February 11, 2006
Stewards of Nature
We hear now (in full-page
ads) from the Evangelical Climate Initiative. Their summons, signed
by 80-odd evangelical leaders, is to address the global-warming
crisis. The opening statement declares that "as evangelical
Christians, we believe we're called to be stewards of God's creation."
That isn't an inflated
claim; ministers of the Gospel are expected to address common
concerns. This time we are advised that "global warming can
and must be solved. It is no small problem. Pollution from vehicles,
power plants and industry is having a dramatic effect on the Earth's
climate. Left unchecked, global warming will lead to drier droughts,
more intense hurricanes and more devastating floods, resulting
in millions of deaths in this century."
The premise is that
the planet is suffering from rising levels of greenhouse gasses,
which are bringing on increasingly sharp climate changes. As Anthony
McMichael of the Australian National University in Canberra has
articulated the problem, climate change would lead to "an
increase in death rates from heat waves, infectious diseases,
allergies, cholera as well as starvation due to failing crops."
Two questions arise.
The first, and most obvious, is: Is the information we are receiving
reliable? There is a certain lure to apocalyptic renderings of
modern existence. Some remember, not so long after the first atomic
bomb was detonated, predictions that we were directly headed for
nuclear devastation. After a bit, a Yankee skepticism came in
and informed us that Dr. Strangelove was a creature unto himself
-- that he could be isolated, and that nuclear armament could
proceed, with high levels of caution. Today the problem on the
nuclear front is proliferation. And the crisis is at our doorstep
in the matter of North Korea and Iran. But even if they develop
the bomb, we do not go straightaway to the end of the world with
alarum is strongly backed by evidence, but there are scientists
who believe that the data of the last few years, indeed of the
last century, attest to cyclical variations that make their way
irrespective of the increase in fossil-fuel consumption. Professor
Robert Jastrow, a distinguished astrophysicist, is skeptical in
the matter. Yet recent reports of measurements done in the Antarctic
have not been fully absorbed by the non-believers, and they aren't
likely to ignore as simply inconsequential the increase in greenhouse
gases, whatever dispute there may be about their exact effect.
There is no disputing
that, over the recent period, temperature changes have been in
an upward direction. The latest figure is one degree in the last
generation. The nation's temperatures this January were the warmest
on record, and NASA scientists have informed us that 2005 was
the hottest year ever recorded worldwide.
The issue of Kyoto
divides the world. The protocols agreed upon there were affirmed
by President Clinton, but were rejected by the Senate. The grounds
for doing so were that unrealistic demands were being made on
the developed nations, without realistic attention to what the
less-developed countries were prepared to do in the way of reducing
their dependence on fossil fuels. China, for instance, would simply
refuse to abide by schedules that failed to take into account
its spectacular demands as a country moving to western levels
of consumption at singular speed.
Senators John McCain
and Joseph Lieberman have endorsed a bill that would set for the
United States a goal, by the year 2010, of a reduction in emissions
to the level of 2000. President Bush has refused to sign on to
any schedule whatever that would mandate national goals, or would
restrict normal impulses.
The pressure of the
environmentalists has combined with a more direct pressure, which
is the scarcity of those fuels that do the most damage. There
are visions knocking on the door, of fuels without the heavy carbon-dioxide
emissions. But mostly there is a recognition that economic and
environmental concerns might combine to discourage profligate
consumption of the toxic stuff.
One way to go would
be a surtax on gasoline. Another, a heightening of federal requirements
in the matter of energy-efficient automobiles; these began many
decades back, when the impulse to formalize our concern for nature
began to take concrete legislative form. Add now the moral concern.
We are indeed stewards of nature, and calls to conjoin our concern
with a sense of Christian mission are noteworthy.
2006 Universal Press Syndicate