One issue that has received less and less attention in the run-up to November 4th, and especially since the Economic Crisis of 2008, is environmental stewardship and global warming. If the environment is mentioned at all, it usually is in the context of the American financial situation and the wisdom (or folly) of off-shore drilling and opening up ANWR to oil rigs. Interesting.

A topic that was once so hot as to justify a feature-length “propagantary” now is cold as ice, unless combined with a tandem discussion on the economy. It seems that Americans’ hearts are much closer to their pocketbooks than to their Prius’ these days. As unflattering and hypocritical as that may seem, it really isn’t too surprising given what certain folks have been telling us about human nature and it’s relationship to social market systems.

While some readers might begin to wonder if I’m nothing more than a one-trick pony given my repeated posts on economics, it’s worth pausing from all the hullaballoo surrounding the final presidential debate and take a look at environmental issues from an economic perspective now that a bit of the righteous indignation of the nation’s green-thumbs has been tempered by the wild fluctuations on Wall Street.

February 8, 2006 made headlines as a group of significant evangelical leaders signed and published the “Evangelical Climate Initiative: A Call to Action” (ECI), in which evangelicals were told that, “Climate change is the latest evidence of our failure to exercise proper stewardship, and constitutes a critical opportunity for us to do better” and called to, “recognize both our opportunity and our responsibility to offer a biblically based moral witness that can help shape public policy in the most powerful nation on earth, and therefore contribute to the well-being of the entire world.”

Remarkable for diverging from the position of the National Association of Evangelicals’ decision to abstain from comment on the issue of global warming, the well-intentioned ECI is also remarkable in its display of a disappointing unfamiliarity with basic economic principles. Linking global warming and poverty, the signatories averred that severely reducing human-induced global climate change would be a charitable and significant step towards alleviating a great deal of suffering among the world’s poor. However, the ECI, by forwarding an agenda similar to the Kyoto Protocol, inadvertently promoted actions that would curtail economic growth in developing countries.

Dr. Calvin Beisner and his colleagues at the Cornwall Alliance take great pains pointing out the economic faux pas of the ECI:

Because energy is an essential component in almost all economic production, reducing its use
and driving up its costs will slow economic development, reduce overall productivity, and
increase costs of all goods, including the food, clothing, shelter, and other goods most essential to the poor.”

“[D]eveloping countries have a duty, as governments responsible for the well-being of their people, to promote and facilitate energy and economic development, and greater prosperity and hope, for their people. Poor countries have every right to develop their economies, ultimately creating greater environmental awareness and reaching an improved economic and technological ability to achieve greater energy efficiency, pollution control, and environmental improvement. Similarly, developed nations have a duty to refrain from imposing restrictions that would make it harder for them to do so. Only in this way can both human and ecological goals be met.”

By treating energy production and its environmental effects as unrelated to the economy, the ECI imposes a Western luxury (limiting carbon emissions) on countries that do not have the economic strength to survive on rich-kid alternatives like wind and solar power. Forget the possible damage and suffering caused by more flooding or tropical storms, that sort of damage is repairable; the economic and cultural damage that would be caused by removing a developing country’s source of growth and production would ensure that the poor would remain so for the foreseeable future as Beisner points out:

Stopping or reversing economic development in the world’s poor countries–which drastic
restrictions on fossil fuel use would cause–would keep poor nations impoverished. It would
perpetuate what South Africa’s Leon Louw calls “human game preserves” where Western
tourists can see “cute indigenous people at one with their environment and the wildlife.”

The way to help the poor is by empowering them to grow their industries and economies through all the resources available to them. The jury is still out on the existence of catastrophic global warming as well as its possible impact; in the meantime, Christians and concerned citizens should promote policy that will reduce poverty and promote ingenuity and energy solutions—something the incentives of an unencumbered free market will do surprisingly well.

As the elections draw near, Christians who take seriously their God-given requirement to exercise environmental stewardship and to offer hope and grace to those in need ought to re-think the proposed solutions to environmental and economic ills. Given the current lack of sound economic thinking, more than a few might be surprised to discover that an economic system that accounts for the depravity of man as well as his god-like capacities might go a long way towards freeing men from oppressive systems while promoting their general welfare and securing for them the blessings of liberty.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Tex

8 Comments

  1. This is a great post. How often do we forget to truly understand the way that the world works and actually cause more harm than good with our ‘help’. Charity does not help. the kind of restrictions that are being imposed on poorer nations does not help. When are we going to learn that everything is not as black and white as it may seem.

    Reply

  2. […] post by Tex at Mere Orthodoxy: “Green Markets, Evangelicals, and the Poor“: “The way to help the poor is by empowering them to grow their industries and […]

    Reply

  3. There is no such thing as ‘sound science’ because no scientific theory can be proven. It’s a red herring.

    And I also feel obliged to tell you that your “economic faux pas” link didn’t work.

    Nonetheless, I did find the report but didn’t feel like plowing through 22 pages of minutiae ‘disproving’ the rationale and recommendations of the Evangelical Climate Initiative. I am familiar with most of the arguments against global warming so I didn’t want to read another rehashing, albeit a sophisticated one.

