Dr. Beisner is a scholar specializing in the application of Christian worldview, theology, and ethics to economics, government, environmental stewardship, and public policy. As a professor he has taught theology, apologetics, ethics, church history, economics, and other disciplines. He has written four books on population, resources, economics, and the environment; eight other books; contributions to over 30 books; and hundreds of articles. He has testified as an expert witness on the ethics and economics of climate policy before Congressional committees and lectured for churches, schools, colleges, seminaries, and conferences around North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
TFP: Could you please tell us how you started working on environmental issues and why you founded the Cornwall Alliance?
Dr. Calvin Beisner: In 2005, with the help of some friends, I founded what became known as the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, basing our organization on the principles set forth in the Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship. About thirty-five experts in the field wrote this declaration in 1999 at a retreat center in West Cornwall, Connecticut hosted by the Acton Institute and Fr. Robert Sirico. The Cornwall Alliance grew out of that, with a network of about 60 scholars, about one-third scientists, one-third economists, one-third theologians to promote Biblical earth stewardship, economic development for the very poor primarily for those in sub-Saharan Africa, parts of Asia, Latin America and Haiti, and we seek to promote the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
TFP: Why did you see the need to get involved with this spring’s Vatican summit on the environment with your own “Open Letter to Pope Francis on Climate Change” and participate in the “pre-buttal” conference in Rome?
CB: The pre-buttal conference was organized by the folks at the Heartland Institute. They are good friends of ours and I was glad to be able to participate.
Why did I think it was important for us to speak out on that issue? Well, obviously Pope Francis has an enormous moral influence in the world as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. About 1.2 billion people around the world consider him their primary moral teacher here on Earth. His positions on different issues, including secular ones like environmental issues and man-made global warming, are highly influential.
We are convinced that fears of dangerous man-made global warming are driven by climate models that have failed the test of the key to science as we quoted in our Open Letter. The only basis for fear of dangerous man-made global warming is computer models. As we point out in the Open Letter, those models pretty thoroughly failed that test. On average, they simulate twice as much warming as has been observed. Ninety five percent of them predict more warming than has occurred. Only a few have predicted as much or less warming. That makes it clear that they did so by accident, not because the models actually get the picture right. The fact that almost all the models err in the same direction indicate that the errors are not random. If they were random, they would be evenly distributed above and below the observed temperatures. Instead, they all go in the same direction of too warm, and that indicates bias in the modelers.
TFP: Most of those who attended the Vatican summit on April 28, such as the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Columbia professor Jeffrey Sachs are also major supporters of population control, abortion and homosexual “rights.” Is there a connection between green alarmism and the attacks on the traditional family?
CB: Well yes. The environmental movement is rooted in the same historical soils, so to speak, as the population control movement. Both are rooted in the ideas of Thomas Robert Malthus, the author of An Essay on the Principle of Population published in 1798 which taught that the human population naturally grows geometrically (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.) whereas food supplies grow only arithmetically (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 etc.) and consequently population will naturally outstrip food supplies unless it is held in check with natural means such as disease or famine or war.
Malthus said we need to keep population in check by intentional choice to have fewer children. The problem is, that choice didn’t tend to be made by couples. It tended to be made by government representatives, and this led to the eugenics and population control movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Those were spurred by the work of Charles Darwin, who’s Origin of Species was built on Malthus’ assertion, that this competition for scarce food supplies was what provided the struggle for survival of the fittest.
So yes, they’re all tied together, and Jeffrey Sachs and Ban Ki Moon and the leadership of the United Nations are totally committed to population control, to what they call “family planning” or “reproductive freedom,” which are really code words for ready access to abortion, which is the means of preventing the consequences of sexual activity.
TFP: One of the key lines in your “Open Letter to Pope Francis on Climate Change” was in the second paragraph where you write: “Much of the debate over environmental stewardship is rooted in a clash of worldviews, with conflicting doctrines of God, creation, humanity, sin, and salvation.” Could you explain this?
CB: Yes. Of course, this clash of worldviews doesn’t mean that there are no significant questions of empirical science involved. There are. But how do we interpret the empirical standard that we see, and what empirical data are we ready to look for and notice? Those things are heavily shaped by our worldview, our philosophical presuppositions. Most of the environmental movement – not all of it, but most of it – is used to worldviews that give the wrong answer from a Biblical perspective to a most fundamental question. That question is: Is all of reality One, or “Two,” what philosophers refer to as “the problem of the Many.” Is all of reality of one sort, or is it of two sorts? Is there a Creator and a Creation? Or is everything the same sort of thing?
