The EPA and Evangelical (Anti)Environmentalism

treehuggers

“Give us the strength to stand strong against those who lie to us and hide behind their laws.”

So began the prayer of Joel Watts of the West Virginia Coal Forum at a July 30 rally in Pittsburgh. There, coal industry leaders attended a public hearing of the Environmental Protection Agency while 5,000 coal miners gathered outside the hearing to join Watts in preaching against the EPA’s proposal to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan, a key component of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, aims to reduce pollution at power plants, the nation’s largest source of carbon-dioxide emissions, 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. It is believed that this 30-percent reduction will provide $55 billion to $93 billion per year in public health and climate benefits. These benefits include avoiding a projected 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths, 140,000 asthma attacks in children, 340 to 3,300 heart attacks, 2,700 hospital admissions and 470,000 missed school and work days.

But Watts isn’t the only person praying for strength to take on the White House, the EPA and environmentalists. In Alabama, elected members of the Public Service Commission invoked God at an anti-EPA press conference. Twinkle Cavanaugh, the commission’s president and a Southern Baptist, vowed to fight the EPA and called on Alabamians to pray.

“I hope all of the citizens of Alabama will be in prayer that the right thing will be done,” Cavanaugh said.

Chip Beeker, a candidate for the commission who is currently running unopposed, added that Alabama’s coal is from God and that the federal government ought not interfere.

“Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?” he asked.

Beeker is an elder and Sunday school teacher at the First Presbyterian Church of Eutaw, a congregation affiliated with the conservative Presbyterian Church in America. In July, Beeker defeated incumbent Terry Dunn in Alabama’s Republican primary with the aid of the state’s powerful coal lobby. He did so by dubbing his opponent a “liberal environmentalists’ tacit enabler” and marketing himself as a “committed Ronald Reagan conservative Republican” ready to take the fight to President Obama’s “out-of-control EPA.”

“I believe that no matter what you call it, a myth is still a myth, and the so-called ‘climate change crisis’ is about as real as unicorns and little green men from Mars,” Beeker wrote on his campaign website.

Beeker’s comments echo that of another conservative Presbyterian elder, Calvin Beisner. Over the past two decades, Beisner has established himself as the most influential evangelical anti-environmentalist in the United States, writing dozens of books and countless articles arguing against any government regulation of the environment. So influential is Beisner that Southern Baptist scholar Donald McDaniel wrote in his 2011 dissertation that when the nation’s largest Protestant denomination wades into environmental waters, the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention “ensures that its content will be mainly informed by Cal Beisner and his Dominionist ecology.”

“Humility applied to environmental stewardship should lead us, in light of the vast complexity of human society and the earth’s ecosystems, to hesitate considerably at the notion that we know enough about them to manage them,” Beisner wrote in his 1997 book on evangelicals and environmentalism (published by the Acton Institute, a free-market think tank).

Beisner was one of the earliest opponents to EPA limits on carbon emissions. In June 2012, Beisner penned a letter to the EPA opposing the agency’s classification of carbon dioxide as a harmful pollutant as well as opposing any limits on carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants. He did so on behalf of the Cornwall Alliance, the evangelical anti-environmentalism network that Beisner founded in 2005 to promote a “biblical” view of the environment and to counter evangelical advocates for government action on climate change.

More than 100 evangelical theologians, pastors, scientists and economists endorsed Beisner’s letter, which featured signatories such as talk-radio host Bryan Fischer, Southern Baptist ethicist Daniel Heimbach, Calvinist theologian Wayne Grudem, former presidential candidate Gary Bauer and Christian Reconstructionist writer Gary North.

The Beisner-authored letter claimed that regulating carbon-dioxide and treating it as a pollutant will deprive people of energy and wealth and will ultimately mean “condemning them to poverty and the high rates of disease and premature death that inevitably accompany it.”

“Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is actually a great boon not only to humanity (by increasing crop yields) but also to all other life on earth,” Beisner argued in the letter.

The conservative evangelical opposition to the EPA and environmental regulations is no new development. Conservative evangelicals were the midwives of the anti-environmental movement. Scholars like Katrina Lacher have contended that the revival of social and religious conservatism as seen in the rise of the Religious Right in the 1980s helped to birth this well-funded and influential movement antagonistic to the aims and objectives of mainstream environmental organizations.

