Saturday, November 25, 2017

Biodiversity versus evangelical anti-environmentalism

Given that yesterday's holiday in the US was a spiritual time for many, I'm returning to Creation Care among the Christian right.

We'll need some serious ideological ferment to get to realism on climate change among evangelicals beyond the minority who currently acknowledge the science.* Not impossible - we see how evangelicals and many conservatives broke out of the "tough on crime" position that they were locked into 20 years ago, but still very difficult.

Dominion theology, with its argument that God placed the earth under the "dominion" of humanity as a justification to exploit the earth, is a clear setback. A good example of this nonsense is the Cornwall Alliance, shouting "dominion" at every opportunity as a reason to exploit natural resources. While there might be some sincerity by some few at Cornwall, there's no reason to trust them or their dark money funders.

And yet even these people can't completely deny environmental reality. I think I think the best shot on environmental issues with evangelicals isn't climate change, it's with biodiversity and species extinction. Even Cornwall has to say, after making up a bunch of nonsense about the slow pace of extinctions, that "None of this means that there are not particular species that are, in fact, endangered and that can benefit from careful conservation efforts." Among evangelicals that are less financially motivated for disingenuity than Cornwall, I think the argument could translate into real environmental protections.

One of the strangest places to see environmental issues handled in a nuanced way is the Creationist site, Answers In Genesis. They easily dismiss the idea that dominion is a blank check to destroy. They quote Psalm 24:1, "The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein" together with the standard verse on dominion at Genesis 1:28, "have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Dominion is stewardship with responsibilities over something that belongs to God, not authorization to destroy it. Evangelicals who believe this might have trouble with permanently destroying biodiversity.

If I were a rich environmentalist, this is an area where I'd spend some money developing the activists and message, in addition to the very active environmental movement among religious groups outside of the evangelical community.

*Important to acknowledge not all evangelicals are conservatives, and the climate science believers among evangelicals could just be the non-conservatives. This goes to the question of whether religious belief really drives opinion or if it's all just political tribalism. I think religious belief does have an effect, but it's complicated.


jrkrideau said...

even these people can't completely deny environmental reality.

I think you underestimate a person's ability to self-deceive themselves. There will always be a hard-core that will refuse to believe in Climate Change or, if they concede there is a "minor problem", Jesus will return to save us.

Remember Congressman John Simkus

I am pretty sure he not only was denying global warming but did not understand the words he was quoting from the Bible.

That was seven years ago so maybe he's changed his view but I'd not count on it.

And for a comic view of the issue:

Thomas said...

You don't have to go further than to Genesis 1:31 "God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. " If God thought it was good, who are we to destroy it?

Dan said...

The Cornwall Alliance seems to think we are toddlers in a playpen, with no responsibility to anticipate the consequences of our actions. That seems anti-thetical to the whole idea of dominion.


Environmental evangelicals may pilgrimage to the darndest places


and embrace some very odd prayer breakfast company

Unknown said...

I go with "political tribalism". It appears Evangelicals are anti-science, and if by being anti-science you also oppose the godless Left and Marxists, all the better.

I agree with Dan, "free will" implies responsibility for the consequences of one's actions, especially if people are knowingly hurt in the process.

Dominion Theology is correct in practice, Mankind DOES have Dominion whether it was given by the Divine or not, it's source is irrelevant. But for someone to argue Dominion also means freedom to destroy and pollute, is a non-sequitur.

EliRabett said...

Not that Eli would deny the spirit of the season, but it ain't just Simkus, Tamsin Edwards is out there proclaiming that Eric Holthaus is far too pessimistic and Paris will save us all.

jrkrideau said...

To follow up on Eli's post, Edwards says that "(we will adapt, because the costs of protecting coastlines are predicted to be far less than those of flooding)" and links to the Hinkel et al. paper Coastal flood damage and adaptation costs under 21st century sea-level rise

I only read the abstract of that paper which states "The global costs of protecting the coast with dikes are significant with annual investment and maintenance costs of US$ 12–71 billion in 2100".

