores of additional ones equally costly–and no more effective. Yet the estimated cost of achieving that tiny reduction in global warming by the initial Kyoto Protocol alone would be nearly $1 trillion per year to the global economy. And that cost would fall hardest on the world’s poor, who already live on the edge of malnutrition and starvation or death from disease. The wealthy could make adjustments in their lifestyles; the poor could be pushed over the edge.
In light of all these considerations, it is tragic to reflect that, as a report just published in World magazine reveals, most, perhaps all, signers of the ECI lacked relevant expertise to assess its claims about the science and economics of global warming and climate policy. The excuse by one signer that “The moral command to take care of the earth in Genesis 2:15 really doesn’t need to wait on scientific conclusion. We need to do this regardless of what the science is” flies in the face not only of the ECI’s “Call to Action,” which itself said that “everything hinges on the scientific data,” but also ignores Biblical teaching about prudence that requires careful checking of facts before acting (Luke 14:28-32).
In conclusion, based on these seven beliefs and informed by these three concerns, we are pleased to launch the “Cornwall Network” of congregations. God willing, participating congregations and individuals will receive
- regular information and updates about important stewardship issues,
- bulletin inserts to inform members of congregations,
- explanatory notes on Scripture showing how it can guide our understanding and practice of stewardship,
- sermon helps for pastors who wish to preach on stewardship,
- an electronic newsletter from the ISA informing when new “Cornwall Network” materials are available,
- and Sunday school curricula, videos, workbooks, other educational materials, and guidance and suggestions for hands-on stewardship projects.
Our aim is to promote:
- earth stewardship well informed by Biblical theology and ethics, sound science, and sound economics;
- earth stewardship that respects human beings as God’s highest creation;
- earth stewardship that promotes responsible freedom, constitutionally limited government, and economic development;
- earth stewardship that leads to a better world for people and other inhabitants of God’s wonderful earth;
- earth stewardship that puts a priority on protecting and elevating the world’s poor.
The leaders of the Jerusalem church asked Paul and Barnabas “to remember the poor”; with Paul, we proclaim that “the very thing [we are] eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).
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