Tuesday, October 16, 2007

7 principles and 1 hot topic

Christianity and the environment, part 2

Last time I offered seven Biblical principles that I think can be applied to debates over environmental issues. Today I want to apply those to a specific topic that tends to generate little light but lots of heat (no pun intended).

A few years ago you saw “environmental” stories in the news about endangered species, air pollution, and contaminated water. Today you see stories about global warming, global warming, and global warming. This issue is the environmental topic today. It is also the topic where what passes for debate has sunk the lowest.

About ten years ago I did a fair amount of research into this topic for a newspaper piece. I haven’t done any serious research since, and the state of things may have changed, but at the time the situation was 1) there was some uncertainty as to whether the “warming” was real, 2) there was a fair amount of uncertainty as to whether/how much any warming was due to humans, and 3) there was some uncertainty as to whether warming could be stopped.

I’ve seen nothing in the news to suggest that has really changed. There is a little more support for the idea that the warming is real, but the counter evidence is really quite impressive, even if it’s debatable. Natural causes still cannot be ruled out, especially since Mars is experiencing global warming too. Finally, there seems to be more and more confidence that global warming can’t be stopped. Also, there is a new debate over whether it is even desirable to stop it.

I don’t want to debate the issue of global warming. What I want to do is say that, given the above, reasonable and even godly people may well disagree about this topic. It’s ok to disagree about this issue. It’s ok to debate this issue. But we need to follow some ground rules. Last time we outlined just such a set of rules, so let’s examine them on this topic.

1. When you’re using someone else’s stuff, you have to take care of it.
2. Leave the planet like you want it left for you.
3. Assume people are going to sin.

The first three rules suggest that it is reasonable to address this question. If global warming is really a problem, it’s not going to be much of one in my lifetime, but I have a responsibility to leave the planet in as good a state as possible for the next generations. If we need to do something, a little arm-twisting may be necessary because people are people.

4. God gave us the earth to use.
5. Humans are more important than the environment.

There is a lot of talk lately about capping carbon emissions. The much-touted Kyoto agreement asks first-world nations to put some heavy caps on those emissions. There are two loud warnings that have been shouted in return. First, it is claimed that achieving those caps with current technology would ruin any industrial economy. Second, it is said that if we actually met Kyoto, at best it would delay the onset of the worst of global warming for five years.

This may or may not be true. If it is true, we would be ruining people’s lives for no good reason. That doesn’t mean we should chunk the whole idea. It means we have to take the questions seriously and really examine the problem. On that note, it is probably worth asking whether global warming is as bad as has been suggested. The coasts get flooded, but Canada and Siberia become farmlands. Is that a bad trade? Maybe, but the conversation should take place.

6. Don’t ask anyone to do anything you’re not willing to do.

Last time I mentioned those who want wind energy – as long as it’s generated somewhere else – and those who burn tons of jet fuel to tell you to be more environmentally conscious. I really really hate carbon indulgences … I mean “offsets.” If you aren’t practicing what you’re preaching, sit down and shut up.

7. Debate, but pretend you’re sitting between your mama and Jesus.

This debate is one of the ugliest around. Those who doubt the reality of global warming are often compared to war criminals. Some have suggested revoking professional credentials of scientists who don’t toe the party line.

Ad hominem attacks are uncivil and definitely not Christ-like. They have no place in reasonable debate and typically only prove that the attacker is not as well-equipped as he’d like people to believe.

While we may all be surprised, this question’s probably not going away any time soon. Christians are and will continue to be on both sides of the debate. We have a choice. We can carry on just like the rest of the world, or we can show the world what it looks like to disagree in a godly manner.

In this, as with everything else, the Master’s words apply: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”


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