Environmentalists Are Twisting Religion to Fight Climate Change

AP Photo/The News & Observer, Chris Seward

Faith leaders are preaching on sin, repentance, and redemption — but with a new twist. Their congregations’ wickedness doesn’t spring from envy, sloth, or lust, but from an insatiable desire for cheap electricity.

That’s right — you’re guilty of the sin of climate change. Facing mixed results in the political arena, environmentalists are using religion to try to wean an unsuspecting public from its addiction to the root of all evil — fossil fuels. Unfortunately for believers, this means well-meaning Christians, Jews, and even some Muslims may be manipulated to support policies which may impoverish millions in the name of the environment.

“Unless they understand the science surrounding climate change…[Christians] are likely to be used as ‘useful idiots’ by climate alarmists, many of whom have anti-Christian beliefs,” Jay Richards, a Christian author who serves as assistant research professor at the Catholic University of America and senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, told PJ Media.

Contrary to many media reports, the science on climate change is not settled. Richards explained that there is a crucial difference “between evidence and speculative models — which are merely simulated hypotheses.”

“I fear that many well-meaning Christians who don’t know anything about the scientific details are at risk of being used in a campaign that, if it were successful, would make poor nations more poor and do nothing to help the environment,” Richards explained.

Environmental Churches

Many Christians do believe the alarmists, however. At the recent conference in Paris, Christians gathered to push for action.

“The environment movement, which has primarily been a secular one, has realized that over the last 30 years or so it’s not been that successful in achieving its goals,” Christian Aid’s Joe Ware wrote the Associated Press in an email. “Increasingly it has looked to faith groups for help in mobilizing a broader movement of people calling for action on climate change. They are actually natural allies as almost all faiths have a theology of creation care at their heart.”

Ware is one of many religious leaders calling for a renewed understanding of global stewardship. Pope Francis’ latest encyclical, Laudato Si, garnered headlines across the globe for its environmentalist undertones, and Christian author Ragan Sutterfield recently published a primer for “Preaching about Climate Change in Advent.”

Stewardship of the environment, as Ware pointed out, is a key facet of the Christian faith, but those who embrace an alarmist agenda in the name of holiness are likely to do more harm than good. Christianity is not a political program, and the Right is not the church’s only political temptation.

Helping the Poor

Embracing the rhetoric of “climate change” can warp the church’s thinking about how best to help the poor, and Sutterfield’s article provides a stunning example.

“Like the first hearers of the Gospel of Luke, we are in a time of crisis and upheaval brought about by hubris,” Sutterfield writes. He compares the pride of the Roman Empire — which sought to rule the entire world — to the “extraction” of the global economy. “The two share the aim of extracting as much wealth as possible from the earth — even at the expense of its people and of the whole of creation.”

In short, “our age is set in opposition to the biblical claim that the earth is the Lord’s.” But is it really? Is the unprecedented wealth spread across the world a result of hubris or a result of the Christian idea of serving the poor and helping them emerge from poverty?

As Stephen Moore and Larry Kudlow pointed out, free trade — the global economy — is “the greatest antidote to world poverty and deprivation in world history.” In the past three decades, the spread of free trade has lowered abject, dollar-a-day poverty by nearly 1 billion people. “Hundreds of millions have moved into the middle class primarily in China, India and elsewhere in Asia, in parts of Latin America and in sub-Saharan Africa — a phenomenal achievement, underscoring the benefits of free trade and open markets.”

Far from inverting Christian principles, the free market system actually bolsters it. In a society based on free trade, a person can only become rich by creating value — providing goods or services that other people need or want. The businessman only gets ahead by serving others.

The perversion of the market system, often mistaken for capitalism, is corporatism or crony capitalism — the system where government redistributes wealth to those who are well-connected. Examples of this also include the bank bailouts and the large federal subsidies given to solar companies like Solyndra. Oftentimes, environmentalists couch their arguments for this alternate economic system by demanding hefty regulations as a response to climate change.

Carbon Imperialism

Countries like India are rightly skeptical when developed countries try to enforce a carbon-free economy. Arvin Subramanian, the Indian government’s chief economic adviser, attacked such “climate change” proposals as “carbon imperialism.”

Subramanian pointed out that the U.S. produces 35 percent more coal than India, even though India’s population is four times that of the U.S. For India, “a country struggling to provide basic electricity to about 25 per cent of the population,” the effort to stop fossil-fuel projects in poor countries “smacks of a ‘carbon imperialism.’ And such imperialism on the part of advanced nations could spell disaster for India and other developing countries.”

Many environmentalists argue for “climate justice,” claiming that the negative effects of climate change will disproportionately affect the poor, while the benefits of fossil fuels already went to the rich. Ironically, those who call for “climate justice” may end up perpetuating injustice, propping up already developed countries while holding back developing countries.

A Christian Response to Alarmism

While Jay Richards warned Christians not to be taken in by the alarmists, he agreed that “Christians have every reason to defend good stewardship of the Earth, which is a clear theme from the first chapter of the Bible.” Such a reverence for God’s creation does not require scrapping fossil fuels — and it certainly does not require a rejection of the free market system — but it should encourage Christians to use their resources wisely. We can be conservationists without being alarmists.