    What has most hobbled economic growth in ‘developing’ countries are farm subsidies and the flood of cheap textiles from the West, a perverse form of charity. These are the first two stages of industrialization, which is a cumulative process, so that puts these nations at a disadvantage already. That doesn’t really help my argument but it provides context. I do think that countries can leapfrog some of those stages, as they’re doing with telecommunications.

    The cap-and-trade system broadly recommended by the ECI is a market instrument so I don’t understand why you don’t like it. It would create a market in carbon emissions and developing countries would benefit from such a system by trading their excess carbon credits.

    Reducing carbon emissions is an imperative not “a Western luxury.”

    The scientific consensus is that global warming is anthropogenic and will have grave consequences in the future, some of which we’re already seeing. Using the precautionary principle, it is up to those wishing to maintain the status quo to demonstrate that these consequences will not occur.

    There is already a growing clean energy technology industry and that industry can be nurtured in developing nations, fostering economic development and poverty reduction.

    The poles are melting more rapidly than the most pessimistic of climate models estimated. Given that human action is contributing to global warming (we may disagree about the extent of it), shouldn’t we do something about global warming’s impact on the ‘least of these’?

    To end on a sour note: It would more aptly called the ‘Stonewall’ Institute.

    Reply

  4. The cap-and-trade system recommended by the ECI and others is a good market instrument, and I have never disparaged it. However, the point is larger than market instruments…what is the value of putting good market instruments to poor or unnecessary use?

    The question, and it’s one that you seem to have decided already, is whether the efforts of humans to reduce CO2 emissions along the lines of the ECI or Kyoto Protocol is the best way to deal with both human-induced climate change and global warming in general.

    The scientific consensus is not that global warming is primarily caused by humans…check out the Global Warming Petition Project headed by the Oregon Institue of Science and Medicine (http://www.petitionproject.org/) for a list of 30,000+ American scientists who dispute the claim that CO2 emissions are causing or will cause catastrophic heating.

    Until this issue can be less politicized and studied a bit more objectively, especially when dissenting scientists are silenced by means other than academic research, it hardly seems responsible to state that reducing carbon emissions is “an imperative”; this becomes more apparent when the effects of the Kyoto Protocol will make present life unhealthy, unhygenic, and characterized by extreme poverty for millions and will inhibit the industrial and technological development in many countries that can both raise living standards above the poverty line and make eco-friendly industrial practices possible.

    The growing clean energy technology industry in some developed nations is encouraging; however, the economic incentives for this technology are based upon an infrastructure and accumulation of wealth that can be traced to CO2 emitting industries.

    Yes, let’s definietly pursue clean energy wherever possible but let’s not force other nations to comply with regulations that cripple them and make economic and cultural development a distant dream. At the same time, we must be careful to make the clean energy goals among developed nations attainable and keep in mind that achieving those goals should not come at the cost of undercutting economic stability, especially since the ramificiations of a failing economy are much larger and more imminent than any possible benefits of reducing the global temperature by .2 degrees Fairenheit (“The Kyoto Protocol: CO2, CH4 and Climate Implications,” Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 25 [July 1998])

    Human action may be contributing to global warming, but if the extent, and negative effects, are miniscule—either absolutely or comparatively—we ought to focus the lion’s share of our efforts on those circumstances, systems, and policies that have a far greater and more lasting impact on the “least of these.”

    The “Stonewall” Institute, as you sourly put it, is dedicated to doing more than stonewalling movement towards environmentally sound policy; a quick glance through their articles shows a repeated emphasis on the necessity of promoting the well-being of humans, especially the poor. I encourage you to check them out: http://www.cornwallalliance.org/articles/

    Reply

  5. A qualified signatory to Global Warming Petition Project is someone who holds a Bachelor’s of Science degree and there is no requirement that they possess any expertise in the area of atmospheric science.

    Of the 578 that do possess this expertise, how many hold a PhD? A working researcher should have that level of education.

    Projections by NOAA of global surface temperature increases indicate that even the most conservative model predicts an increase that will have a significant impact on climate.

    Neither of us are qualified scientists, I would guess, but the greenhouse effect is relatively simple. And the level of the gases that trap heat in the atmosphere is beyond anything observed in the last 650,000 years, according to paleoclimatologists. Why wouldn’t our climate be warming?

    Humanity’s contribution to the extinction crisis is even more difficult to deny.

    Environmentally-aware economic growth is not impossible and, although it may be slower, we have to keep in mind that the source of our resources–the earth–should be preserved.

    Reply

  6. Undoubtedly, you’ll note that the NOAA graph is from the IPCC but NOAA’s endorsement of the information therein bolsters its credibility.

    Reply

  7. UGH!I did a really long response to your article but my internet cut out and I lost it all! Oh well, just wanted to tell you that it was a great article! Great job!

    Reply

    1. Hey, thanks for the encouragement! (and take a tip from one who has been there: never type anything more than two sentences directly onto a website comment block…word processing software is your friend).

      Reply

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *