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Protecting the Poor from Climate Change: Which Voices Count?

Protecting the Poor from Climate Change: Which Voices Count?

Climate change: The greatest challenge facing humanity? A manageable problem? Just par for the course on a planet whose climate has always changed?

What should we do about it? Indeed, what can we do about it?

Would drastic cuts in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions save the world from disaster, or make no significant difference in future climate? Would the cuts cost little, or condemn much of the world to more generations of abject poverty, disease, and premature death?

Are wind, solar, and other alternatives to coal, oil, and natural gas as abundant, affordable, and reliable, or would switching to them drive up energy prices and cause costly and dangerous brownouts and blackouts?

Whose opinions about climate change, and climate policy, matter?

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Some climate scientists, associated with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who publish dire warnings of catastrophe, say only their opinions count. But what about other climate scientists, including those with the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, plus more, who think human contribution to climate change is relatively small and not dangerous?

How about economists, who understand the economic impact of proposed climate policies? Or energy engineers, who understand the challenges of providing, abundant, affordable, reliable energy, without which societies cannot climb or stay out of poverty? Or political scientists, who study the impact of environmental regulations on liberty?

How about theologians and philosophers, who can speak to the philosophy of science and the ethics of policy—to questions of justice and charity, of human life and dignity, of rights and responsibilities? Or pastors, aid workers, and others who deal with people in need—the elderly, the poor, and others who are hardest hit, whether by changing climate or by policies meant to address it?

And what about ordinary citizens, whose lives will be influenced by climate change, whether it's largely manmade or natural, and by policies meant to respond to it, whether by trying to prevent it, or by adapting to it? It's ordinary people, after all, who pay utility bills affected by energy policies driven by climate concerns.

Climate change and climate policy are among the most complex issues humanity encounters. No group—not even climate scientists—should have a monopoly on advising policymakers about them. Instead, this multifaceted challenge requires input from thinkers of many backgrounds.

A network of Christian theologians, scientists, economists, and other scholars believes people of all these backgrounds and more are stakeholders in the decisions facing America and other nations around the world. They can have well-informed opinions on climate change and climate policy, and they deserve to be heard by policymakers.

The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which I lead, has issued a declaration, Protect the Poor: Ten Reasons to Oppose Harmful Climate Change Policies, signed by over 140 individuals so far. Nearly 50 scientists, including 21 climate scientists, are among the signers, along with 21 economists, including specialists in environmental economics; 48 theologians, philosophers, and pastors; 29 ministry leaders, and 10 media figures who believe today's climate change policies will hurt society's most vulnerable.

The 21 climate scientists among signers are particularly significant. Last year, an opposing group published a statement that some people, including a reporter for the prestigious ClimateWire, a publication of Energy & Environment Publishing, Inc., took to have been endorsed by nearly 200 evangelical climate scientists; it turned that only 5 (2.6%) were climate scientists.

Among 20 climate scientists endorsing the declaration are Joseph D'Aleo, co-founder of The Weather Channel and chief meteorologist of Weatherbell.com; Neil L. Frank, former Director, National Hurricane Center; and Roy W. Spencer, Principal Research Scientist in Climatology at the University of Alabama and an award-winning NASA climate researcher. Economists include Kenneth Chilton, Founder and Senior Environmental Fellow, Center for Economics & the Environment, Lindenwood University; George Gilder, author of Knowledge and Power: The Information Theory of Capitalism and How it is Revolutionizing our World; and Shawn Ritenour, Professor of Economics, Grove City College. Theologians, philosophers, and pastors include Bradley G. Green, Associate Professor of Christian Thought and Tradition, Union University; Henry Krabbendam, Emeritus Professor of Biblical Studies, Covenant College, and President of Africa Christian Training Institute, Uganda; and Jeffrey Riley, Professor of Ethics, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

The declaration is backed by a new study, A Call to Truth, Prudence, and Protection of the Poor 2014: The Case against Harmful Climate Policies Gets Stronger, written by two outstanding scholars, Dr. David R. Legates, Professor of Climatology at the University of Delaware, and Dr. G. Cornelis van Kooten, Professor of Economics and Research Chair in Environmental Studies and Climate at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia. I provided an introduction from the perspective of a theologian and ethicist concerned about the impact of climate policies on the world's poor.

Both the declaration and the study are available on the Cornwall Alliance's website, www.CornwallAlliance.org.

Summarizing some of the study's findings, the declaration states that Earth's climate system is robust, resilient, and self-correcting, reducing rather than magnifying the impact of added CO2 to the atmosphere, and that natural cycles outweigh human influence global temperature.

It points out that computer climate models, on which predictions of dangerous warming rest, have been falsified by real-world observations, which show CO2-driven warming to be far less than expected, and thus far less dangerous, possibly even mostly beneficial. And aside from its minuscule effect on temperature, "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."

It goes on to say:

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. 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.

"[B]illions 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," the declaration says. "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."

The declaration's signers call on:

  • "Christians to practice creation stewardship out of love for God and love for our neighbors—especially the poor";
  • "Christian leaders to study the issues and embrace sound scientific, economic, and ethical thinking on creation stewardship, particularly climate change"; and on
  • "Political leaders to abandon fruitless and harmful policies to control global temperature and instead adopt policies that simultaneously reflect responsible environmental stewardship, make energy and all its benefits more affordable, and so free the poor to rise out of poverty."

The war on fossil fuels is, in the end, a war on the poor. It's time to end it.

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E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation and a former professor of theology, ethics, and interdisciplinary studies at Covenant College and Knox Theological Seminary, is the author of Where Garden Meets Wilderness: Evangelical Entry into the Environmental Debate and Prospects for Growth: A Biblical View of Population, Resources, and the Future

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