“The conjoined rise of Ronald Reagan and the antienvironmental movement are attributable to the resurgence of [social and religious] conservatism in the United States in the late 20th century,” according to Lacher.

While the 1990s marked the flowering of evangelical environmentalism, the decade witnessed the strengthening of a Christian, or more specifically, evangelical anti-environmentalism in the public square. This evangelical anti-environmentalism coalesced into a movement with the distinct political agenda of restricting and eliminating environmental regulations.

In the two decades since, evangelical anti-environmentalists — led by Beisner — have released statement after statement, touting “economic freedom” as a prerequisite to “sound ecological stewardship” and characterizing environmental challenges such as climate change as “without foundation or greatly exaggerated.”

As some high-profile evangelical leaders and organizations began to realize the reality of climate change in 2006, evangelical anti-environmentalists intervened to urge the National Association of Evangelicals to not weigh in on the debate over global warming. When the Evangelical Climate Initiative released its declaration “Climate Change: An Evangelical Call to Action” the same year, the news mouthpieces of evangelical anti-environmentalism were quick to point out the “notable names” like Richard Land, James Dobson and Charles Colson who had not signed on.

And when 25-year-old seminarian Jonathan Merritt released “A Southern Baptist Declaration on the Environment and Climate Change,” evangelical anti-environmentalists hit back hard, launching a counter-campaign to keep evangelicals from buying into the “knee jerk reactions” of evangelicals like Merritt.

Six years have passed since the last major evangelical effort to address climate change — a testament to the effectiveness of evangelical anti-environmentalism.

Now, evangelical anti-environmentalists like Beisner, Beeker and Cavanaugh face a much more formidable opponent in the EPA. And there is much at stake. For many years, Congress has demonstrated an inability to take action to combat climate change. The EPA has the power to take this important step to address the climate change crisis and in doing so lend the U.S. some credibility so that other nations might follow suit.

To get that credibility, let’s hope the EPA sticks with its proposal and doesn’t cave to those who struggle with truth (and telling it).

Aaron Weaver is an author, scholar and communications professional. He is a 2013 graduate of Baylor University, where he received his Ph.D. in religion and politics. Weaver is the author of James M. Dunn and Soul Freedom (Smyth & Helwys, 2011) and blogs at www.thebigdaddyweave.com.

  • cranefly

    “Who has the right to take what God’s given a state?”

    That is a great question. Who has a right to sell God’s gift back to its owners for a profit? Who has a right to burn the coal that God put in the ground for everyone? Who has a right to destroy the air and water that God gave everyone?

    Sometimes conservatives make a strong case for communism and don’t seem to notice.

  • Jim Reed

    When the population grows too large communism might be the only thing that could be used to build a system to support them all.

  • LogicGuru

    I’m not defending their view, but let’s try to understand what’s behind it. Arguably the anti-environmentalism, and a number of other wrong-headed ideas represent a reaction against perceived privilege.

    The idea is, “yeah, you rich folks can afford beauty—you can afford to hug trees; we can’t. You can afford to make a fuss about clean air and water; we can’t. Beauty, environmentalism, all these things are luxuries we can’t afford. We aren’t educated white-collar folks: we need those rough, dirty jobs in coal mines. We can’t afford beauty, clean air, healthy food—all those good things you fancy folks like, and can get because unlike us you can afford them. We can’t afford them: we need dirty coal, strip mining, and cheap fast food.”

  • Corey

    These people are just f_ckin idiots to say the least, they could use their own argument: yes, God gave u the earth to pillage, but at the expense of clean air to breathe? You don’t even have to bring climate change or environmentalists into the picture. If they are too stupid to not know blowing burning products that produce measurable carcinogens than let them do if in their state, sign a waver, so if they get cancer, asthma, etc, the rest of the country will not bail them out with government health subsidies or taxes from blue states. Just like fracking, do it in your own back yard, effecting your own water supply, and “Don’t Tread On Me”! Please!

  • Sandbur

    These Evangelicals need to reread their Bibles; especially this verse:

    “The nations raged,
    but your wrath has come,
    and the time for judging the dead,
    for rewarding your servants, the prophets
    and saints and all who fear your name,
    both small and great,
    and for destroying those who destroy the earth.”
    Revelation 11.18

  • D Ensign

    There’s a great deal of truth in that, and the environmental movement has long needed to speak more clearly about the connections between poverty and suffering the worst from environmental degradation. On the other hand, I can’t help wondering why folks in the mountains (or what’s left of them) can’t see clearly with their own eyes that fossil fuel corporations do not care a whit about them, their environment, their health, their economic well being.

