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It isn't easy being green

National | Earth Day meeting mixes bad theology with pseudoscience

Issue: "The historic Christian faith," May 11, 1996

It's the countdown to Earth Day '96 and a bright lecture hall begins to fill.

This is EarthCare '96, the Christian Environmental Stewardship Conference in Chattanooga, Tenn., where the themes and tenets of secular environmentalism are gleefully recycled with a Christianized twist.

Richard Cartwright Austin-a former Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor who lists himself as an "environmental activist and farmer," author of a four-book series on "environmental theology," and a faculty member of the Appalachian Ministries Educational Resource Center-declared in the conference's opening address: "Today's living community is in crisis. People constitute a 'modern flood.' Just as a 'large meteor' caused the extinction of dinosaurs 67 million years ago, today's crisis of extinction also has a single cause-the impact of the modern human community on the environment."

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With a solemn frown, he peered over a college podium. "Our wastes overwhelm the environment," he said, "as does our exploding population."

Mr. Austin couldn't have been talking about the population at the conference. The whole thing took place at Chattanooga State Technical Community College in a couple of classrooms. At most 30 people attended the opening address, and two or three of those looked suspiciously like confused, note-taking freshmen wondering if they were in the right classroom. Among other speakers featured at the conference: Dean Ohlman, a lecturer at Cornerstone College and Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary, and Stan LeQuire, who heads the Evangelical Environmental Network.

What makes the tiny Chattanooga conference notable is that it's a model for grassroots activism, according to EEN's Mr. LeQuire, who is looking for bigger things to come. That group hopes to replicate the conference in communities and churches nationwide, he said, and people are responding.

EEN was started in 1993 as a joint effort between World Vision and Evangelicals for Social Action. Members of the group authored the "Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation," which has been signed by evangelical leaders such as Robert Andringa, president of the Coalition of Christian Colleges and Universities; Samuel Logan, president of Westminster Theological Seminary; J.I. Packer of Regent College; and Roger Cross, president of Youth for Christ. EEN has a yearly budget of about $200,000, and officials claim to have sent literature to 50,000 churches. More than 1,200 are now using teaching materials provided by EEN, including the (nondenominational) Church of the Savior in Wayne, Pa., First Baptist Church of Chattanooga, First Baptist Church of Mt. Holly, N.J., and Waipuna Chapel in Kula, Hawaii. Christian academics involved include Jeff Schloss, professor of biology at Westmont College; Joe Sheldon, professor of natural sciences at Messiah College; and Tony Campolo, professor of sociology at Eastern College.

Next door, EarthFair-a complementary event hosted by the EarthCare '96 conference-was the bigger draw, attracting busloads of Chattanooga schoolchildren, who wandered through booths filled with earth-friendly earthworms, looked at recycling bin prototypes, and viewed posters that very nearly chastised them for even being born. "Water pollution," one display groaned at the field-tripping children, "It starts with you!"

In keeping with the spirit of the guilt-inducing water pollution poster, Mr. Austin threw himself under the logical wheels of the environmental bandwagon. This is how the wagon rolls: People are bad; Americans are worse; and Americans with computers (and cars and carpets) are worst of all.

"The number-one problem in the environment," he told conferees, "is the modern technological system. And the number-two problem is population. One American child does more to destroy the world than 160 Bangladeshis."

The conference was supposed to be about Christian stewardship of the environment, not about science; yet conferees absorbed an environmental barrage of pseudoscience as if it were gospel truth. "The majority of scientific evidence confirms creation's infirmity," proclaimed the Evangelical Environmental Network's Let the Earth Be Glad, an environmental "starter kit for Evangelical churches."

But the booklet provides no evidence. Instead it makes broad statements such as, "Through vehicles, factories, power plants and farming practices, people have sent extraordinary amounts of chemicals into the atmosphere, resulting in air pollution and toxic waste, depletion of the ozone layer and threats of global warming."

There's some truth in that statement-no one doubts that air pollution exists-but ozone depletion and global warming are two theories that aren't backed up by time-tested science. The EEN also contends: "Rapid population growth makes the demand for water even greater," helping to cause a "serious problem of water scarcity." But even the World Bank says that's not true; there's plenty of good water, and the world is increasing its access to it at a steady pace. While there are local instances of water pollution, there's no evidence of a worldwide water shortage.

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