Now, much of the environmental movement in the West has its roots in secular humanism and the worldview that says that matter and energy in motion is all that is. There is no Creator, no infinite, eternal Spirit who is unchangeable in His wisdom, power, justice, holiness, goodness, and truth. Paraphrasing the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 4, “There is a god, it’s just matter and energy in motion.” That’s the secular atheist worldview, and it answers that fundamental question, “Is all reality One or Two?” with the answer “One.”
Much of the rest of the environmental movement instead embraces either a pantheist worldview (God IS the universe), or a panentheist worldview (God is to the universe as the soul is to the body), or a spiritist worldview (there are lots of gods, and they inhabit rocks, trees, etc.). But, interestingly enough, any one of those – pantheism, panentheism, spiritism – also answers that fundamental question in the same way. There is no real distinction between God and Creation. God is a part of the whole. The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans chapter 1 that when people deny the Creator, they embrace the lie.
They exchange the truth of God for the lie of the serpent, who told Adam and Eve that they could be like gods, that they could make their own truth and their own morality. And God gives them over to a depraved mind, and professing himself to be wise he becomes a fool.
Then they exchange the glory of the immutable, the unchangeable God for images like men and earth and four-footed beasts and other changeable things. People begin to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.
Those two worldviews: atheism and pantheism/panentheism/animism dominate most of the environmental movement. From either of those worldviews you could never derive the scientific method, because the scientific method rests on the notion that the universe is an ordered reality and that we, human beings, are made in God’s image, rational as He is, and able to understand this ordered reality. But atheism and pantheism cannot give you that understanding of how the universe works. Chance and the notion that God is a part of the universe doesn’t do it.
TFP: Would you say that Americans are more open to the message of global warming realism than other peoples, Europeans etc. At the Rio+20 Summit, they were constantly attacking American organizations that were thwarting population control and the alarmism message. Would you say that Americans are receptive to the message of Cornwall Alliance and other organizations?
CB: I think polling around the world shows that the American population is more skeptical of dangerous man-made global warming than the population of Europe. I doubt we have good information on the opinions of the people of Africa, Asia and Latin America on these issues. But yes, Americans tend to be a bit more skeptical, and there are possibly a number of different reasons for that.
For one thing, historically Europe has been much more accustomed to bureaucratic rule than the United States. Unfortunately, I think we are heading very much that way in this country, and that is something to be disappointed about. But that would be part of it. The global warming alarmist message provides a great rationale for the expansion of bureaucracy, and bureaucracy is always working on rationale for its expansion.
TFP: How does the man-made global warming alarmism adversely affect Brazil, Latin America, and the developing world?
CB: Well, fundamentally because of this: no society has ever risen out of poverty without access to abundant, affordable, reliable energy, especially in the form of electricity. Let me illustrate it this way. The average sub-Saharan African woman spends 6-8 hours a day of her time and bodily energy doing nothing but collecting wood and dried dung (or wet dung that she plasters on the side of her hut to dry in the sun), and she uses those as her primary heating and cooking fuels.
This creates smoke that she and her children breathe up close. The World Health Organization estimates this kills about four million people per year around the world, most of them women and young children because they are the most exposed. It also debilitates, to varying degrees, hundreds of millions of others who get respiratory diseases that don’t kill them but weaken and slow them down. Imagine, if this average sub-Saharan African woman is spending 6 hours a day gathering wood and dung to cook her food and heat her hut, what time and bodily energy does she have left for doing productive work to lift herself and her children out of poverty?
If she could replace that wood and dried dung with electricity provided at low cost through an electric grid fueled by coal or natural gas or even by oil, that would free up many hours for her to do other things. The same at varying different scales applied to other, poorer parts of the world. To rise out of poverty, you have to have abundant, affordable, reliable, non-human, non-animal energy. Fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) are the most affordable, abundant, reliable sources that we have. It’s not because of politics or that Big Oil, Big Coal, or Big Gas control the message.
It is because of basic physics. The energy density of fossil fuels is hundreds of times greater than the energy density of wind and solar and bio-fuel. Consequently, it is much less expensive to get energy from those to get the highly refined and concentrated energy that we need to run machines to have their work replace our work. It is hundreds of times more efficient to do it that way, which means that it is far less expensive.
TFP: In Brazil environmentalists hold up the Brazilian Indians as the ideal that Western Man is to imitate.