  • LogicGuru

    Most of my fellow left-liberals are just tone-deaf—and cannot hear how the case they make for policies that would benefit people who are least well off comes off sounding like the voice of privilege. Rhetoric is powerful and overrides what we, like the “folks in the mountains,” see with our own eyes. So, e.g. Walmart workers are convinced that Walmart is their patron and protector, and that unions are profit-making enterprises run by lawyers who are out to take their money.

    Just think of Obama’s patronizing remarks about those “folks” who “cling to guns and religion.” As far as what they see with their own eyes it’s a matter of comparison: Yes mining is dirty and dangerous, but what else can I get? Yes the air and water are dirty, but that’s just the price we have to pay: what are the alternatives? Yes Walmart is paying me minimum wage, but it beats begging at the freeway entrance and I have no other options—and the Yuppies who run unions are just trying to take a cut of my meager wages.

    That’s the challenge: persuade working class people that these policies will benefit them: that THEY will be able to get green jobs in place of dirty coal mining, etc. And also that they won’t be forced to give up the things they like, and forced to live a lifestyle they don’t want.

  • BobSchmetzer

    God only lent us the earth for a short time. All that we need is right in front of us. The fresh air, the clean water, food, Beautiful flowers and forest, and animals. He expected us to keep it that way so we can survive. Now comes the people who want to destroy all of his beauty. They dig into Hell and burn the devils rocks and make hell on the surface. The pollution has caused disease and death. The devil is happy that some people would be fooled. Harming Gods gift to the people. SHAME, SHAME, SHAME !

  • Leigh Anne P

    I don’t think it is so much the evangelicals who are anti-environmental as it those those who fear the loss of their jobs. If they had reasonable job alternatives in their area that were waiting for them they might not be so negative. But with the economy as bad as it is for the middle-income, getting fanatical about job loss is totally logical.

  • cgosling

    Why do Evangelicals
    Reject Climate Change?
    A Pew poll discovered 66% of American evangelicals don’t
    believe in man made climate change compared to 36% of the non-evangelical population
    who don’t. Several reasons for this
    difference have been offered according to evangelical writer Katharine Hayhoe
    in the Inquiring Minds podcast. She claims the conservative community
    has misrepresented climate change to the evangelical community and evangelicals
    have bought into it. She writes, “I feel
    that we have been lied to” “We have been given information about climate change
    that is not true.” “Evangelicals tend to be more politically conservative and
    can be quite distrusting of scientists (believing incorrectly that they are a
    bunch of atheists).” It seems to me conservatives and evangelicals have a
    common denominator, God.

    A recent documentary about climate change, Years of
    Living Dangerously, claims “Evangelicals just want to avoid conflict.” They
    don’t want to blame themselves or other evangelicals “for dead crops, shrinking
    herds, lost jobs, and foreclosed mortgages.” Not all these assumptions are true
    but religious spokespersons spread such claims to gullible fans, often on Fox
    News. By attributing these hardships to divine power, evangelicals readily admit
    there is nothing they can or should do about them. After all, its God’s will
    that the end days are approaching. They believe, climate change, if it exists,
    will be the match that ignites the end times. Moderate Christians don’t agree
    with this philosophy; they are more concerned with maintaining their religious
    beliefs against what they believe is an onslaught of aggressive and immoral
    atheism.

    Simply put, political affiliation is the single most determinate
    factor predicting one’s acceptance or rejection of climate change. Conservative
    republicans don’t buy into anthropomorphic climate change and liberal democrats
    do. It follows that progressive democrats are more likely to be freethinkers.
    They have open minds concerning the possibility of change and the challenges it
    poses. Evangelicals rather not oppose the inevitability of the end times.

    Fox News has made its stand clear and dances to music
    composed by rich manipulators looking for votes. It makes me wonder if other
    news outlets, like MSNBC, can effectively counter Fox News’s efforts to convince
    its viewers to hate Obama and everything he supports? So far other news outlets
    have had only modest success in convincing people that climate change is real. Unlike
    Fox News, they present both sides of the issue. This is tantamount to giving
    equal time and authority to creationists and evolutionists during interviews
    and debates when in reality, the theory of evolution is well established and
    creationism has been thoroughly debunked
    for over one hundred years.

