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Evangelicals and Environmentalism

A friend linked me to this story today, and it interested me enough to try to write down a few thoughts. According to the AP story, the National Association of Evangelicals has now decided to work with a leading scientific group to combat global warming.

“Whether God created the Earth in a millisecond or whether it evolved over billions of years, the issue we agree on is that it needs to be cared for today,” said Rich Cizik, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals, which represents 45,000 churches.

Eric Chivian, director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, agreed, saying: “Scientists and evangelicals have discovered that we share a deeply felt common concern and sense of urgency about threats to life on Earth and that we must speak with one voice to protect it.”

The NAE is thus joining a statement signed by 86 evangelical leaders back in February 2006 to “fight global warming, saying that human-induced climate change is real, that its consequences will hit the poor the hardest, and that Christian moral convictions demand an urgent response.”

I think this move by the NAE is a mistake on several grounds.

1) Global Warming – maybe. Human-induced? Not so much.

This is probably my biggest issue with the environmentalist global-warning folks as a whole. I will agree that depending on how you look at climate data, it appears that our earth is getting a bit warmer. I will also note a bunch of caveats to that assertion, including the fact that we have a limited amount of historic data, and that the conclusions you can draw vary widely depending on what data set you choose to interpret. Remember, the Time Magazine headlines back in the 1970’s were wondering if we were going to enter a new ice age.

That all being said, even if we can conclude the earth is warming by fractions of a degree, you’re hard-pressed to prove that the warming is human-induced. While certainly human industry and automobiles generate gases that are nasty, there are large environmental processes at work that we don’t totally understand that also cause changes. I just don’t think we’re at a point where we can conclusively say that humans are causing global warming.

2) Where is our priority?

If a Christian organization is going to spend major amounts of time and money on an issue, there needs to be some careful prioritization of resources. For any Christian organization, number one should be advancing the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In the news story, it seems a torturous bit of stretching to deal with this issue: basically they claim that global warming leads to suffering for the poor, thus necessitating action to relieve that suffering. But I’m skeptical.

If you want to relieve the suffering of the poor, send ’em food and supplies. Speak out against repressive governments that are hurting their people. There are lots of missions doing very practical work to help these people. We can support those missions. In my cost-benefit analysis, spending money to lobby the American government to enact standards to reduce gas emissions by industry and automobiles that might in turn affect the climate is a lot more cost for a lot less benefit. Sure, maybe twenty years from now we’ll have managed to cool the planet by a degree or so. But that won’t have provided food or water or medical supplies for the millions that are currently starving and sick. They’ll just be dead.

3) Strange Bedfellows

I want to be careful with this one. I’m not trying to say there’s anything inherently wrong with Christians working with non-Christians to attain mutual goals. But I am saying we have to be very careful. Even if we have some present mutual goals, our motivations and perhaps some of our long-term goals are different. Environmentalists see man as a destructive blight on the earth and in an extreme view think the earth would be much better off without mankind around. A Christian view, though, tells us that God purposely placed us here, created the Earth for us, and now commands us to cultivate and use it. Very different perspectives.

I will grant that even amongst Christian denominations there are various views on environmental care for the earth. I’ve heard the opinion that “it’s all gonna just go downhill and then burn, so use it up, baby!”. There is another school of thought that says that part of God’s plan for the Kingdom is redeeming the Earth from the Fall, in which case we should care for the earth and work to improve it. I’m not quite sure yet where I fall on that spectrum. We should be good stewards of the world that God has given us. And just in a practical sense, if we are trying to show God’s goodness to the world around us, part of that should include a desire to make the world a more pleasant place, which includes caring for the beauty of creation. But let’s make sure we keep it in perspective, and not start worshiping the created Earth instead of the Creator.

So, when all is said and done, I think the NAE has gone the wrong direction here. There are far better ways their money and time could be spent than in trying to push an environmental agenda.

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