Since I am not about to read it unless forced (put away that gun) can someone tell me where those dikes are going to be? On the face of it, that estimate is so low as to be laughable. Are we supposed to abandon Bangladesh, a major part of Vietnam, most of Florida and so on?

I just do not believe one can build and maintain thousands of kilometres of dikes for US$71 billion a year. I am a total layman so maybe we can but I really do not believe it.

Same Ordinary Fool said...


We'll need more than just the dikes to protect the lands behind them.

We'll also need protection for the dikes themselves, those that are around valuable areas, such as lower Manhattan, or California's Central Valley (on top of already existing dikes on the Sacramento River).....from boatloads of terrorist's explosives.

Fernando Leanme said...

Tamsin Edwards is right. That ice holocaust article was pretty funny, and she did you guys a favor pointing out the author should be sent to Shutter Island to get the appropriate treatment. What she doesn't get is that fossil fuel depletion and market forces will sort of take care of the problem. The real deal is a future energy crisis the likes of which we haven't seen since Easter Island natives cut the last tree. That problem will lead to a significant reduction in population, which means a little bit of sea level rise won't make much of a difference.

Anonymous said...

Fernando sure likes to make confident assertions. Not so big on evidence, though.

David B. Benson said...

In the longer run, say 500 years, the sea level rise will be in the range of 10--20 meters. Those will have to be Dikes, not just dikes.

Anonymous said...

jrkrideau - I could believe that figure as a maintenance cost - maintaining dikes isn't that expensive, but I agree it's laughable as a construction and maintenance cost.

My old water district was looking at around $200 million to construct about 15 km of dikes that would protect against 1m of sea level rise, and could be reconfigured later at additional cost to protect against another 1m. Figures from memory. Also in a location not exposed to big storm waves.


15 km of dikes for one water district ? If Brian embraces his inner geoengineer, he may end up selling bonds for a SoCal-DeathVal diversionary hydropower tunnel before Trump decides its easier to flood swamps out of existence than drain them .

Unknown said...

"29Then God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; 30and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food"; and it was so. 31God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good..."

Perhaps, if the God botherers followed His words and stopped eating meat we could cut down on the emissions from raising livestock.

Unknown said...

The parable of the talents. The kingdom of God is like a rich man who went away and left some servants with some money. Some handled the money well and doubled there master's money. The master was pleased and rewarded them. One servant hid the money away and returned it as he was given it. The master was displeased and punished him. Now imagine if a servant took the money, said 'hah I've been given dominion over this money' acted irresponsibly with it and returned only a quarter of the money. Not a happy master at all.

Barton Paul Levenson said...

Ezekiel 34:18-19 is also of interest. The Bible is in no way anti-environment, for those who bother to actually read it.

Anonymous said...

Russel - that cost was to protect just one reach of bayside land between two creeks. To do the entire county shoreline along SF Bay would be much larger, maybe 10x as much.

Mal Adapted said...

The Cornwall Alliance in no way represents all Evangelical believers. Have a look at the Evangelical Declaration on the Care of Creation.

Before I decided I was an atheist at age 12, I attended Sunday School in my parent's liberal Protestant church. I studied the Old and New Testaments enough to recognize that every word in every version of them is subject to contradictory interpretations. Both dominion and stewardship can find abundant scriptural justification. I, for one, see evidence of rising environmental awareness among Christians. Pope Francis, for example, has staked his spiritual authority over 1.2 billion Catholics on a theology of stewardship.

Evangelical AGW-deniers are motivated by the same delusions of entitlement that coal-rolling Trumpists are, perhaps reinforced by their shared delusion of persecution by the sinful majority of non-Evangelicals.

OTOH I know of many self-identified Evangelicals with strong 'environmentalist' (i.e. stewardship) sympathies, Katharine Hayhoe currently prominent among them. I'm glad to count them as allies on biodiversity issues, and of course on AGW. AFAICT, the only difference between them and me is that they think it's blasphemy to worship the creation rather than the Creator 8^).