    Why do so many people reject climate change? There are three
    main reasons. The first is: Most of the facts are already in and there are not
    many new facts to attract attention. Climate change is old news and
    evangelicals have already made up their minds. They don’t wish to revisit the
    subject. Evangelicals are convinced that evangelical scientists have already
    determined that climate change is not happening so they stopped reading,
    listening and worrying about it. After all, evangelical scientists would not lie
    to their own evangelical community, but an atheist would. The second reason is
    one that has plagued humankind since the first primitive brains evolved. If
    something happens slowly, humans tend not to notice it. Like when viewing
    consecutive frames in a movie film or the plodding slowness of evolution,
    simple minds cannot see the subtle change and are unable to react. Like a frog
    sitting in a pan of slowly heating water, humans do not notice the temperature
    increase and climate change. When evangelical scientists advise there is no
    danger, and when respected politicians laugh it away as just a waste of money
    proposed by a communist and Muslim president, it is not any wonder that 64% of
    evangelicals deny there is a danger.

    A third reason Evangelicals are not concerned with climate
    change is: If it is true the whole earth is burning, then the fire must be divinely
    created. Bible passages predict the end times are near, even over due. Scientific
    confirmation of climate change is abundant, but among nonscientific, poorly
    educated evangelicals, it is absent or ignored in favor of trusting one’s
    pastor. Biblical interpretations are notoriously variable within the varieties
    of Christianity and “know it all” religious leaders can easily justify their
    favorite biases.

    Katharine Hayhoe and Sir John Houghton, who claims to be a
    former professor of atmospheric physics, believe church leaders have betrayed
    their congregations. They claim bible verse does not eliminate the possibility
    of anthropomorphic climate changes. Hopefully their moderating voices are convincing
    the evangelical community that climate change is real, but it’s happening
    slowly. Fewer people believe in bible verse end times today than they did ten
    years ago. Creation myths are gradually losing out to evolution evidence; medical
    treatment is favored over a total reliance on prayer. The tide is changing, but
    slowly.

    Hayhoe and Houghton believe there is a growing trend among
    evangelicals to exam scientific claims more thoroughly. I’m skeptical. Beliefs
    arrived at without scientific evidence are almost impossible to refute with
    scientific evidence. Reputable evangelical scientists such as geneticist Francis
    Collins, will not and cannot totally let go of superstition. His conversion to
    Evangelical Christianity came at a low point in his personal life and he has
    been unable rid his scientific mind of that emotional experience. Collins,
    Hayhoe and Houghton cling to a belief in God, although there is no scientific
    evidence to substantiate their belief. But, when it comes to climate change and
    the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is real, they have conceded.

    The evangelical religious community allied with Radical
    conservatism will continue to disbelieve in climate change for the reasons
    presented above. Their distrust and hate for our current president has been
    drilled into them so thoroughly it remains to be seen whether scientific and
    reasonable minds will ever prevail. Unfortunately, it will take a considerable
    number of climate change disasters to get their attention and their support. Some
    say it is already too late.

  • Christopher

    I just saw how the environmentally friendly windmills are killing off three times the number of bats that they said they would kill.

    Obama’s GReen jobs in this state were a black hole of wasted tax money.

    I saw that the solar power stations calls the birds that fly through the beams of light “streamers,” for the smoke plume that comes from birds that ignite in midair.

    Because I love my Viking heritage I know that we have had ice ages and global warming that had nothing to do with humans. So what has changed? Are people really causing warming. I doubt it. I know that Greenland would LOVE more global warming.

    I also know I like to breathe and when my son came back from visiting China that the air pollution over there is so bad that you feel sick just breathing it.

    Science has agendas. They hide information and lie about it if they don’t like it. You can trust scientists like you can trust Cops and judges and politicians. Archeology is a joke. If new evidence comes up that disagrees with the old science then it is hidden or not talked about for fear of losing their jobs. DNA science has become a joke after the discovery that we are part Neanderthal as that does not jive with all of us all coming from one science Eve and one Science Adam 100,000 years ago.

    Science with agendas are as much a religion as those wacko Evangelicals.

