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Coalition of more than 100 evangelicals presents alternative on global warming

WASHINGTON (BP)–A coalition of more than 110 evangelical Christians from various fields has issued a rebuttal to the arguments of evangelical leaders urging mandates to restrict human-induced global warming, calling instead for environmental policies it believes will more greatly benefit the poor.

The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance released its document partly in response to a February statement by the Evangelical Climate Initiative, then a coalition of 86 evangelical leaders who said human beings are causing global warming. Such climate change will affect the poor most acutely, the ECI said. The ECI endorsed legislation to decrease carbon dioxide emissions in an attempt to combat climate change.

The ISA, however, contended such mandatory reductions to counteract global warming would “not only fail to achieve that end but would also have the unintended consequence of serious harm to the world’s poor, delaying for decades or generations their rise from poverty and its attendant high rates of disease and premature death, and robbing them of the very tools they need to protect themselves from catastrophes.”

While it shares the same concern for the poor expressed by the ECI, the ISA said its alternative “would improve the lot of the poor more surely and effectively.”

Southern Baptist public policy specialist Barrett Duke, a member of the ISA advisory board, commended the authors of the statement.

“Their examination of the data reveals a much different picture of global warming than we are hearing from the popular media,” said Duke, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s vice president for public policy and research . “I am especially appreciative of their concern for the poor. This study should cause us all to stop and think very carefully before we impose restrictions on carbon emissions. The proposed solutions may very well do more harm to the world’s poorest people than any possible benefit that may or may not be achieved.

“Everyone who wants to know if humans really are responsible for most of the warming our planet is experiencing and whether or not we are on the verge of climate-induced catastrophes should read this critique,” Duke told Baptist Press. “By offering a much needed balance to the doomsday scenarios and their promoters, the authors have provided an invaluable service to those of us trying to find the truth in the midst of the hype.”

The ISA statement intentionally does not include some well-known conservative evangelicals such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, Prison Fellowship founder Chuck Colson and ERLC President Richard Land.

Calvin Beisner, a professor at Knox Theological Seminary in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and a coauthor of the ISA statement, said he purposely sought as signers a mix of evangelicals rather than the “huge names in the Christian constellation.” He also did not want the difference between the ISA and the ECI portrayed as a “battle royale” between the evangelical right and left.

“I have huge respect for the people who signed the Evangelical Climate Initiative,” Beisner said at a July 25 Washington news conference at which the ISA document was released. “We share the same worldview, the same basic theology, the same ethical commitments, all built on the Bible. … We also share the same motivations.”

Beisner said the endorsers of ECI’s statement “have embraced something without knowing enough of the background to know that the actual [effects] of what they propose are going to be precisely the opposite of what they intend.”

The ISA statement drew these five conclusions:

— “Foreseeable global warming will have moderate and mixed (not only harmful but also helpful), not catastrophic, consequences for humanity -– including the poor -– and the rest of the world’s inhabitants.

— “Natural causes may account for a large part, perhaps the majority, of the global warming in both the last 30 and the last 150 years, which together constitute an episode in the natural rising and falling cycles of global average temperature. Human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are probably a minor and possibly an insignificant contributor to its causes.

— “Reducing carbon dioxide emissions would have at most an insignificant impact on the quantity and duration of global warming and would not significantly reduce alleged harmful effects.

— “Government-mandated carbon dioxide emissions reductions not only would not significantly curtail global warming or reduce its harmful effects but also would cause greater harm than good to humanity -– especially the poor –- while offering virtually no benefit to the rest of the world’s inhabitants.

— “In light of all the above, the most prudent response is not to try (almost certainly unsuccessfully and at enormous cost) to prevent or reduce whatever slight warming might really occur. It is instead to prepare to adapt by fostering means that will effectively protect humanity -– especially the poor –- not only from whatever harms might be anticipated from global warming but also from harms that might be fostered by other types of catastrophes, natural or manmade.”

