FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–I remember when I first heard about global warming. It was 1980 and I was in my senior year of college at Savannah State College (now Savannah State University). I was reading an article in Omni magazine about how human activity is causing an increase of greenhouse gases leading to global warming.
I remember thinking how strange that people would be concerned about global warming when, just a year or two before, climate scientists were warning us about global cooling and a new ice age. After I graduated from college and became an Air Force officer and engineer, I remember discussing it a time or two with others USAF officers/scientists. Nobody believed it. Even though we were not climatologists, we had educations in the hard sciences and knew enough to conclude that something smelled funny about this idea.
Over the last 30 years, I picked up a lot more education (including a Ph.D.) and have had a change of vocation. While some things have changed, others have not. Today, I am a seminary professor teaching Christian ethics to the next generation of pastors. But the science of global warming still smells funny.
No matter how often politicians are wrong, they are rarely in doubt. Some, including the president and leaders in Congress, have bought into climate change alarmism. They believe that something should be done as soon as possible. With a Democratic president and majorities in the House and Senate, it would seem likely that some action will be taken to reduce the supposed dangers of climate change. (The recent defeat of a bi-partisan effort to block the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide makes this seem even more plausible.)
It should be noted, however, that there are a few problems with restrictive energy policies. Many of the world’s largest emitters of CO2 (China and India, for example) are reluctant to sign any sort of agreements about reducing the use of carbon based fuels. So even if the U.S. enacts “cap and trade” or some similar legislation, it will make no difference unless all of the other major economies participate. So far, none of the largest carbon emitters have shown any serious interest, and for good reason.
“Cap and trade” would have devastating effects on the economy. Businesses and employers would suffer as the cost of fuel and electricity increased. They would have to raise their prices, cut employment, or both, moves that would hurt everyone.
To make matters worse, even modest estimates suggest that some proposals in Washington would cost the average family $3,000 in taxes and lost income every year. If you are wealthy, this cost is negligible. If, on the other hand, you are a middle-class citizen with an average income, a $3,000 loss in income comes with considerable pain. If you are a college student or someone who is struggling financially, then this cost is a disaster. Because the poor will disproportionately bear the burden, restrictive energy policy proposals have a significant moral dimension.
As a seminary professor, I see two mistakes that we can make with regard to the environment. The first mistake that we can make is to ignore the environment. The second mistake is to worship the environment. Either one of these mistakes is sinful and harmful to us, our neighbors, and (ironically) to the environment. Both mistakes result from a distorted view of God, mankind and the rest of creation. And the consequences of both mistakes fall disproportionately on the poor.
If we are to see the earth as the Lord would have us see it, we should enhance, not degrade, the beauty of creation. Accepting our God-given responsibility entails improving our environment, to the glory of God and for the benefit of ourselves and others. In God’s wise design, people and nature can thrive together. But despite the pressure for feel-good policies, we must be eager — like the Apostle Paul — to remember the poor. A biblical environmental ethic demands no less.
Craig Vincent Mitchell is a professor of Christian ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (Fort Worth, Texas), a fellow of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and a research associate of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (http://www.CornwallAlliance.org). The Cornwall Alliance is a network of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics and policy experts committed to bringing a proper and balanced biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development. Mitchell is a contributing author to the 76-page paper, “A Renewed Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Examination of the Theology, Science, and Economics of Global Warming.” It is available online at http://www.CornwallAlliance.org.