Philosophia Christi (20th Anniversary Edition)
The Green Gospel (II)

The Green Gospel (I)

“If there is one lesson we should learn from our energy challenges, it is that there are no universal, immediate solutions.” – (Power Trip, Michael E. Webber)


The writer of Ecclesiastes uses the phrase “under the sun” several times, and of late Bajans’ favourite phrase is “You, de sun real hot yuh”; but we should also remember that there is nothing new under it. A tweet about the recent “Climate Strike” read, “A fifteen year old girl skipped school to sit outside the Swedish Parliament (Riksdag) building in order to protest against inaction on climate change. … You didn’t know her name. Greta Thunberg.” In the aptly titled Green Tyranny Rupert Darwall writes, “… Sweden deployed environmentalism as a top-down tool of social control. … As with acid rain, Sweden would be the first to make global warming a political issue.”


It is fitting that a Swede should, once again, garner the world’s attention. If we take our minds back to the Olof Palme era it should give us a sense that this road looks familiar. Especially Palme’s idea about the importance of giving up “part of the national sovereignty” regarding “the risk of climate change from human activities.” In Petroleum Prodigals (Christianity Today June 2019), Ken Baake writes, “The dangers of dirty air were contemplated as early as A.D. 61, when Seneca wrote about the “oppressive atmosphere” of smoke shrouding ancient Rome. The Romans allowed smoke pollution lawsuits, and more than a thousand years later, England made modest attempts to limit the burning of coal under Queen Elizabeth I.”


I do not agree with Mr. Baake’s suggestion that renewable energy is now “cost-competitive with conventional fuels”, but I do side with him on this point, “Alternative energy certainly is an important tool in the creation care tool box, but the hope that yesterday’s technology will easily be replaced with acres of solar panels and wind farms may lead to disappointment and missed opportunities to adopt a more prudent lifestyle.” This sentiment is also shared by Mr. Webber (Power Trip), “Every fuel and technology option has benefits and risks. It’s folly—and typical in the contemporary political climate—to advocate for or against one fuel or another without admitting the contributions of or problems with each.”


This is a stewardship issue, and our stewardship of the environment should be informed by a proper understanding of the meaning of subdue and dominion in Genesis 1:28. Throughout the Old Testament, the welfare of the people is tied to the welfare of the land – Leviticus 19:25; 25:2–5 – so our definitions should not include the exploitation and/or abuse of the environment to which we have been entrusted. The May/June 2019 issue of MIT Technology Review, also devoted to climate change, carried an article with a telling title: How much would you pay to save the world? (The green economy is ultimately about the greenback.)


David Rotman opens with the “most important number you’ve never heard of”: the social cost of carbon (SCC). This number “reflects the global damage of emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the sky, accounting for its impact in the form of warming temperatures and rising sea levels.” Economists see it as a “a powerful policy tool that could bring rationality to climate decisions.” Mr. Rotman cites Solomon Hsiang, a climate policy expert at Berkeley, who says “It is the single most important number in the global economy. Getting it right is incredibly important. But right now, we have almost no idea what it is.”


In that regard it is similar to energy. As Richard Feynman explained, “It is important to realize that in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is.” “Energy’s magic,” writes Webber, “quietly brings illumination, information, heat, clean water, abundant food”, and economic growth. Webber speaks to the “liner relationship between wealth and energy consumption.” Generally speaking, the richer a country is, the more energy it consumes per capita and the more energy it consumes per capita, the richer it gets. Little wonder is it not, that fast-growing economies (like India) are shaping up to be the biggest loser regarding the SCC. Climate scientist Katharine Ricke says “India bears a huge share of the global social cost of carbon.”


Making matters worse for developing countries is the economists’ magic bullet: carbon tax. Interestingly, around the time that Greta Thunberg made her debut, 500 scientists sent a letter to the UN Secretary-General with the heading: “There is no climate emergency”. In part it read, “Current climate policies pointlessly and grievously undermine the economic system, putting lives at risk in countries denied access to affordable, reliable electrical energy. We urge you to follow a climate policy based on sound science, realistic economics and genuine concern for those harmed by costly but unnecessary attempts at mitigation.”


The letter speaks directly to our concern, vulnerable image bearers who will be “harmed by costly but unnecessary attempts at mitigation.” You know, those who Jesus takes a special interest in. As Craig Keener (Christobiography) notes, “Most scholars also agree that Jesus’s contemporaries experienced him as a healer and exorcist, offering divine help to the vulnerable. … He appealed to the poor, the disenfranchised, the disabled, and the ill, and he encountered conflict with various elites.” The Climate Leviathan, if unchecked, will turn the virtue of sensible environmental stewardship into a vice that harms the most important part of creation.