  • dchope

    Before closing the current income flow on the population, new industry must replace it and the folks in the area need to be trained. Of course the locals are anti-environment, they need to eat and have shelter. Coal = Bread and Butter to them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.cousins.14 David Cousins

    They are NOT anti-environment U ARROGANT FOOL….they simply disagree with your worldview on the topic and are tired of over government interference. The notion that if someone disagrees with your type on a specific environmental issue-especially as it relates to the size & role of the federal government does not make one “anti-environment”. A HALLMARK of liberalism is ARROGANCE.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.cousins.14 David Cousins

    1) Who are the “owners” you elude to?
    2) Uhmm…the coal thing is even a sillier comment on your part. If God gave the coal….then people have a right to use it.
    3) Who is destroying the air & water? To suggest people want dirty air & dirty water means you actually think they must have a different stash of it somewhere. It demonstrates how idiotic the left really is—but then again you seem to have a high regard for communism–enough said. about you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.cousins.14 David Cousins

    Or maybe…just maybe…. they don’t actually agree with your worldview. Maybe your the extremist. Ever think of that instead of insulting people with the poverty card.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.cousins.14 David Cousins

    Maybe since they live there…and see first hand the truth…maybe that’s why they DISAGREE with you…because your WRONG in your assessment.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.cousins.14 David Cousins

    Boy, U people are all ARROGANT & condescending on the left. Has it ever occurred to any of U that maybe, just maybe, there are people who disagree with u because you might be WRONG.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.cousins.14 David Cousins

    pretty sure it isn’t talking about using coal. To suggest that is not only nonsensical…but bad exegesis.
    Also, you are ARROGANTLY assuming that your environmental view is correct & that those who disagree with you are harming the planet. By that criteria-anything used for fuel should be classified as destructive.
    Please keep your GREEN Religion to yourself in the future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.cousins.14 David Cousins

    Did you stick in there a tirade against FOX & have something positive to say about msnbc? U just lost all credibility.
    But like u had any in the first place. Being a proponent of the GREEN Religion kinda did U in to start with.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.cousins.14 David Cousins

    who wants to destroy all the beauty?
    your GREEN religion views, and extreme radical view, is what is to be shamed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.cousins.14 David Cousins

    wow u liberals are ARROGANT. Ever cross your mind that you are WRONG. And go live in the woods with the bugs & no electricity—go on—u HYPOCRITE……

  • cranefly

    I’m not particularly into communism, actually. Clearly you didn’t realize that I quoted someone from the article. Why don’t you ask him who “owns” what God put into the earth? When he says that God gave coal to the “state,” what does he mean? Who is the state?

    Fossil fuel consumption has a well-documented impact on the quality of air and water, which has a well-documented negative impact on the health of people in polluted areas. Pollution does not remain within state lines, because state lines are arbitrary and made up – the wind blows right over them. When West Virginia pollutes, people in Ohio get sick. Do you think businessmen should be allowed to dump poison into your water, giving you cancer, and leaving you to pay the medical bills? Because they do.

  • LogicGuru

    Can you get more specific about the disagreement? I’m not sure what “worldview” means. The devil is in the details and that’s where one wants to see where the disagreement is.

  • cgosling

    Dear Mr. Cousins, why do you continue to oppose the science of evolution and warnings of climate change? Who or what persuaded you to hold views contrary to the best scientists all over the world. Was your pastor? Was it God speaking to you in a prayer? Or, do you rely on your bible to confirm your politics and science? Whatever it was, natural disasters will continue to happen at an increased rate until you can no longer deny climate change. Scientific facts have already proven evolution and climate change for those who think for themselves. Mr. Cousins, you are totally wrong and should have the sense to admit you are wrong and apologize to the many of us doing our best to convince you of your mistakes. I hope you will soon come to your senses.

  • BobSchmetzer

    The sun is the largest source of power and can make electricity through solar panels. The wind can turn a generator , So can rivers, and tides. You don’t need carbon producing fuels who leave toxic waste to monitor forever. If you love the gas so much. Then breath some. Clean Coal, eat some, Nuclear, take a shower with the radon gas in your public water system. Oil, put it on your skin. Please turn into a human tumor ! You dinosaurs need to pass. You are Arrogant and don’t care about your neighbor. Also you are a threat to humanity.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Yes.

    But not in your case.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    You seem to have a problem with cap-lock.

  • Aravis Tarkheena

    Your hallmark seems to be cap-lock.

    It’s not working very well.

  • Barry_D

    ‘We’? Those guys are all well off, and are handsomely paid by those who are rich.