A new political cause célèbre has emerged recently among certain evangelical Christians. It’s not abortion, school prayer or any of the other traditional outlets for Christian political action. Rather, it’s a cause that Southern Baptist Al Gore has been championing in his film, “An Inconvenient Truth”: global warming.
These evangelicals find themselves in odd company, surrounded by secular liberals and “Deep” ecologists. But they say they’re willing to tolerate such strange bedfellows in order to exercise a Biblical mandate to maintain a prudent dominion over the earth. Groups such as the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI) have issued statements urging immediate and drastic action to curb CO2 emissions and global warming for the sake of the world and the world’s poor. And suddenly evangelicals get a little good press for their partnership.
Faith in Government?
But the distinct impression has been left, perhaps deliberately, that the faith community has joined Gore’s campaign for a Brave New World of governmental control of life, down to the turning on of a light bulb. That is not the case.
In spite of the hype, it is not obvious that greenhouse emissions are the cause of global warming. For this reason, another group of evangelicals—researchers, professors, pastors, leaders—has banded together in the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA). The ISA seeks to find an effective and sensible response to the possibility of climate change, using established norms of science and economics.
The simple fact, as ISA notes in its statement, “Dominion, Stewardship, Conservation,” is that among the scientific community, the opinion is varied as to how much the global climate is changing and what effect mankind has had on that change. As ISA points out, the jury is out as to how much is truly understood about global climate change. Although Gore’s movie paints a black-and-white picture, this issue plays out in living color.
While some studies demonstrate anthropogenic climate shifts, others attribute the changes to varied solar output, or “precipitation microphysics.” One study in the journal Chemical Innovation called into question the very causal relationship between CO2 output and global warming, arguing that the data show elevated CO2 levels follow warming and do not cause it.
But the scholars at ISA go one better than that. They say, “Let’s assume that the climate is changing and that we might be a cause of it. What does a changing climate mean?”
Some on the left say that climate change means stronger hurricanes. As ISA notes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the leader on these issues, is not one of them. NOAA scientists are unwilling to link hurricanes and global warming.
Others say that climate change means starvation in the developing world. This is counter-intuitive, for longer warm seasons and higher CO2 levels should spur agricultural output. (Historically, global cooling has been the harbinger of starvation, such as during the Great Famine of 1315.)
Perhaps the change will result in a sea-level rise. It is a possibility, but current scientific knowledge makes it very difficult to tell just how much it will rise, how fast it will rise, and for how much of the rise we would be responsible. Acting on such indeterminate data smacks of folly. We are left with a probable global climate trend, for which humans may or may not be an efficient cause, and which is unlikely to have any major adverse effects.
ECI’s response to such nebulous facts is drastic action: reduction of CO2 emissions, largely by treaty and government regulation. This solution ignores the inconvenient fact that fossil-fuel emissions are necessary byproducts of industry, manufacturing and economic growth.
Traditional efforts to curb greenhouse emissions come with titanic price tags. The Kyoto Accords would have consumed 2.25% of global GDP, with negligible effect on global warming. Even more “efficient” systems—such as “cap-and-trade” programs—would stifle economic development, here and abroad, by obstructing free markets with government regulation.
Good Business and Good Science
If the effects of global warming are real and, in the future, humans face hotter summers and higher sea levels, the solution is not restricting energy access and limiting economic growth. That is quite unlikely to solve the problem. It is certain to lead to economic recession in developed countries, invariably keeping undeveloped countries in poverty as their growth is dependent on the strength of developed nations.
The endorsers of ISA provide an alternative: While global climate change might be real, its consequences are, with the help of the scientific community, manageable. We should respond to any challenges global warming presents by promoting economic development based on market principles. It’s not just good business, it’s good science.
Free markets give us the resources to provide real solutions to problems that arise. Knee-jerk regulation forces a non-solution to a possible problem and makes the world poorer in the process. And if the true goal here is to help the poor, we should be sure that the policy attacks real problems without hurting the people it’s supposed to help.