Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Global Warming Is Your Friend?

There's been a lot of discussion over the past week or so regarding the "Evangelical Climate Initiative," signed by Rick WarrenTM, among others.

Contrary to some opinions I've recently heard, environmental stewardship is an issue that Christian pastors ought to deal with. But they ought to know what they're talking about--which Warren and many others may not.

After the National Association of Evangelicals announced that it would not take an official stand on "global warming," Warren and a group of 85 other evangelicals broke away to join the so-called "fight against global warming."

While to some gullible evangelicals this issue might seem to present a golden opportunity to suck up to liberal environmentalists and receive breathless kudos from the media without any real cost, in reality environmental policy can have massive consequences--and liberals (who've never shown much grasp of the Law of Unintended Consequences) have a long history of adopting a "do something--anything" stance with disastrous results. For evangelicals to join them is naive at best, and potentially grievously harmful at worst.

It is not always best to "just do something." It often can be positively harmful. The price of going off half-cocked is high. As E. Calvin Beisner of the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance writes:
In developing countries, 2 billion people still do not enjoy the basic necessities and conveniences that electricity makes possible: lighting, refrigeration, hospitals, schools, manufacturing, water purification and sewage treatment...
[F]our million infants, children and mothers die every year from lung infections, due to constant pollution from their fires. Six million more perish annually from intestinal diseases, caused by unsafe water and spoiled food.

However, concerns about climate change are frequently cited to justify policies that prevent poor countries from building fossil fuel power plants. And yet, even the Kyoto Protocol would result in Earth's temperature being only 0.2 degrees F less by 2050 than it would be without the treaty. A better approach would be to develop technologies that generate abundant, reliable energy, at lower cost and with fewer emissions -- and export those technologies to poor countries.
That's the kind of viewpoint one rarely hears in the mainstream media. Because the orthodoxy of the so-called "environmental movement" is unquestioned, the movement only needs to point to the mere existence of global warming as proof that "something must be done about it."

But what if they're wrong? What if global warming isn't harmful? What if "doing something about it" will result in disaster? Or even more astoundingly, what if global warming is our friend?

Dr. Roy Spencer, who was once Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and is now principal research scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, writes in a document called "An Examination of the Scientific, Ethical and Theological Implications of Climate Change Policy," (PDF file):
My belief, shared by a growing number of others in the climate field, is that the level of future warming will be modest, due to stabilizing mechanisms within the climate system. Unfortunately, the benefits of such a modest amount of global warming are seldom discussed. There is comparatively little government research money available to investigate possible benefits, and the media would rather report predictions of gloom and doom anyway.

The largest positive impact could be in agriculture....Much research has been performed into the combined effects of extra warmth and extra CO2 on various kinds of plants, with the bulk of the results showing net benefits to plant health and growth.
In other words, the rise in global climate could be helping to feed third-world people. How often have you heard that view presented in the media? But hey, why would the media listen to some NASA climatologist on global climatology?

So, do Rick Warren and the other signers of the "Evangelical Climate Initiative" know enough to declare Spencer wrong? Are they even aware that there are opposing scientific views? Do they realize that the knee-jerk policy objectives of do-gooder environmentalists could actually wind up harming the third world people they're purporting to help?

Fortunately, an antidote exists for the boilerplate usually peddled by the environmental left, for those who want to educate themselves on the issue so they don't inadvertently wreak destruction in the name of "compassion" and "stewarship." Several organizations offer excellent articles, including the Acton Institute's section on Environmental Stewardship and the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance.

This is not a case where it is good to act before we know what we're doing. The lives of millions of poor people could ride on these decisions, it would be nice if we were right.

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