|Frank Wright, Ph.D.
President & CEO
In my last missive I argued that so-called Creation Care, as advocated by the evangelical left, is a diversion from the Great Commission, is a misallocation of scarce ministry resources, and in some cases is so demonstrably idolatrous that it can only be called “another gospel.”
Yet there is another reason – less philosophical but still profoundly theological – why the Creation Care advocated by the evangelical left (and their fellow travelers in the global warming movement) should not be embraced: the poor.
The dirty little secret of the global warming movement is that the policies they advocate to “save” the earth are devastating to the world’s poor.
The stated goal of global warming policy advocates is to reduce carbon emissions. They variously advocate three principal means of doing so: 1) making carbon-based fuels more expensive and less widely available; 2) providing financial incentives for alternate energy sources; and 3) limiting economic development. Yet for each of the policy proposals advocated, the greatest burden (at the margin) falls on the shoulders of the poor.
Reducing the supply of carbon-based fuels, or taxing them heavily, drives overall energy costs higher. With energy being the largest component cost of both food production and clean water production, higher energy costs mean higher food prices and less affordability and availability of clean water. In a powerful recent example, when oil prices rose to $147 per barrel a couple of years ago, commodity and basic food prices spiked all over the world. Who suffers most? – the poor.
Using scarce federal dollars to subsidize demonstrably inefficient alternative energy sources diverts resources from more productive ends. Such subsidies inevitably distort the marketplace. When ethanol subsidies kicked in with full force, many corn farmers diverted their production away from food and into ethanol production. The result (for a time) was a striking rise in corn prices all over the world. Who suffered most from this misallocation of scarce resources? – the poor.
The same is true with artificial limitations on economic development. In the name of pollution control, economic development is discouraged and made far more expensive. In the end, such limits diminish innovation, undercut wealth creation, and limit the availability of affordable health care. And once again, the weight of this misguided approach falls most heavily on the poor.
But if we constrain this debate only to the realm of political economy, we might miss two other important and separate distinctions.
First, it is worth noting that the poor of the world are responsible for a great deal of environmental degradation. For those living at a subsistence level, the impact of rain forest destruction, natural resource depletion, and pollution in the environment around them all pales in comparison with the challenge of daily survival.
For this reason alone, helping the poor obtain the means to escape the bondage of poverty is an environmentally friendly thing to do.
But second, and more importantly, the poor are near and dear to the heart of God. Even a casual reading of the Scriptures reveals this.
Consider some of the names attributed to God in Scripture: 1) Defender of the fatherless (Deut. 10:18); 2) Protector of the poor (Psalm 12:5); 3) Rescuer of the poor (1 Sam. 2:8); 4) Provider of the poor (Psalm 68:10); 5) Savior of the poor (Psalm 34:6); and 6) Refuge of the poor (Psalm 14:6).
And a more careful reading of Scripture makes it clear that care for the poor is a biblical command – not just spiritual advice.
Therefore, it is for the sake of the poor and our efforts to reach them with the Gospel of Jesus Christ that Christians must engage in the debate over the proper view of creation stewardship. We must not allow the poor to be shunted aside and ignored in the name of “saving” or “serving” the earth. If we do, the dramatic and deleterious effects on the poor could result in a Malthusian tsunami, or even worse, a kind of silent genocide.
Physicians are guided by a First Principle that advocates “doing no harm” to people. How can a proper biblical understanding of creation stewardship be guided by anything less?