The ECI made four claims in its earlier statement:

— “Human-induced climate change is real;

— “The consequences of climate change will be significant and will hit the poor the hardest;

— “Christian moral convictions demand our response to the climate change problem;

— “The need to act now is urgent. Governments, businesses, churches and individuals all have a role to play in addressing climate change –- starting now.”

In its statement, the ECI cited reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has been researching the issue since the late 1980s, and the National Academy of Sciences in asserting global warming is primarily caused by the actions of human beings. According to the ECI statement, the IPCC has documented a rise in global temperatures during the last 50 years and predicted a continued increase, mostly because of human beings.

The ISA statement said the assertion “most of the warming” is human induced came in an executive summary of a 2001 IPCC report that “does not reflect the depth of scientific uncertainty embodied in the report and was written by government negotiators, not the scientific panel itself.” At the close of its review in the IPCC report, the scientific panel did not link human activities to “most” of the warming, according to ISA. In addition, there actually was a cooling period from the mid-20th Century to about 1979, when global warming resumed, Beisner told BP later.

The “idea of scientific consensus on [human-induced] global warming is an illusion,” according to the ISA.

“The consensus is badly overblown,” Beisner told reporters. “There is huge disagreement among a variety of different climate change-related scientists over all of the different aspects in terms of global warming science.

“The consensus is usually mischaracterized,” he said, adding the consensus that exists is more on such things as the reality of global warming and the contribution of carbon dioxide to such climate change. “But [the] consensus is not that catastrophic, human-induced global warming is going on. I don’t find it in the scientific literature.”

The ISA statement said “drastic reductions” in the use of coal, oil and natural gas would halt or reverse economic advancement in poor countries. Requiring decreases in carbon dioxide emissions is “not cost-effective” and “will keep the poorest people of Earth from enjoying the benefits of abundant energy,” according to ISA. Technological progress in the next 50 years will not only produce “new energy generation” but “help reduce human impacts on the climate,” the ISA document said.

James Tonkowich, president of the Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy, told reporters at the ISA news conference, “An ethical environmental policy must elevate human beings, lifting them from poverty and pollution. By all means, let’s clean up the environment, something that the wealthier nations have done with great effectiveness already, but let’s remember that human industry and human belonging on the earth must form the basis of any morally sound environmental policy.”

There were 113 evangelical signers of the ISA statement, as well as 19 non-evangelicals. The evangelical signers included author Randy Alcorn; D.A. Carson, professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in suburban Chicago; Kenneth Chilton, director of the Institute for the Study of Economics and the Environment at Lindenwood University in suburban St. Louis, Mo.; Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center; Nasvhille, Tenn., pastor and author George Grant; Wayne Grudem, professor at Phoenix (Ariz.) Seminary; D. James Kennedy, founder of Coral Ridge Ministries; David Legates, director of the Center for Climatic Research at the University of Delaware; C. Ben Mitchell, professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a consultant for the ERLC; Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council; Roy Spencer, principal research scientist at the University of Alabama-Huntsville and a coauthor of the statement, and David Wells, professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary in South Hamilton, Mass.

One ISA signer, Wellington Boone, founder of the Fellowship of International Churches in Atlanta, had signed the ECI document before changing his endorsement.

Southern Baptist academics who signed the ISA statement were Gregg Allison of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.; James Borland of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va.; Kent Chambers of Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas; Reginald Ecarma of North Greenville University in Greenville, S.C.; Gary Gray and David Whitlock, both of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., and Michael Salazar and Gregory Thornbury, both of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

Best-selling author and Southern California mega-church pastor Rick Warren was among Southern Baptists who signed the ECI statement. Also endorsing that document were Southern Baptist school presidents David Clark of Palm Beach (Fla.) Atlantic University, David Dockery of Union University, Douglas Hodo of Houston (Texas) Baptist University, Lee Royce of Mississippi College and Pat Taylor of Southwest Baptist University. In addition, Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala., and Union University professor David Gushee signed the ECI statement. Hodo has since announced his retirement at Houston Baptist.

The ISA statement may be found online at www.interfaithstewardship.org. The ECI statement may be accessed at www.christiansandclimate.org.