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(DV) Berkowitz: Global Warming Brouhaha Heating Up Among Conservative Evangelicals







Global Warning Brouhaha Heating Up
Among Conservative Evangelicals

by Bill Berkowitz
August 29, 2006

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While last month's record-setting heat wave may have convinced televangelist Pat Robertson that Global Warming is a clear and present danger, a healthy number of conservative evangelicals, academics, theologians, and political leaders still have their doubts. In a sweltering summertime concurrence, both Robertson's conversion and a report from a group calling itself the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance (ISA) came while many Americans were escaping the heat wave by shuffling off to movie theaters to see Al Gore's critically acclaimed film "An Inconvenient Truth." Reaction to Gore's film -- which was scorched by the conservative media -- Robertson's second thoughts, and the ISA report are all indicative of how conservatives are responding to global warming.

A clearly distressed Robertson told his 700 Club audience that he now believed that global warming is real. Commenting on the heat wave that had been gripping the nation, Robertson said:

I tell you stay in doors ladies and gentleman. Stay cool. Get fans or whatever. And the poor, they need emergency fans and ice to cool down -- the number of people dead. I have not been one who believed in the global warming. But I tell you, they are making a convert out of me as these blistering summers. They have broken heat records in a number of cities already this year and broken all-time records and it is getting hotter and the ice caps are melting and there is a build up of carbon dioxide in the air. We really need to address the burning of fossil fuels. If we are contributing to the destruction of the planet we need to do manage about it.

While it might not be quite accurate to claim that Robertson has come kicking and screaming to his new stance, it should be recognized that he has given his 700 Club audience more than its fair share of anti-environmental screeds.

"In October 2005, Robertson's 700 Club featured Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe characterizing Global Warming believers as ‘far left' and Robertson -- throwing in a sharp jab, presumably directed at evangelicals -- depicting those with environmental concerns as at risk of idolatry by worshipping ‘God's creation' rather than God," Bruce Wilson recently pointed out at the invaluable Talk To Action (website).

The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance

The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance is also distressed; probably not so much by the hot weather as it is by the positive reception that the Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI website) received earlier this year when it unveiled its global warming action agenda. In late-July, just prior to Robertson's heat wave-induced announcement, the ISA issued a statement affirming its belief that the jury was basically still out on the issue.

The organization also issued a report titled "A Call to Truth, Prudence, and the Protection of the Poor: An Evangelical Response to Global Warming" which was clearly aimed at countering the ECI.

ECI, organized by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN) and made up of megachurch pastors, Christian college presidents and theologians, issued its report in February. Titled "Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action," the report urged the U.S. government to pass federal legislation requiring significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming. One of the claims made by the ECI is that "the consequences of climate change will be significant, and will hit the poor the hardest."

The ISA report directly challenges this contention. According to the Baptist Press, the ISA report "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 the report from the Interfaith Stewardship Alliance -- signed on to by more than 100 evangelical theologians, pastors, climatologists and economists -- commends the signers of the ECI "for speaking out on a public issue of ethical concern," it clearly views global warning from a different lens:

We share the same Biblical world view, theology, and ethics. We are motivated by the same deep and genuine concern they express for the poor not only of our own nation but of the world. That very concern compels us to express our disagreement with their "Call to Action" and to offer an alternative that would improve the lot of the poor more surely and effectively.

The report grapples with the ECI's conclusions, arguing against the extent and significance -- and possibly even the existence -- of the purported "scientific consensus" on Global Warming.

The ISA report espoused 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."

In a recently published report at EthicsDaily.com titled "Signers of Environmental Statement Funded by ExxonMobil," Brian Kaylor -- a communications specialist with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri who also runs a blog called For God's Sake Shut Up! -- revealed that among the signers of the ISA report are eight "whose six organizations have received a total of $2.32 million in donations from ExxonMobil over the last three years." In 2005 ExxonMobil gave $715,000 "to organizations with signers of the ISA document":

  • Following is a list of organizations, the amount of funding they received from ExxonMobil in 2005, and the individuals from the organizations that signed the ISA statement.

  • The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty; $50,000; Research Fellow Jay W. Richard.

  • American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research; $240,000; Visiting Fellow Kenneth Green and Weyerhaeuser Fellow Steven F. Hayward.

  • Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change; $25,000; President Sherwood B. Idso and Chairman Craig D. Idso.

  • Competitive Enterprise Institute; $270,000; President Fred L. Smith, Jr.

  • Congress of Racial Equality; $75,000; Senior Policy Advisor (energy and environment) Paul K. Driessen. (Drissen was one of the four authors of the ISA statement.)

  • The National Center for Public Policy Research; $55,000; Vice-President David Ridenour.

  • These six organizations have received funding from ExxonMobil in previous years as well. In 2004, they received a combined $740,000 (the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Changes did not receive any that year). In 2003, they received $865,000. For the three year period of 2003-2005, these six organizations received a total of $2.32 million from ExxonMobil.

The Interfaith Stewardship Alliance is no "Johnny come lately" to environmental issues. Back in 1999, Father Robert Sirico, of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty initiated the founding of ISA's predecessor organization, the now-defunct Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship.

In mid-April of this year, in a room at the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., the ISA, in conjunction with Sirico's Acton Institute, and the Institute on Religion and Democracy, held a "special" luncheon briefing titled "Pulpits, Pews and Environmental Policy: How the Cornwall Declaration is helping define the mandate of Biblical stewardship."

According to the ISA's website, "The briefing featured top theologians and policy experts who articulated a vision of Biblical stewardship, based upon the Cornwall Declaration, which has been signed by over 1,500 clergy, theologians, scientists, economists and other people of faith. The ISA also announced the launch of the Cornwall Network, a nationwide network of churches which are partnering with the ISA on biblical stewardship and environmental issues."

Dr. E. Calvin Beisner, national spokesman for the ISA and associate professor of social ethics at Knox Theological Seminary in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, told the crowd that the aim of "the Cornwall Network is to provide solidly Biblical information to religious leaders, coupled with sound scientific and economic information, to help point laypeople toward creation care that recognizes God's extraordinary gifts to mankind, enlists those gifts to enhance the environment, and puts top priority on promoting human well being, especially among the world's poor."

In a recent story titled "Nothing New Under the Sun," published in the American Spectator magazine, Mark Tooley, the director of the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C., was less charitable towards the ECI. He claimed that in the past, "some evangelicals invited ridicule by foretelling imminent doom if listeners did not repent," and the ECI "seems to fall into that same dubious tradition."

Some longtime Robertson critics, and mainstream environmentalists, choose to ridicule his comments, but the Rev. Jim Ball, spokesman for the Evangelical Climate Initiative, saw them in a different light: Bell said that he thought Robertson's conversion demonstrates "the kind of leadership we need to move beyond the vague concern of some religious figures."

And while Robertson might not sign on to the Environmental Climate Initiative or play a major role in the debate over solutions to global warming, the warning he issued to millions of viewers of the 700 Club is another nail in the coffin of global warning skeptics.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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