With Darwin Day approaching, now is a good time to point out that there is more to the religious right’s attacks on science in the United States than just their attempts to suppress the teaching of evolution and research involving stem cells. Religious organizations are also targeting the science of climate change, making religious arguments straight from scripture to assert that humankind has no responsibility for preventing catastrophic warming of the planet.
A perfect example is the Cornwall Alliance. This organization describes itself on its website as “a coalition of clergy, theologians, religious leaders, scientists, academics, and policy experts committed to bringing a balanced Biblical view of stewardship to the critical issues of environment and development.” This benign description barely masks a radical agenda to undermine attempts to mitigate human-caused damage to the climate.
The Cornwall Alliance’s high profile supporters include anti-church-state separation activist David Barton, religious right stalwart James Dobson, and well-connected Family Research Council head Tony Perkins. Despite their description of the organization as being a coalition that includes scientists, out of the 65 advisory board members listed on their website, only two could actually be denoted as scientists, with only one of those two doing work related to climate. The rest are mainly theologians, ministers, and economists.
Their agenda is laid bare in their statement entitled “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.” Released in 2009, the statement purports to put forth a consensus position that no action to mitigate climate change is necessary. The statement draws explicitly on the language of creationism, arguing that human beings are not capable of destroying the world that God created. An excerpt:
We believe Earth and its ecosystems—created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence —are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception. Recent global warming is one of many natural cycles of warming and cooling in geologic history.
This is sort of akin to Gottfried Leibniz’s “best of all possible worlds” explanation for theodicy, but applied instead to the environment: all evidence to the contrary be damned, the world remains the best possible for human habitation and is not threatened by our actions. Never mind that geological and glaciological investigations have shown that the rate of climate change we currently face is far beyond a “natural cycle.” Never mind the incontrovertible evidence that greenhouse gases, which we pump into the atmosphere at an increasing rate, warm the planet. The Cornwall Alliance is here to tell us that we should sit back, relax, and not worry about climate change, for this is God’s planet, and it is in His hands.
And it goes even further: the Cornwall Alliance also attacks the broader environmental movement itself, going so far as to accuse it on their website “Resisting the Green Dragon” of being “a new religion” and “targeting our youth.” These ominous statements are intended to market a twelve-part DVD series that you can buy for $49.95 that presents a “Christian response to radical environmentalism,” intended for showing in church discussion groups and special events.
There may be more than meets the eye with the Cornwall Alliance. An investigation by the Center for American Progress found that the organization is connected through several people to an organization called the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), an organization that has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from oil companies and has worked hard to discredit climate change science in the eyes of the public. The Cornwall Alliance has been successful in keeping its principal funders secret, however, so it is difficult to determine the depth of the linkage.
This year has already seen unusual weather extremes around the world, from the unprecedented punishing Cyclone Yasi which hit Australia last week to the massive winter storm that recently cut a broad swath of destruction across the United States. These weather extremes likely reflect a changing climate, and more extreme storms are probably in our future. With glaciers melting from Argentina to India, coral reefs bleaching, record floods and droughts, diminishing sea ice, and so many more measurable manifestations of climate change, the Cornwall Alliance and its allies must engage in the most extreme form of willful blindness—or or conscious deception—to assert that, faced with all of this, nothing bad is happening and there is nothing we should do.
No holy book will save us from what we have wrought on the Earth: humans hold the key to our own destruction—and salvation—in our hands.