CB: If you like the notion that 50% of your children are going to die before age five, and that the average life expectancy at birth is going to be about 27-28 years, well you were born just about three centuries too late. Because three centuries ago that was the common life, or death, for the entire human race. It has only been in the last three centuries that part of the human race has left that behind. Poverty brings suffering. Poverty brings death. If you want to reduce human suffering, if you want to reduce human death and want to prolong human life, if you believe that human beings are something to be celebrated as Psalm 8 tells us, that we are made in God’s image, that we are “crowned with glory and honor,” then you don’t want poverty.
But environmentalists see human beings as no different from the rest of the animals on the earth. They don’t grasp human exceptionalism at all. Which is why they want to extend human rights to other animals, plants, and whole ecosystems. But you know what? A human ethics for beasts very easily turns into a beastly ethics for humans. If there is no moral difference between a human and a guinea pig, then you start treating humans as you do guinea pigs, you don’t start treating guinea pigs as you do humans.
TFP: Could you give your impressions and opinion about Pope Francis’ new encyclical Laudato Si’?
CB: My sense is that pretty much everything that is in that encyclical specifically about climate change is attributable to those who advised the Vatican on that issue. And those people were pretty well exclusively representatives from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. So it is not surprising that they very carefully excluded any critical alternative views from what they gave the Pope. The really sad thing is I think that his advisors within the Vatican, as well as those outside the Vatican, served him very poorly.
TFP: Do you think this encyclical will give fuel to the global warming alarmism movement or contribute to it in any way?
CB: My sense is that there is a great deal in this encyclical that the climate alarmists are going to find very useful. They will find helpful ammunition. A major part of it is the insistence that richer nations of the world have to pay a penalty for having caused global warming in order to help the poorer nations. I don’t think there is a good scientific case for the notion that the richer nations have harmed the poor nations by anything that they have done to contribute to any global warming, if their contribution is real at all. Their contribution would be very small, bigger than the poorer nations, but certainly not dangerous to anybody. Of course we could also say the industrialization of the richer nations has enabled them to carry on trade with the poorer nations which fosters economic development in those poorer nations, and that economic development more than offsets by its benefits to the poor the harms that might be traceable to the miniscule impact of global temperature from richer nations.
Further, the use of fossil fuels has increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that in turn has increased plant growth all over the world making food more abundant and affordable for all people everywhere but especially for the poor, and for that matter for all animals. This is a win-win for everything that eats plants. We are greening the Earth by putting in more CO2 into the atmosphere. So if we are supposed to pay a penalty for a little bit of warming, I think a very small amount of warming, why don’t we get a reward for the unasked-for, unpaid-for greening of the earth that we have been responsible for?
Much of the environmental movement is heavily left-wing in its political and economic perspectives, and there is a great deal of the remnants of Pope Francis’ earlier liberation theology present throughout the encyclical, a great deal of egalitarianism and redistributism.
TFP: Which of course requires statism to be accomplished.
CB: That’s one of the most alarming things to me about the encyclical. My fundamental objection to all the recommendations for trying to reduce global warming by reducing fossil fuel use and therefore CO2 emissions is that it harms the poor around the world far more than any climate change would harm them. Economically it is going to raise the price of energy which raises the price of everything else which is going to harm the poor especially and slow their economic development.
TFP: Global warming alarmism is presented by the encyclical as the only moral position with regards to global warming and its effects on the poor. How can global warming realists retake the moral high ground in this debate?
CB: Well, there are a couple different ways to answer that. The first one is to remember that there is no moral virtue in being wrong. And frankly, the claims about dangerous, man-made global warming are wrong. The empirical evidence shows that the models are wrong. There is no moral virtue in being wrong even about secular questions.
The next is that there is no moral virtue in trapping in poverty those who otherwise might very well rise out of that poverty. These policies would deprive these people of abundant, affordable, reliable energy from fossil fuels which, for the present and the foreseeable future, are the best source for that. It would also squelch economic development by increasing government control over people’s lives and reduce the productivity of the market.
So there is no moral virtue in harming the poor that way, trapping them in poverty. There is no virtue in reversing economic development where it has already occurred. Frankly, if you mandate an increase in the price of energy (as distinct from market changes in supply and demand) then you are going to mandate an increase in the price of everything else including the cost of doing business. That would mean a decrease in demand for workers, for employment. Many people will be thrown out of work, diminish the wage of those who have work, and the prices for things they need to buy will increase. And that means you are going to push many of them who are just above the poverty line down under the poverty line and push people who are well above it down towards it. There is no moral virtue in that.