Cover Story

Greener than thou

"Greener than thou" Continued...

Issue: "Meltdown," April 22, 2006

Joel Hunter, pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, Fla., defended his signing of ECI on moral grounds: "Whether or not the other side is right, we're still doing the right thing because we're treating the earth with respect." Mr. Hunter views the science and economics surrounding the issue as secondary: "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 of it is. We need to take care of the earth and do what we can to stop the pollution and accumulation of greenhouse gases, because it's just the right thing to do."

Contrary to Mr. Hunter's assertion, the ECI statement makes clear that "everything hinges on the scientific data." If reducing emissions is an unnecessary gesture that will cost so much that the poor will be hurt more than the environment is helped, is it still the right thing to do? Such uncertainty raises questions outside the expertise of most ECI signatories. Namely: How much climate change is human-induced? Will the planet warm to catastrophic levels? Are significant emissions reductions possible without serious economic repercussions?

ECI leaders have staked their position on the authority of scientific reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN-sponsored collaboration of multinational representatives. The most recent comprehensive IPCC report states that some of the climate changes in the past 50 years are attributable to human activities. The 2001 document further contends that "the projected rate and magnitude of warming and sea-level rise can be lessened by reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

The ECI statement dubs the IPCC "the world's most authoritative body of scientists and policy experts on the issue of global warming." But research scientist John Christy, a lead author on the IPCC report, disputes such a glowing endorsement: "Most of the folks in the IPCC are not climate scientists. It's luring and convenient for them to latch onto a simplified view, a Time-magazine-type view, of climate change." Mr. Christy recalls sharing a lunch table with three European representatives intent on producing a policy-directed IPCC report that would force the United States into signing the Kyoto Protocol (see sidebar). "The IPCC is supposed to be policy neutral," he told WORLD. "But if you create alarm, you kind of have an idea about what policy you want to have come out."

Much like 60 Minutes and Time magazine, the ECI claims scientific consensus in support of its position. In reality, the science is far too complex for certainty on either side. "These guys are going to try to tell you what the climate's going to be like in 2100, and the weatherman can't tell you what it's going to be like in five days," said Kenneth Chilton, director of the Institute for the Study of Economics and the Environment. "Weather is simple compared to climate. Let's get real here."

Roy Spencer, principal research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and former senior scientist for climate studies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, believes that small amounts of global warming could benefit the earth. "There isn't enough appreciation amongst the public about the uncertainty of the science, because it's the most dramatic claims that get the most press," he told WORLD. "We know from human history, warmer is better. Now, if it warms by 10 degrees Fahrenheit, that's not good."

Mr. Spencer views competing scientific projections of climate change as exercises in futility-vain attempts to model a global system with countless unknown variables. He contends that meaningful debate on the issue must account for the economic consequences of proposed policies: "People don't realize how painful it will be to substantially reduce carbon dioxide emissions."

Mr. Chilton explains that CO2-emissions reductions would dramatically increase the cost of energy, dragging "down economic growth to potentially stagnation or shrinkage. That has huge implications on people's well-being, much larger than the possibility of sea-level rise."

Anticipating such objections, the ECI calls its proposals market-based and contends that low-CO2-emitting technologies will eventually pay for themselves. ECI signatory Clive Calver, pastor of Walnut Hill Community Church in Connecticut and former president of World Relief, cites precedent in rejecting the gloomy economic projections: "Most significant contributions evangelicals have made to social change have been accompanied by dire threats of the implications of economic collapse."

The problem for many Christians is that both sides of the global warming issue have credentialed authorities who make convincing arguments. The Bible itself calls for environmental stewardship but emphasizes the importance of helping the poor and does not resolve the current debate. Most past evangelical calls to stewardship have focused on clear biblical principles, shying away from specific policy positions and generating little national media attention. The ECI's attachment of moral imperatives to federally imposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions was new, and it generated prominent coverage from most every major news outlet in the country.

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