On Thursday, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty a local “think-tank” that blends Christianity and free-market economic principles, is hosting an event titled “What Should Christians think about Global Warming” here in Grand Rapids. The event is a lecture by Jay W. Richards, an Acton fellow, who will–according to the event description–explore “the biblical foundations for our stewardship over the environment and its importance in Global Warming” and “discuss mainstream views on Global Warming.”
This is interesting given that the Acton Institute does not generally promote a mainstream view of global warming. Its website regularly publishes commentary and blog entries that question whether global warming is either happening or is caused by humans. While its founder Robert Sirico recently said in an interview that global warming is happening, he said the question is whether humans are causing warming. This really is not much of a question as there is widespread scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming. It is also worth noting that the Acton Institute is one of several rightwing think-tanks that have received money from Exxon-Mobil. The Acton Institute has also brought the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Fred Smith–one of the most well-known organizations attempting to deny and downplay the existence of global warming—to Grand Rapids. The Acton Institute is also involved in efforts to minimize concern in the religious community about global warming.
The Acton Institute’s Thursday event–“What Should Christians think about Global Warming”–features a lecture by “Director of Acton Media and Research Fellow” Jay W. Richards. Richards’ writings on global warming and creationism appear widely on the Internet, and he writes for a blog called “Planet Gore” that discusses global warming for the National Review. With regard to global warming, Richards says that there are four key questions that need to be addressed:
“(1) Is the planet warming?
(2) If the planet is warming, is human activity (like CO2 emissions) causing it?
(3) If the planet is warming, is it bad overall?
(4) If the planet is warming, we’re causing it, and it’s bad, would the policies commonly advocated (e.g., the Kyoto Protocol, legislative restrictions on CO2 emissions) make any difference and, if so, would their cost exceed their benefit?”
In an article titled “Evangelicals and Global Warming: Enough Serious Thinking?,” Richards says that the Earth is “probably” warming and that “we’re probably in the middle of a slight warming trend.” While his qualifying use of “probably” is objectionable, at least he admits the Earth is warming–that’s better some “skeptics.” With regard to CO2 activity, he says, “we don’t know” if CO2 is causing warming because “natural feedbacks” such as plant growth may be lessening the impact of CO2. As noted previously, it is widely accepted that CO2 is causing global warming. Assuming that the global warming is happening and that it is caused by CO2–which Richards does not admit–he says that global warming could still be “a net gain” for humanity. Finally, he says that it is “not obvious” that changes in CO2 emissions would make a difference. Again, there is widespread support for such efforts among scientists doing research on global warming. It is also worth noting that Richards does not cite any specific evidence for his claims. Overall, he chastises religious leaders who accept a consensus on global warming that is “more manufactured than real.”
In an article that appears on the Acton Institute’s website titled “Carbon Dioxide’s Day in Court” Jay Richards argues that CO2 should not be consider a pollutant under the Clean Air Act because it is a essential molecule for life:
“First, CO-2 is a naturally occurring gas that supports life on this planet. We emit CO-2 every time we exhale, after all. Making a case against CO-2 without making a case against nature is like making an omelet without breaking the proverbial egg. It is impossible. Second, while our current sources of energy also emit CO-2, the scientific evidence that such CO-2 causes catastrophic global warming, and that this global warming is a threat to the earth, is tenuous at best.”
Of course, nobody is arguing about whether or not CO2 is essential for life. The question is about what is the proper amount of it. The EPA–not exactly the most radical source around–states quite clearly:
“Scientists know with virtual certainty that:
* Human activities are changing the composition of Earth’s atmosphere. Increasing levels of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere since pre-industrial times are well-documented and understood.
* The atmospheric buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases is largely the result of human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels.
* An “unequivocal” warming trend of about 1.0 to 1.7*F occurred from 1906-2005. Warming occurred in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and over the oceans (IPCC, 2007).
* The major greenhouse gases emitted by human activities remain in the atmosphere for periods ranging from decades to centuries. It is therefore virtually certain that atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will continue to rise over the next few decades.
* Increasing greenhouse gas concentrations tend to warm the planet.”
Richards’ writings–often addressed at Christian evangelicals who have responded to global warming by calling for Christians to take action on the issue–fit into a larger attack by the Acton Institute on the religious left. In a recent interview, Robert Sirico said that the religious left is a danger to individual liberty because it focuses on “state solutions” to issues such as poverty. Similarly, he accused it of elevating concern over the environment beyond stewardship to “extremes” in which people worship the creation rather than the creator. The Acton Institute has generally criticized the left for promoting regulation and has instead argued for an unregulated free-market economic system. It is likely that Richards’ lecture on Thursday will advocate more of the same–no regulation of the pollution that is causing global warming and no efforts to stop it.