“As governments consider far-reaching, costly policies to mitigate human contribution to global warming, Christian leaders need to become well informed of the scientific, economic, and ethical debates surrounding the issue.”
– Cornwall Alliance, “Protect the Poor: Ten Reasons to Oppose Harmful Climate Change Policies,” September 19, 2014.
The Cornwall Alliance’s recent release, “Protect the Poor: Ten Reasons to Oppose Harmful Climate Change Policies” (reproduced below)—signed by more than 140 scientists, economics, theologians, and philosophers—blends a good deal of climate realism and pro-poor public policies. Of the ten, #2 through #10 are science/intellectually based. Point #1, however, is partially faith- (not science-) based but can be easily fortified. As amended, the Cornwall release can appeal to secularists, not only evangelical Christians.
Restating Point #1
Point #1 reads as follows:
As the product of infinitely wise design, omnipotent creation, and faithful sustaining (Genesis 1:1–31; 8:21–22), Earth is robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting. Although Earth and its subsystems, including the climate system, are susceptible to some damage by ignorant or malicious human action, God’s wise design and faithful sustaining make these natural systems more likely—as confirmed by widespread scientific observation—to respond in ways that suppress and correct that damage than magnify it catastrophically.
Here is my reason-based restatement:
1. Although Earth and its subsystems, including that of the climate, are susceptible to some damage by ignorant or malicious human action, natural systems have an ability to respond in ways that suppress and correct that damage, not magnify it catastrophically. But nature cannot be said to be “optimal,” implying that any anthropogenic influence is negative. The human influence can be positive, in part or on net, from an ecological, if not economic, perspective.
Reason’s Realm vs. Faith
While Cornwall is in a faith-to-faith debate with evangelical climate alarmists, reason must have its place up front. Moreover, faith should not substitute for reason in reason’s domain. As theologian Jacques Maritain (1882–1973) explained:
Faith in its own domain—in the things which are of faith—unites minds absolutely and upon certainties absolutely essential to human life; it alone can create such a unity of minds. But faith only creates unity of minds at the top; it does not create unity of doctrine or of behavior in any of the categories of our activities which touch only human affairs, which are not of faith…. Faith itself wants reason to be free in human affairs.
Capitalism and reason go hand-in-hand. As capitalist theologian Michael Novak (b. 1933) has argued:
Reason is central to capitalism. Capitalism is very much (as the word suggests) a system of the head. Practical intelligence orders it in every detail. It promotes invention and fresh ideas. It strives constantly for better forms of organization, more efficient production, and greater satisfaction. It plans for the long run as well as the short…. It organizes means and ends. It constantly studies itself for improvement. It is ordered toward continuous enterprise longer than the life of any individual.
The Cornwall Alliance’s “Protect the Poor” manifesto usefully challenges evangelical climate alarmists to show that God made a fragile, unstable earth–and non-resourceful human beings populating it. But for atheists, agnostics, and reason-first Christians, a powerful case against neo-Malthusianism remains in the (slightly modified) Ten Points.
Consistent with the findings of A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor 2014: The Case Against Harmful Climate Policies Gets Stronger, we believe:
1. As the product of infinitely wise design, omnipotent creation, and faithful sustaining (Genesis 1:1–31; 8:21–22), Earth is robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting. Although Earth and its subsystems, including the climate system, are susceptible to some damage by ignorant or malicious human action, God’s wise design and faithful sustaining make these natural systems more likely—as confirmed by widespread scientific observation—to respond in ways that suppress and correct that damage than magnify it catastrophically.
2. Earth’s temperature naturally warms and cools cyclically throughout time, and warmer periods are typically more conducive to human thriving than colder periods.
3. While human addition of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), to the atmosphere may slightly raise atmospheric temperatures, observational studies indicate that the climate system responds more in ways that suppress than in ways that amplify CO2’s effect on temperature, implying a relatively small and benign rather than large and dangerous warming effect.
4. Empirical studies indicate that natural cycles outweigh human influences in producing the cycles of global warming and cooling, not only in the distant past but also recently.
5. Computer climate models, over 95% of which point toward greater warming than has been observed during the period of rapid CO2 increase, do not justify belief that human influences have come to outweigh natural influences, or fears that human-caused warming will be large and dangerous.
6. Rising atmospheric CO2 benefits all life on Earth by improving plant growth and crop yields, making food more abundant and affordable, helping the poor most of all.
7. Abundant, affordable, reliable energy, most of it now and in the foreseeable future provided by burning fossil fuels, which are the primary source of CO2 emissions, is indispensable to lifting and keeping people out of poverty.
8. Mandatory reductions in CO2 emissions, pursued to prevent dangerous global warming, would have little or no discernible impact on global temperatures, but would greatly increase the price of energy and therefore of everything else. Such policies would put more people at greater risk than the warming they are intended to prevent, because they would slow, stop, or even reverse the economic growth that enables people to adapt to all climates. They would also harm the poor more than the wealthy, and would harm them more than the small amount of warming they might prevent.
9. In developed countries, the poor spend a higher percentage of their income on energy than others, so rising energy prices, driven by mandated shifts from abundant, affordable, reliable fossil fuels to diffuse, expensive, intermittent “Green” energy, will in effect be regressive taxes—taxing the poor at higher rates than the rich.
10. In developing countries, billions of the poor desperately need to replace dirty, inefficient cooking and heating fuels, pollution from which causes hundreds of millions of illnesses and about 4 million premature deaths every year, mostly among women and young children. To demand that they forgo the use of inexpensive fossil fuels and depend on expensive wind, solar, and other “Green” fuels to meet that need is to condemn them to more generations of poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that accompany it.