I can hear them already: “Those evil corporations have bought off those evil Republicans! That’s why the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power passed H.R. 910, the Energy Tax Prevention Act! But rising carbon dioxide puts all life on Earth in peril! Join us in the righteous cause of creation care. Tell your Congressman to vote ‘No’ on H.R. 910 when it comes to the floor!”
Who will make such claims? Religious leaders who have embraced belief in catastrophic man-made global warming. Folks with the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, Interfaith Power and Light, or the American Values Network, among others.
They’ll try to make a moral case against Congress’s reining in the Environmental Protection Agency’s usurpation of power: Earth itself is at risk! We must act to reduce CO2 emissions!
But with EPA greenhouse gas regulations threatening to drive energy prices, and consequently the price of everything else, through the roof, devastating industry and commerce, destroying jobs and hurting America’s poor, it behooves us to subject their moral case to careful criticism. And when we do that, we find that it’s fundamentally flawed.
Their case rests on the false premise that Earth’s climate system is extremely fragile, that a minute change in atmospheric chemistry (CO2 rising from 27 thousandths of one percent to 39 thousandths of one percent) would cause catastrophic global warming. That premise fails on both religious/theological and empirical/scientific grounds.
First, the empirical/scientific grounds: All the predictions of catastrophic global warming from rising CO2 arise not from empirical observation (the hallmark of real science) but from computer models, the numeric output of which is not data (what we get from observations) but hypothesis (what needs to be tested by observations). And every one of the computer models that yields such projections does so only because it assumes that overall climate feedbacks on the roughly 1.2 degree C of warming from doubled CO2 by itself are strongly net positive.
But however much confusion there might be about the effect of this or that individual feedback mechanism, we already know that overall feedbacks are net negative. With no greenhouse effect, Earth’s average surface temperature would be about -17 degrees C; with its natural greenhouse gas levels but no feedbacks, it would be about 77 degrees C; but with the feedbacks, it’s about 15 degrees C. That means the overall feedbacks eliminate 58% of greenhouse warming.
In short, empirical observation tells us the fragile-Earth premise is false.
Second, evangelicals like those with the liberal Evangelical Environmental Network have another reason to object to that premise: It’s inconsistent with the Biblical teaching that a wise, powerful Creator made and sustains the Earth so that it was “very good” (Genesis 1:30) and promised to sustain its natural cycles on which human life relies (Genesis 8:21–22).
The fragile-Earth premise is analogous to thinking that a great architect would design a building so that if someone leaned against one wall, all the feedback mechanisms would magnify his weight, causing a positive feedback loop that would destroy the building. That, of course, is ludicrous. No one would look at such a building and call it “very good.”
That kind of thinking is unworthy of the Biblical faith such leaders claim to represent. It’s also unworthy of sound science. With it out of the way, we can step back and re-think the two important issues really at hand in the Energy Tax Prevention Act.
The first is economic: EPA’s CO2 regulations would cost the country hundreds of billions of dollars in lost productivity, millions of lost jobs, and skyrocketing energy costs over the coming decades, harming everyone, but the poor most of all—precisely the reason why the cap-and-trade legislation passed by the Democrat-controlled House in 2009 never even came to the floor in the Senate.
The second is constitutional: EPA’s move to regulate CO2 as a dangerous pollutant is a raw usurpation by the executive branch of the authority the Constitution gives to the legislative. The Clean Air Act, which EPA claims as legal basis for its action, never even mentions greenhouse gases, let alone CO2 specifically, let alone empowers the executive branch to regulate it. The case that CO2 endangers anyone through global warming is extremely controversial, and the cost of acting on that assumption is enormous. That puts such action squarely in the realm of what elected, and therefore accountable, legislatures should address, not unelected, and therefore unaccountable, bureaucrats.
The Energy Tax Prevention Act addresses both those issues. It deserves much more careful consideration than the knee-jerk rejection Left-wing religious leaders are likely to give it.
E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is National Spokesman of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a network of pastors, theologians, ministry leaders, scientists, economists, and policy experts dedicated to promoting economic development for the poor and wise environmental stewardship.
This article published on March 22, 2011.